|At People en Espaņol, learning
to speak Spanish wasn't so easyStruggling to create a title for all Hispanics
By Jeff Bercovici
"Give people something culturally relevant and they will buy it," says People en Espaņol editor Angelo Figueroa. Cultural relevancy is a term that gets tossed around a lot at the People en Espaņol offices.
That's because they learned its importance the hard way.
When People en Espaņol first launched as a quarterly in the fall of 1996, the response from a lot of Latino readers was apathy.
Who were all these so-called stars, fixtures of American pop culture, they'd never heard of, readers wondered?
Why weren't there more articles about the actors they watched on Spanish TV, or about the singers they listened to, or about Hispanic politicians or athletes?
The result could have been a flop, but Time Inc., with its institutional mania for market research, smelled the smoke early on.
"I can show you reader ratings for every article we've ever run," says publisher Lisa Quiroz, who's been with People en Espaņol since the pre-launch days.
What the ratings showed was that people were responding to the magazine--just not to all of it. Though most of the People Weekly-in-translation material left them yawning, readers couldn't get enough of the articles about other Latinos, be they celebrities or ordinary folk.
Thus did an editorial vision begin to take shape.
When Time Inc. had set out in 1996 to tap the growing Hispanic market with a Spanish-language magazine, they'd planned on a 50/50 mix of repurposed People Weekly features and original editorial material.
As it turned out, only bilingual readers were interested in the People Weekly articles, and many of them were already People Weekly readers.
Spanish dominants, on the other hand, had no desire to read gossip about celebrities like Demi Moore or Matt Damon, but they loved the profiles of "ordinary-extraordinary" Hispanic Americans, such as a Hispanic dolphin trainer at SeaWorld and a Hispanic Rockette.
People en Espaņol now generates about 90 percent of its own editorial, created specifically with an American Hispanic readership in mind. The other 10 percent-- what staffers refer to as "pickup"--is material carefully selected from People Weekly for its appeal that transcends cultural boundaries.
The result is a magazine that raised its rate base by a quarter to 250,000 earlier this year and will raise it to 300,000 in February. By comparison, the next biggest national Spanish-language magazine is Latina, with a rate base of 175,000.
But Latina isn't a truly national magazine in the same sense as People en Espaņol. While Hispanic-oriented magazines typically get distributed only in urban centers, People en Espaņol, thanks to Time Inc.'s powerful distribution network, can be found practically anywhere.
What's more, competitors rely heavily on newsstand sales for their circulation. Yet People en Espaņol has seen a surprising growth in its subscription base. The newsstand sales to subscription ratio is roughly 60/40, says Quiroz.
With People en Espaņol, however, reaching the readers was only half the struggle.
Prior to 1996, advertisers simply didn't recognize print as a way of reaching Latino consumers, says Quiroz--and not without reason.
"Five years ago advertisers who wanted to reach Hispanics had no choices. There were no national Spanish-language magazines. Spanish radio was just a baby."
Television, with outlets like Univision and Telemundo, was the only well-developed Spanish medium in the U.S.
What's more, "[The TV industry] had media buyers convinced that Latinos don't read," says Figueroa.
In order to explode this myth, it was necessary, says Quiroz, "to educate Hispanic ad agencies," such as Bravo Group and Mendoza Dillon.
As part of this effort, People en Espaņol contracted a third party to develop the first software to provide a reach-frequency model for Spanish-language media. The software helps media planners plot the most efficient media mix for a given target market.
"The first time we took the software to a media department, you could hear audible gasps," says associate publisher Elizabeth Bradley. The reach- frequency model demonstrated conclusively that media buyers who failed to include print--not to mention radio and outdoor--weren't getting the full value of their money. "It's a no brainer," says Bradley.
The company has also undertaken extensive research efforts, such as the recent Hispanic Opinion Tracker, or HOT Study, which they tout as "the most ambitious research project to date on the Hispanic market in the U.S."
Among the results of the study were findings that many Latinos identify with their Hispanic heritage more strongly than was previously thought and show a strong preference for media and advertising in Spanish.
Thanks in part to initiatives like these, ad sales are booming. People en Espaņol was up 14 percent in ad pages from January to November of 1999 over the same period last year. Ad revenue was up 44 percent, making the title one of Time Inc.'s best performing magazines.
And that's just the start, say People en Espaņol executives. The February 2000 issue will have fully twice as many ad pages as the previous February's issue, says Quiroz.
Among the magazine's more notable advertisers are General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Procter & Gamble, Cosmair, Bristol Meyers and Pfizer.
People en Espaņol's plans for the future include establishing an online presence late in the first quarter of 2000, a syndicated newspaper page, television tie-ins, and further expansion of its radio vignette series, "De Buena Tinta." Another project on the horizon is the creation of international editions for Latin American countries.
"Until now it's just been about making a magazine," says Bradley. "Now it's about building a brand."
On the editorial side, however, Figueroa's task remains to make a product that appeals equally to every element of its disparate readership: immigrants and U.S. born residents, bilinguals and Spanish dominants, readers from every part of the Spanish-speaking world, from Cuba to Columbia to California.
He is guided by his vision of the magazine as a "town plaza," where Hispanics of widely different origins can get to know each other and enjoy their shared heritage. Figueroa believes that ultimately, People en Espaņol will bring its readers closer not only to each other but also to non-Hispanic Americans. He cites findings that the availability of Spanish-language publications encourages
immigrants to learn English, contrary to the rhetoric of English-only politicians.
He also talks of how his parents, who spoke no English, moved from Puerto Rico to Detroit, where they had no access to Spanish-language media. As a result they lived in near-total cultural isolation.
"People en Espaņol is not about separatism," says Figueroa. "It's about inclusion."
-Jeff Bercovici is a staff writer for Media Life.