Melissa Giles isn't your typical impresario. But then, the Urban Latin Music Festival is anything but a run-of the-mill pop music concert.
A showcase for an array of Latin musical genres, the daylong festival is aimed primarily at adolescent and twenty-something U.S. Hispanics who speak Spanglish or otherwise take their pop culture cues from throughout the Americas.
In its debut last October at Miami's Bayfront Park Amphitheater, the event attracted a crowd of almost 10,000. This despite a decidedly unconventional marketing campaign and at least three other Hispanic-oriented events taking place in the city the same day.
"I sort of shocked myself. I knew it was going to work but we had a lot of things working against us," says Ms. Giles, a student at Miami International University of Art and Design, who organized and promoted the festival.
"We shocked a lot of people who didn't think it would work."
Now the 20-year-old entrepreneur is hard at work on a follow-up event. This year's Urban Latin Music Festival will take place October 5, again at Bayfront Park. Ms. Giles hopes to attract a capacity crowd of 12,000.
This time around she's forged marketing alliances with radio stations, magazines, and Mun2, Telemundo's youth-oriented cable channel. The latter will broadcast a one-hour special on the festival and provide on-air advertising.
The rapid succession of gains owes both to Ms. Giles' entrepreneurial precocity and the growing profile of the hybrid urban Hispanic culture.
Born in Reading, England, to a British father and a Venezuelan mother, Ms. Giles was just 13 when she began buying wholesale jewelry to sell to classmates. Four years later she formed an all-girl guerilla marketing team, Misto L.E.S. Marketing and Promotions, whose clients have included Baby Phat, FuBu, Enyce, J.Lo, and Tanqueray. Group members hand out fliers and promotional T-shirts, and in the case of clothing manufacturers, model clothes.
After Ms. Giles hit on the Urban Latin Music Festival concept, she enlisted the help of her father, David Giles, president of Awesome Events and a former nightclub owner. He not only tutored her on the ins and outs of mounting concerts, but also put up $150,000 to produce the event.
For her part, Ms. Giles saw a perfect opportunity to put her street promotion savvy to work. She and her fellow guerilla marketers blanketed the Miami area with posters and fliers announcing the festival. She also advertised on the Internet and radio.
The idea behind the event, she says, is to celebrate the lifestyle of young people like herself who are versed in the argot of city culture from New York to Buenos Aires. Reflecting the expansive pop tastes of such people, the inaugural Urban Latin Music Festival saw a musical lineup that ranged from hip-hop to merengue and bachata acts. Recording artist and broadcaster Angie Martinez served as host.
"I was very pleasantly surprised at how well it came together," says Mr. Giles, who earned a small profit on his investment. "The best news is that everybody had a good time. It's quite a unique audience. No one has really reached out to this population segment, so there are a lot of opportunities there."
According to Cultural Access Group, Hispanics account for the majority of the under-18 population in Los Angeles, New York, and Miami. Seventy percent of U.S. Hispanics are under 35.
"Obviously the key to reaching [the U.S. Hispanic youth] market is relevance - relevance to their ethnicity, their lifestyles, their media habits, and their culture," says Cultural Access Group chairman David Perez.
Ms. Giles and her father believe they've hit on the means to do just that. The two have formed a company called Soulfrito, which will produce concerts along the lines of the Urban Latin Music Festival. Plans also call for artist management and music publishing divisions and a fashion line. The Gileses expect to take the Urban Latin Music Festival to Boston and New York in 2004 and perhaps go national after that.
For Ms. Giles, it all comes down to highlighting the uniqueness of U.S. Hispanic urban culture. Along those lines, she is producing a number of smaller events in Miami under the Soulfrito banner this summer, including poetry readings, art exhibitions, and film screenings. And on October 3, she will host the Urban Latin Music Conference at Miami's Doubletree Grand Hotel, which is expected to draw some 200 attendees, including leaders from the Latin music industry.
"I want to promote urban Latino culture and arts. That means music, fashion, film, literature, and visual arts," she says.
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