News Column

Hispanic-Owned Firm Wins U.S. Army Contract

Oct 6 2000 12:59PM

By Teresa Talerico

October 2000 - A San Antonio-based marketing communications firm will help the U.S. Army attract more Hispanics with an advertising campaign that may update the familiar "Be All You Can Be" slogan.

Hispanic-owned Cartel Creativo is one of three agencies awarded a four-year advertising and marketing contract potentially worth $380 million. Chicago advertising firm Leo Burnett Worldwide Inc. will serve as the Army's main advertising agency; Cartel Creativo and IMAGES USA, an Atlanta company specializing in African-American marketing, are subcontractors. The trio will work together – developing everything from TV commercials to Internet promotions – to help boost recruitment, particularly among minorities, and tout the advantages of serving in the Army.

Victoria Varela Hudson, president and CEO of Cartel Creativo, praised the Army for its efforts to recruit Hispanics and for tapping Cartel's six years' experience in the market.

"They're recognizing that the Hispanic population has a lot of loyalty and patriotism to this country, and they're reaching out to them," she says.

Hispanics constitute almost 8 percent of U.S. Army personnel. Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera says that number should be higher – not only because Hispanics are the fastest-growing population in America, but also because they "make great soldiers."

"Hispanic youth have the highest interest in military service," Mr. Caldera says. "They have the highest success rate among soldiers and they have the highest re-enlistment rate."

The Army, however, has faced challenges in recruiting them. Mr. Caldera says the high school dropout rate among Hispanics (30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education) prevents many candidates from joining, since 90 percent of recruits must be high school graduates. To that end, Cartel and the other agencies will promote the Army's new GED Plus program, which helps eligible recruits finish high school.

"The other challenge for Hispanics is this notion of 'Am I really welcome in the Army? Will I be treated fairly? Will I have friends? Will I see my family?' " Mr. Caldera says. "We're going to do a better job of answering those questions."
The Army also is looking to increase overall recruitment numbers. Last year, it attracted 68,210 new enlistees, compared with 71,749 in 1998 and 82,087 in 1997. This year, the service hopes to recruit 80,000 new soldiers.

"We've been doing marketing but haven't been doing a good job of communicating the benefits of serving in the Army," Mr. Caldera says.

Those benefits include the fact that 70 percent of the Army's career specialties can be applied in the civilian work force. Another incentive is Army University Access Online. Unveiled last summer, the program will provide soldiers with laptop computers so they can enroll in college courses on the Internet, making it easier for them to earn college degrees no matter where they're stationed or deployed.

To tout these incentives, the Army's new advertising agencies may even change the well-known "Be All You Can Be" slogan, says Ms. Varela Hudson.

Cartel's primary focus, she says, will be the Hispanic market. The agency will develop bilingual ads and conduct grassroots marketing – visiting schools and organizing events.

"We feel a very strong obligation to communicate to the Hispanic community all of the opportunities available," she says. "I see it as a huge opportunity to capitalize on the American dream, which is still very much intact and alive with the U.S. Hispanic population."

Founded in 1994 by Victoria Varela Hudson, Jesús Ramirez, and Sean Salas, Cartel expects to bill over $75 million this year. Its clients include Allstate Insurance, JCPenney, Tecate, and the Texas Department of Health.

For its Army account, Cartel's representatives will begin by "greening," or researching first-hand a soldier's experience. Ms. Varela Hudson herself will parachute out of a plane; others will endure portions of basic training.

"Definitely, this is one [account] where our responsibility is far greater than selling a product," she says. "It's about how this country is positioned. Not only the eyes of the United States will be upon us, but the eyes of the world."

The Army announced the new advertising contract in June; Young & Rubicam Inc. had previously handled the account, Mr. Caldera says.

"It's critical for the Army because if we can't figure out how to penetrate the Hispanic market, we'll be in a world of hurt 10 or 15 years from now," he says. "I've been preaching this to our senior generals, that we've got to bring Hispanics into the enlisted ranks and officer ranks by 2040, when a quarter of the population will be Hispanic."

Source: Hispanic Business magazine

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