You only get one chance to make a first impresión

Spanish Learning language

Most people can agree that it is important to communicate with Spanish-speaking audiences – residents, shoppers, customers, patients, voters, and so on.  The demographics of California and the United States make that abundantly clear, but how do you do it?  How do you effectively communicate with Spanish-speaking audiences?

Too often, this is entrusted to employees of organizations who have a Spanish surname, assuming that since they routinely speak Spanish with friends and family, that they must also know how to write and professionally communicate in Spanish.  They were not hired by their organization to communicate in Spanish and often their formal credentials are just like most everyone else’s – a couple of years of Spanish in high school, maybe a couple of years in college.  Organizations often put their employees in the uncomfortable position of being Latino and speaking Spanish but having to admit or hide that they may not have the formal grammatical, writing, and rhetorical training to translate or communicate in Spanish.  Those organizations are sometimes asking their accountant to fix their plumbing, and the results can be embarrassing – jumbled translations in Spanglish that do the very opposite of demonstrating respect for the language and the very population that an organization is attempting to reach.  It is the same case with English:  the number of people who speak English far outnumber the number of professionals who are educated, trained, and skilled in grammar and the art of communications in English.

Professional Spanish-language communications begin with proper respect for the Spanish language and the audiences that choose to receive their news and information in Spanish, even if they might speak and understand English.  It begins with excellent grammar that respects the language of its audience, the kind that takes more than a few years in high school and a minor in college to develop.  Professional Spanish-language communications requires finding ways of cleverly communicating key concepts that if translated literally are literally lost in translation.  Online translation software is of little help here and is not to be trusted.  Professional Spanish-language communicators advise a client on the nuances of culture and language, not just to avoid an embarrassing faux pas (that might pass muster with online translation software), but instead to support an impactful connection that communicates a client’s message with target audiences.  Communicating professionally in Spanish includes advising a client on the appropriate media to deliver the message – television, radio, print, social media, and/or community events and publications.  Should your message air during the midday or the evening telenovela?  Should your earned media be on morning radio or in the newsweekly paper?  And finally, professional Spanish-language communications means being ready to represent a client on-air and in interviews with carefully crafted messages that hit the mark with the audience.

It is good that more and more organizations are choosing to include Spanish-speaking audiences in their communications.  But with this particular audience, just as with any other, you only get one chance to make a first impresión.  It is imperative that it is done well, professionally, and in a way that adds value to an organization’s overall communications.

By Susana Villegas, Hispanic Outreach Specialist

Ideas Worth Spreading: 5 TED Talks to Inspire Your Work & Stir Curiosity


It’s no secret that I love TED Talks. When I’m facing a tough challenge at work or need inspiration, they’re a fantastic resource. I even listen to them in the car on the way to work or on long runs. Here are a few favorites:

Simon Sinek: Start With Why

This TED talk not only changed the way I approach PR and marketing campaigns, but it changed the way I approach life. In this talk, Sinek unveils a simple but powerful model for how leaders inspire action, starting with the question “Why?”

Arianna Huffington: How to Succeed? Get More Sleep

In a world where most people are overworked, overstressed and under-rested – and wear it as badge of honor – Arianna Huffington’s mantra is refreshing. Huffington shares a small idea that can awaken much bigger ones: the power of a good night’s sleep. She believes we can sleep our way to increased productivity and happiness — and smarter decision-making. This is a short talk – only four minutes long and well worth your time.

Seth Godin: How to Get Your Ideas to Spread

This talk is 11 years old but is every bit as relevant today as it was back then. Marketing guru Seth Godin spells out why, when it comes to getting our attention, bad or bizarre ideas are more successful than boring ones.

Madeline Albright: On Being a Woman and a Diplomat

There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help women”

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright talks bluntly about politics and diplomacy, making the case that women’s issues deserve a place at the center of foreign policy. Far from being a “soft” issue, she says, women’s issues are often the very hardest ones, dealing directly with life and death.

Olivia Fox Cabane: Build Your Personal Charisma

OK, OK – this one isn’t a TED talk. But it’s close! This talk helped me learn a lot about active listening, eye contact, warmth, body language and presence. Olivia Fox Cabine teaches us that charisma isn’t purely innate or magical. Instead, it can be something that one cultivates.

How to Handle Crisis Communications

business meeting conference journalism microphones

If you’re at the center of a crisis when one hits, like it did April 15 when two bombs killed and maimed spectators and participants at the Boston Marathon, make this your mantra:

Communicate early. Communicate often. And communicate accurately.

Communicating early, when facts are still coming in and very little can be confirmed or validated, means at least letting stakeholders know that:

  1. You’re on it.
  2. You care.

Social media might be among the first places you let people know that your organization is working to fact find and planning to release more information as it becomes available and verified. If you’ve pre-planned your crisis communications, you will have some prepared responses to many potential crisis scenarios so that your posts are a keystroke away and do not need vetting or wordsmithing under high stress. If you have an important message that you need to get out, use social media and ask people to share your message. Many people will be glad to help.

It’s important to show people as early as possible that you are the best and most reliable source of information about your crisis and that you care. Do not assume that they realize you’re as upset, saddened, shocked or dismayed as they are. Tell them so. And if your attorneys tell you not to comment at all, just keep in mind that their primary goal is winning in the courtroom or negotiating table. They might win there, but if you don’t communicate early and empathetically, you lose in the court of public opinion and that may cost you more dearly than any court-mandated settlement. (Just sayin’. If the lawyers start driving the communications strategy, it’s game over. Think of BP in the Gulf of Mexico or Toyota with its faulty brakes.)

If people were harmed, you care deeply and are empathetic. If people have been inconvenienced, you’re sympathetic and are working furiously to ensure that everything is returned to business as usual.

The lawyers want to be sure that you’re not excessively admitting to responsibility for their inconvenience or injuries. This is valid, but it is a terrible and irreparable mistake to withhold any response and, as a result, project an image of callousness. You cannot be too compassionate. And compassion does not mean taking responsibility.

Think about this: What if the CEO of Carnival Cruises had gotten himself airlifted to the ship adrift and suffered alongside his customers? I would feel entirely differently about the problems Carnival and its passengers have suffered through if I knew its executives shared in the discomfort. And the headline would not be: “Boss of Carnival Adds Insult to Misery By Going to Basketball Game as 4,000 Suffer Aboard ‘Stinking Stricken Ship’…”.

Communicating often is essential because media coverage can be around the clock. If it’s an evolving situation, plan to hold media briefings every few hours. Listen closely on social media so you can correct misinformation that is getting passed around as it happens. Use your social media channels to release details in between media briefings. Establish a hashtag for your crisis communications on Twitter so that people can more closely follow the ‘official’ information source.

The frequency of your communications are a way of showing that you care about your stakeholders and are serving their needs and not just your own. Today, people make judgments based on your organization’s behavior and not just a carefully crafted message labored over by your attorneys, senior executives and others.

Inaccurate information can un-do all of your tremendous communications. To increase the likelihood that accurate information is presented on a timely basis, your crisis plan should have designated spokespeople, chains of command and reporting structures so that people in the field, on the scene or troubleshooting the issue know the protocol for providing updates. They should have the names and contact information of the crisis team, there should be a clear method of capturing and reporting out the information to the crisis team, and everyone in the field should know not to speak to but instead properly redirect the media and to limit internal speculation.

Stress degrades decision making, so successful communications in a crisis are typically based on a pre-existing communication plan that reasonably anticipates various crisis situations and develops responses so that they’re at the ready when a crisis hits.

Whether you have a plan or are planning on the fly, just repeat after me: communicate early, communicate often and communicate accurately.