By: Aaron Kwittken
Brands often define themselves as being “customer centric”, the customer lies at the core of who they are and what they do. While this may be true for most brands today, Univision Communications, an American media company that launched the first Spanish language television network in the U.S., defines itself as a beacon of advocacy for its audiences.
I recently sat down with Rosemary Mercedes, Executive Vice President and Chief Communications Officer, Univision Communications, to learn about the evolution of the brand and how the company is successfully navigating today’s ever-changing media landscape and unprecedented political environment.
Aaron Kwittken: As Chief Communications Officer, what types of challenges do you face in telling Univision’s brand story? How does your mandate tie back to Univision’s overall mission?
Rosemary Mercedes: My mission involves helping the marketplace understand Univision’s evolving story. I joined Univision in 2006 as the second hire in our public relations department, and at the time people couldn’t believe Univision was even a key player in the landscape. For many years, my job involved fighting for Univision to be part of that conversation. We are a big player today and now our story is evolving from a position of strength.
Additionally, when the network started in the 1960s, the narrative was focused on why a Spanish language station was needed. At the time, our history and the previous wave of immigrants were very focused on assimilation. Things are different today, and the assimilation process for Hispanics has changed. Now, it has to do with technology and access. People from all across the world can connect with one another through mobile apps. Today, you can be 100% Venezuelan, Colombian, Dominican or wherever you originate and still also be 100% American.
Kwittken: In the past, Hispanic reporters such as Jorge Ramos and networks such as Univision weren’t always on the mainstream media map. Today’s political environment has certainly given rise to more Hispanic voices. How has Univision benefited from this?
Mercedes: The era we’re living in has certainly enabled him to land on people’s radar. But, Jorge isn’t just a figurehead in the news or a leader in the space. It all ties back to the idea of advocacy rather than leadership. At Univision, we are a pro-Hispanic brand that covers news through more of an advocacy function. We talk about news and issues from a Hispanic perspective, but it doesn’t mean we’re not covering other topics as well.
Kwittken: Can mainstream outlets follow suit?
Mercedes: If they choose to. Take Gabrielle Giffords, for example: The kid who saved her was Hispanic, but no other outlet led with that angle. Another example is the crisis in Venezuela right now. That’s another issue that could be more widely covered by broadcast. There are issues and things that as a Hispanic American you care about because of your ties to home. We spend time on air and on digital encouraging our audience to “know your rights”. Today’s environment is filled with sources that aren’t credible. That’s where we come in as a credible resource and trusted brand.
Kwittken: What can mainstream media learn from Univision?
Mercedes: Years ago, there were three traditional big broadcasters and there was a social responsibility element to broadcast media. That element hasn’t evolved with the broadcast market and has become somewhat lost today.
Kwittken: With the current administration, the social responsibility element is more important than ever before. Is Univision active in organizations that protect journalists?
Mercedes: Yes. In fact, we’re a leader in the space, so folks look to us to see how we’re covering things and what our reaction is going to be. During the political campaign, certain candidates were saying things about our audience, causing Univision to double down on its core and look at how it could best defend the Hispanic population. That’s how our portfolio has grown over the years. We started as a station in San Antonio and as the community has grown, the company has grown, with that core focus and mission of our audience in mind.
Kwittken: Were you at Univision when they decided not to broadcast the Miss Universe pageant, following comments being said in the political arena?
Mercedes: Yes. That decision had business implications and there were contractual agreements, but it’s a part of who we are as a company today. As a brand, you need to have a good sense of who you are and who you serve. You’re going to experience moments in time where that will be tested, and as a brand you have to decide if you’re going to walk the walk and talk the talk of who are as a company.
Kwittken: Is Univision looking to reach non-Hispanic groups who feel isolated, or as if the news they watch doesn’t truly appeal to them? Is that part of Univision’s business strategy?
Mercedes: Yes, our portfolio has strategically grown in that direction. When you look at demographics, specifically young people, Hispanics make up such a large portion of the rising generation. Our Univision network is a legacy network and our news brand lies at our core. But we’ve also expanded our portfolio to include Fusion Media Group, which is much more multi-cultural. We have brands like The Root, Fusion TV and Fusion.com, which are not Hispanic-focused, but speak more to the themes, narratives and social issues young people care about. We’re expanding the type of news we offer and the ways in which we offer it.
Kwittken: Where does Univision pull inspiration from? Are there other progressive news media organizations you look to emulate?
Mercedes: We’re at a unique moment in time where convergence is happening. There are pieces within our portfolio where one part of our brand may be similar to another company, but we also have a massive sports influence. Five years ago, we launched a 24-hour cable network. This past summer, we broadcasted a huge soccer tournament that beat ESPN ratings in English. It’s difficult to choose one organization in particular. We have a rich portfolio today that’s filled with digital-first brands that have an engaged and loyal following. All of this grew out of great reporting and content creation. We’re always finding new ways to scratch the surface in leveraging our capabilities.
Kwittken: Is it difficult to get other media companies (whether print or broadcast) to cover Univision?
Mercedes: Oftentimes, it’s a case of out of sight out of mind. But we’ve done simple things to help ourselves along the way. When we have an amazing interview in Spanish, we send out transcripts in English. It used to be that was said in Spanish stayed in Spanish, but those days are gone. Our network has attracted prominent figures for decades, but we haven’t always showcased that part of our story.
Brands are also starting to realize that the Hispanic population is growing. Netflix is a great example of a brand that is positively disrupting the space we’re in. Netflix, a media company, conducted their first broadcast deal with Univision, which we announced last year. They looked at their global footprint and realized there was a growth market right in front of them. For us, it’s about continuing to tell our evolving story in a way that is authentic and effectively leans into the cultural zeitgeist.