Latina's Ad Pages Are En Fuego

When asked about the state of Latina, publisher David Kahn drolly cracks, "Muy fuerte." He pauses for a second, then adds in a considerably more serious tone, "That means very strong."

Dramatic tenor notwithstanding, Kahn has reason to crow. Catering to one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population - U.S.-born Hispanic women - Latina has surged during the last 18 months. In 2003, the title is up 37% in ad pages (to 713 from 521) and 60% in ad revenue (to $13.7 million from $8.6 million) through October, though only the January-August numbers have been given the Publishers Information Bureau stamp of approval. Of the nearly 60 magazines tracked by the Hispanic Magazine Monitor, Latina holds the top spot in ad pages and ad-page growth.

Similarly, recent census data affirms the vitality of the Hispanic market. According to the 2000 Census, 60% of Hispanics living in the U.S. were born in the country. What this means is that savvy marketers (and publishers) are in the process of changing the way they approach this audience, which has traditionally been addressed only in Spanish. "[Hispanic Americans] may learn Spanish as their first language, but the minute they get to school, that's over," Kahn notes. "Their language of comfort is English. If they're going to read a label on a medication or a long insurance policy, they want it in English."

The question, then, becomes whether Latina has simply been in the right place at the right time or whether the mag is truly the multicultural force that its boosters make it out to be. Needless to say, you can guess where Kahn stands on that issue. "We're the only magazine built to celebrate the experience of bicultural Latino women," he says. "We're all about supporting her and helping her build a better life in this country. Just about everything else out there is a licensed edition or a Spanish-language version of something originally done in English. We are the only magazine that is about being Hispanic in America."

Though Latina is no different from any number of women's lifestyle titles in terms of content - beauty, fashion, relationships, yada yada - 30% of the magazine's ads are run in Spanish, which makes it fairly unique among English-language titles. Thus Kahn believes that Latina competes for ad dollars with the Oprahs and Real Simples of the world in one market, and People En Espanol and RD Selecciones in another.

This duality, he adds, has little downside: "It puts us in a place where nobody else is." But despite the emergence of the Hispanic market, it's difficult to imagine Latina siphoning dollars away from huge-circulation titles: few mainstream marketers are going to choose a 350,000 circ magazine over one in the multimillion range. Realistically, Latina should probably be content with being on the same schedules as those titles at a lesser page count.

While Kahn is the rare publisher that doesn't have a list of his top advertisers at his fingertips - it arrives via e-mail a few minutes after the interview is concluded - Latina has done an admirable job of growing its business from the top marketers in the U.S. In the first eight months of 2003, the mag's five biggest advertisers have been Procter & Gamble, L'Oréal, Johnson & Johnson, General Motors and Nestlé. "Right now, every CEO in America is asking 'how am I going to grow my business in the next three, five, seven years?'" Kahn notes. "If you're a consumer marketer, the answer to that question is the Hispanic market."

Though both financial and pharma advertising is up in 2003, Kahn identifies these two categories as Latina's prime targets for growth in the months ahead. The magazine recently added GlaxoSmithKline and Bank of America, and Kahn is optimistic about adding companies that he's been chasing for some time. "2004 should be the year for Pfizer," he says hopefully.

If Kahn has his way, 2004 will also be the year that Latina flexes its political muscle. "The Hispanic vote is considered the critical bloc in the upcoming election," he notes. "Given our focus on U.S.-born Hispanics, we're positioned to play a powerful role in motivating voters." As for specific plans, Kahn goes no further than "we're hoping to be in the center of many conversations."

Looking down the road, perhaps Latina's greatest challenge is survival as an independent entity - especially in the event that one of the publishing behemoths launches a magazine aimed at precisely the same audience. Might Latina be sold to one of these companies in the near or distant future? Kahn dances around the question.

"I'd tell you that anything is possible," he says. "We are very strong as an independent organization. Could we be stronger within a larger company? The answer could very well be yes. For now, we're extremely happy where we are."

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