Anne Arundel County's Hispanic population wasn't even a blip on the marketing radar 10 years ago, but today its growth has caught the attention of public and private agencies eager to understand how best to deliver their messages to this expanding community.
From 1960 to 1980, the county's Hispanic population more than doubled, from 2,273 to 4,595. By 1990, that number had risen to 6,815, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But how much the county's Hispanic population has grown since then is unknown. County and community officials are awaiting the soon-to-be released Census 2000 data to learn whose latest estimates are right.
While county demographers estimate that the county has more than 14,000 Hispanic residents, leaders of the Hispanic community say the population has grown to about 40,000 residents since 1997 and is expected to increase by 25 percent more in the next few years. The county has more than 485,000 residents.
"If you don't become aware of what's going on in the Hispanic community, you're going to have a problem," Rick Ferrell, Cuban-born president of the Organization of Hispanic/Latin Americans of Anne Arundel County, said in his remarks to the Anne Arundel-Annapolis Public Relations Association last week. "The rate of growth is amazing, and the marketing job is going to be tremendous."
About 25 marketing and public affairs representatives from local banks, colleges, health organizations and government turned out, seeking insights into the characteristics and specific needs of this growing market.
Ferrell described several general characteristics of members of the county's Hispanic population:
They represent many different countries, from El Salvador to Guatemala to Nicaragua to Puerto Rico.
Many have overcome incredible odds to get here, and have endured poverty and political oppression.
They come from rural communities and often don't speak English or read their own language.
Many are men who left their families behind and send money home.
The majority shop for basics and cannot afford luxuries.
Because of these circumstances, Ferrell said, Hispanics in Anne Arundel County tend to live in clusters and rely on community institutions such as churches and health clinics for support. The best way to deliver messages is to tap into these organizations, he said.
Pamela Falsis, vice president of marketing and public relations for Annapolis Bank & Trust, said Ferrell's comments were helpful. For the past two years, she said, the bank has been interested in reaching the Hispanic community but was not sure of the best approach.
"We know that they are hard-working, and we know they earn a living, but we don't know what they're doing with their money," Falsis said, adding that the bank is preparing to translate its brochures into Spanish. "We want to provide a way for them to put their money away safely and earn interest. Some of the banks in their homeland are corrupt, and they don't really trust banks."
But after learning that some of the Spanish-speaking population have difficulty reading Spanish as well as English, Falsis said, "We'll have to do more than have brochures printed.
"We'll have to meet with some of the community leaders and try to develop a seminar to speak to the people about the services that we offer."
Goedele Gulikers, coordinator for the English as a Second Language program at Anne Arundel Community College, said her program is constantly trying to develop new ways of reaching the Hispanic community, which represents about 20 percent of the 1,400 students it helps each year.
Gulikers said the program has had success with radio advertising and the word-of-mouth approach, which Ferrell agreed is effective in close-knit communities. And since they've started working with churches, Gulikers said, they've seen enrollment increase in its free English courses.
"But there are many Spanish-speaking students that the program has not been able to reach," she said. "Our biggest barrier has been getting the word out that, in American society, education is something that gets you a better situation. A lot of these people are afraid of government. The idea of doing something official makes them afraid."
Organizations that do not have a large Hispanic population also are seeking to make the community aware of their services.
Donna Larson, director of development and marketing for Hospice of the Chesapeake, the largest hospice program in Anne Arundel County, said that many Hispanics are here without their families and, that if they are stricken with a terminal illness, have no support system.
"We want them to know what hospice is, regardless of diagnosis and regardless of their ability to pay," Larson said. Of the 759 patients the organization served in 1999, Larson said, three were Hispanic.
"That's an underserved community, and we know we need to reach people in that community who need our services, and we're determined to reach them," she said.
Larson said she will act upon Ferrell's suggestion of advertising on public transportation vehicles, because many Hispanics rely heavily on public transit, and of working with churches.
Whatever strategies are employed, Ronald Gordon, president of ZGS, a 17-year-old Hispanic-owned marketing firm in Virginia, said showing respect might be the most effective action.
"The most important thing you can do is to show any community or individual respect," said Gordon, who was born in Peru. "Make it a central part of your marketing efforts, not as an afterthought."