The Hispanic Staffing Boom

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Multicultural marketers have long looked to catchy statements as harbingers of major cultural trends. So it probably isn't surprising that David Jensen, Comcast Corp.'s new vice president of international programming, recently considered having T-shirts made saying: “No More North American Exclusivity: Cable On Demand is Coming.”

“These are very exciting times” for Hispanic programming, Jensen says. “For a long time, satellite could ask for and get exclusive North American rights for Hispanic programming, because there wasn't competition for the rights. The bad old days are over.”

The same sentiment might also be applied to job opportunities for executives in the Hispanic television and telecommunications business. Faced with mature markets and increased competition from direct broadcast satellite and telcos, cable operators and programmers are actively seeking new executives like Jenson to help them crack the Hispanic market.

“There are tremendous growth and a lot of new opportunities in the Hispanic television business,” notes Bill Simon, managing director of global entertainment and media practice at the executive search firm Korn/Ferry International. “Those executives who have first-hand experience or have a track record are in high demand.”

That has made employment opportunities in Hispanic media one of the few bright spots in the overall media-employment picture. “Mega mergers have produced so many layoffs in the entertainment and broadcast sector,” says Brad Marks, chairman and CEO of Brad Marks International, a company that has conducted executive searches for a number of major movie studios, networks and broadcasters in the U.S. and Europe. “The Hispanic business is one of the very few growth areas.”

But the opportunity seems to have certain limitations. “There is a lot of interest in the Hispanic community as their purchasing power has increased to $1.3 trillion,” says Kenneth Arroyo Roldan of Wesley Brown & Bartle. But Arroyo Roldan, who says he is the only Hispanic CEO of a major executive search firm, adds that “unfortunately, there is a dearth of diversity in the top ranks of the media companies.”

LACK OF DATA

Getting an exact fix on staffing issues is difficult, in part because the Federal Communications Commission no longer requires companies to report employment figures. Marks guesses that the demand for executives in Hispanic media is up by 50%-100% in the last three or four years, and some anecdotal evidence seems to confirm that view.

A recent survey of the Hispanic television business by Multichannel News found that of the 57 Spanish-language networks currently available in the U.S., 36 were launched since the start of 2000. Of those 36, 26 have bowed since 2002.

One of the new networks, ESPN Deportes now has about 60 employees or outside contractors working in the U.S. and Mexico. And Sí TV, which was launched earlier this year, has about 120 employees and contractors. “We've gotten about 12 people admitted to the directors' guild,” notes Sí TV chief operating officer Leo Perez.

Many of the older, more established players in the Hispanic TV business are also adding employees. Thanks to a push to produce more original programming, about 400 employees or contractors have been added to the payroll at Telemundo or its outside producers, estimates Telemundo president and CEO Jim McNamara.

These moves have obviously created new jobs for Hispanics, but they're also “opening up some opportunities [for executives in the mainstream media] who have the right skills,” says McNamara, who regularly gets calls from people in the advertising and cable industries about job opportunities at Telemundo.

Two of the most important skills obviously are Spanish-language fluency and close ties to Latino culture, which explains why many of the new hires are bilingual Hispanics. But some prominent executives — notably Jerry Perenchio, chairman and CEO of Univision Communications Inc., and McNamara at Telemundo — are non-Hispanics.

In fact, executives working in the Hispanic TV business are almost as diverse as the Hispanic community itself. Some began working for Spanish-language broadcasters Univision or Telemundo, but others have a strong background in the cable or mainstream broadcast industry.

Jensen, for example, worked for Tele-Communications Inc. and Liberty Media Group before joining Comcast. He learned to speak Spanish while growing up in a small western town and got his first experience with the Hispanic market while at TCI, where he helped launch the Canales ñ package of Hispanic services.

Another fairly large group of executives, including Fox Sports International senior vice president and general manager David Sternberg, ESPN Deportes general manager Lino Garcia and Sí TV's Leo Perez, spent time working in the Latin American cable and satellite business.

But a growing number come from outside the television industry. Cesar Cruz, who was hired earlier this year as director of multicultural marketing at Cox Communications Inc., came from a background in the packaged-goods industry, working for such companies as Sara Lee Corp. and Unilever.

Mauro Panzera, the senior director of multicultural marketing at Comcast, combines experience in cable and packaged goods, having worked for such companies as Colgate-Palmolive Co. in Latin America. Fluent in Spanish, English and Italian, he says that packaged-goods companies and retailers have become an important training ground for executives because they were the first to understand the importance of targeting Hispanic business. “They have been at this for 20 or 30 years.”

In contrast, ESPN's Garcia, a 16-year cable industry veteran who helped Home Box Office launch a Spanish-language feed in 1993, notes that for many years the cable industry made little effort to market its services to the Hispanic community. “They didn't understand the Hispanic market, and they didn't do a very good job of maximizing that opportunity.”

HEADHUNTING HISPANICS

As the Hispanic community has become an important battleground for new subscribers, those attitudes have changed. One of the most aggressive advocates of diversity has been Cox.

Two of the company's executives, director of workforce planning Janice Cooley and manager of recruitment and sourcing Derrick Brown, stress that their recruiting efforts involve aggressive searches for outside talent and programs to develop new talent.

In addition, the MSO's parent company, Cox Enterprises Inc., has a program for identifying possible candidates for all the company's operations. And it has an MBA program where young executives are rotated through the various divisions so they can get wide-ranging corporate experience.

Mitsy Wilson, senior vice president of diversity development for the Fox Entertainment Group, adds that they've worked to attract Hispanic talent by working closely with universities that have large Hispanic populations. Internally, Fox pulls people from various parts of the company to work on specific projects, a strategy that she says helps young Hispanic executives develop more generalized skills.

Such efforts to recruit and develop talent are critical given the limited numbers of Hispanics with experience at the top levels of the cable industry.

Executive recruiter Arroyo Roldan says that “it's a myth that there are not enough talented candidates. But if you want to recruit diverse talent, you have to do some work and develop the right relationships. Posting a job on the Internet isn't enough.”

A number of people remain critical of the industry's record. Top management at the MSOs “seem sincerely interested in the Hispanic business,” says Sí TV's Perez. “But you really have to have people at a senior level. You see Hispanics on the boards of companies like [Sears, Roebuck & Co.] and Blockbuster [Inc.] but there is a notable lack of Hispanics on the boards of the major cable companies.”

Still, those boards and top executives do seem to understand the importance of finding the right executives to build their Hispanic business.

Given the competitive landscape, “I think there is a clear understanding that they have to focus on diversity if they want to make their businesses a success,” says Debbie Smith, the newly hired executive director of the Walter Kaitz Foundation, which provides grants to encourage diversity. “They have to outreach to the Latin community, and to do that they need people from that community.”

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