Just 25 miles from the United States and Mexico border at San Diego State University, 96 public relations practitioners and educators from across the nation gathered with the challenge to push the status quo. They turned their sights on bilingual PR education.

SDSU’s Dr. Patrick Thelen assembled a panel as a part of the Public Relations Society of America Educators Academy Super Saturday to examine what the growing Latinx population in the U.S. means.

Demographics Don’t Lie
The U.S. Latinx population is growing. In 2017 the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 56,510,571 Hispanic or Latino individuals live in the U.S. A Claritas report estimated more than 1/3 of the U.S. population is multicultural and the majority of them are Latinx. A population this big is influential, and their decision-making is widely guided by their customs and cultural beliefs. As the Latinx community becomes so established in the U.S., their opinions and habits will have an effect on every industry.

According to a 2013 study from the Pew Hispanic Center, 96% of those who leave Mexico migrate to the U.S. The U.S. has more immigrants from Mexico alone than any other country has total immigrants. The Latinx community’s roots are permeating through the U.S., and their untapped potential in the PR industry is becoming evident.

Demographics fluctuate constantly in the U.S. and in PR the open systems theory approach recognizes that organizations must listen to their publics in order to better serve their needs. PwC reported that the Latinx community is drawn to brands that reflect their culture. This holds true even through second- and third-generation Latinx. They are educated, online, using mobile and they want to connect with their culture. This represents opportunities for PR.

Prime Opportunities for PR
As physical walls threaten to separate the United States from Mexico, professional communicators are collaborating to reach target audiences across the border. In these times of high border activity, practitioners who intend to be culturally mindful will connect with the Latinx community and find that this audience is widely untapped.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics defines the role of a public relations specialist as engaging in, promoting or creating an intended public image for individuals, groups or organizations. Intention is something that audiences can feel and resonate with, and it is the job of the professional communicator to capture what is culturally relevant to meet stakeholder needs.

Practitioners who don’t educate themselves on the cultural customs and values of the Latinx community are missing out on that potential. A 2019 Nielsen study reports, “Latinx consumers currently wield $1.5 trillion in annual buying power and represent 18% of the total U.S. population.”

Globalization in Education
Recognizing trends, Thelen and his panel acknowledged the power of bilingual education and exposure to elevate diversity and multicultural aspects of PR.

Educational institutions provide a foundation for cultural fluidity and the cross-pollination of values and ideas. The textbook Internationalization and Globalization in Higher Education points out how “we see international faculty and students moving freely around the world, contributing to globalization. Internationalization of higher education allows them to cross borders and institutions, challenging their national loyalties while strengthening their intellectual and institutional loyalties.”

Although, educational institutions are where innovation and creativity begin there is a problem when curriculum does not reflect societal evolution. A study conducted by Dr. Nancy Muturi of Kansas State University and Ge Zhu of the University of Iowa searched for students’ perceptions of diversity issues in public relations practice. They found that 48 % of all participants had not taken a mass communication course that focused on diversity. Identifying this gap is critical in preparing public relations students for their future career.

It is one thing to implement diversity into curriculum, and it is another to ensure students are grasping and applying those diverse concepts in their work. Dr. Katie Place and Dr. Antoaneta from Quinnipiac University explored diversity and client work in public relations education and found that students tend to simplify their target audiences and streamline their campaigns, ignoring key diverse groups.

Courses that take a deep dive into the Latinx culture, particularly cross-cultural communication, provide a better understanding of this pervasive public. This equips new graduates with a fresh perspective on this growing demographic.

“The PR world needs to start thinking about what we can do to better serve our Hispanic students,” began Thelen, who teaches bilingual courses, English and Spanish at SDSU, in the School of Journalism & Media Studies. “What can we do in terms of offering them courses that will be beneficial for their career?”

As the demographic numbers prove the growing Latinx community, Dr. Patricia Gándara and Dr. Kathy Escamilla note how growth in U.S. public schools is largely due to the enrollment of children of immigrants, bringing enormous cultural and linguistic assets. Gándara and Escamilla recognize that building on these assets through bilingual education instruction would strengthen both their own labor market prospects and the national economy.

Thelen is just one of few professors nationwide investing in the positive practices of PR by continuing to develop a bilingual education program in SDSU’s School of Journalism & Media Studies.

Bilingual education and cross-border collaboration are how the industry will push the profession forward by breaking down barriers and using PR as a force of good for organizations and society.

Paige Shewmaker is a public relations student in the School of Journalism of Media Studies at San Diego State University, intern at Nuffer, Smith, Tucker Public Relations and a member of Public Relations Student Society of America.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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