Two years ago, while volunteering at Fall for Greenville as a cashier selling event tickets, Ramon Nieves-Lugo overheard some attendees in conversation. They were speaking Spanish, and as a Spanish-speaker himself, he began to engage with the visitors. He made a mental note of the exchange, and when it came time to give ideas to the event’s marketing committee about ways to improve Fall for Greenville, he revisited that conversation and put forward the idea of recruiting speakers of various languages as volunteers for the event.
In 2017, he was able to see his idea come to life, as about 100 volunteers wore language buttons identifying themselves as speakers of 15 different languages at that year’s event. For Nieves-Lugo, it was satisfying. “I was there the whole time. I love it,” he says.
“Normally, language is the first barrier toward someone feeling included,” Nieves-Lugo adds.
Nieves-Lugo has made a career out of bridging cultural gaps and fighting for inclusion, as founder and principal of UniComm Media Group, a marketing agency that helps businesses understand the Hispanic market in order to include them in their marketing efforts. For the past nine years, he has been a voice that helps bring traditional marketing efforts into the Hispanic community and make them more effective.
Nieves-Lugo was born in Puerto Rico, and he learned English through a private school on the island. When it came time to go to college, he moved to Greenville to attend Bob Jones University, where he worked toward a degree in marketing. But upon graduation, the recession hit, and Nieves-Lugo decided to go out on his own.
“A friend of mine mentioned to me that there was a big need for a Hispanic marketing agency,” he says. So, he pitched the idea to his brother, Gustavo, and soon they were starting work out of their parents’ house.
Nine years later, the agency has retained its entrepreneurial edge and remains the leader in Hispanic-focused marketing.
“In our space as an agency, we know and understand the Hispanic community better than anybody else,” Nieves-Lugo says. He adds, with a small laugh, that he tires of seeing lawn signs plastered with “Se Habla Espanol” as the extent of a business’s bilingual marketing plan. “That is not an effective strategy; it is not connecting with your audience.”
Rather, Nieves-Lugo wants companies to really focus on the Hispanic market just as they would with any other market segment — and to truly try to connect with the population around them. If they don’t know how to do that, he says, the solution is behind the walls at UniComm. “We really want businesses to come to us to get to the Hispanic community,” he says.
That community makes up a little less than 10 percent of the overall population in the Upstate, with Greenville having the largest percentage of Hispanic inhabitants in the region. In some areas, however, that population becomes far denser. Berea, for example, has about a 26 percent Hispanic population, Nieves-Lugo says. Many people within that population may be affected by ongoing issues like immigration or DACA — if not directly, then certainly within their families and communities. Those challenges can hinder the development and growth of Hispanic businesses — which typically are hiring and paying taxes like any other business in the area.
Since starting UniComm Media Group almost a decade ago, Nieves-Lugo has become a force — not only through the agency, but within the community, as well. In addition to his service both on the marketing committee and now as the chairman of the volunteer committee for Fall for Greenville, he works alongside the South Carolina Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, where his mother, Evelyn Lugo, serves as president. Through the chamber, which has about 300 members, he teaches marketing to Hispanic-owned businesses to help them, too, connect to the community around them.
Separately, Nieves-Lugo serves as chair of the Hispanic Business Council through the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, as well as vice chair of Latinos United, a grass-roots organization under the umbrella of the United Way.
“We are really passionate about being role models to young Latinos, and reaching them through self-empowerment and higher education and volunteering,” he says. “We really want to make an impact there.”
In a less formal way, Nieves-Lugo is also making an impact abroad — in his home of Puerto Rico. Much of the island is still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Maria, and Nieves-Lugo, along with a number of other Puerto Ricans, have worked together to meet needs — providing generators, toys, water, or anything else that they hear of.
In the end, Nieves-Lugo has one goal: to create connections between people.
“There is a misconception that the Hispanic community wants to be off in our own space, but I don’t think that’s true,” he says. “We want to be part of the community just as anyone else is part of the community; we want to be part of that fabric of Greenville. There are some barriers — like language and just the culture itself — but we want to be part of the community. I am just one example.”
Ramon’s Three C’s of Marketing to the Hispanic Community
Communication. What language does the community speak that you are going after? Are they bilingual? Do they speak a mix of Spanish and English? A Mexican audience might have certain vocabulary or words that others don’t use, for example. Language is important; and that communication piece is, too.
Culture. What’s the culture for that target audience you’re going after? Who are they, and how do they interact with other cultures, or among themselves? Develop content based on that culture and what you know about them.
Community. How is the community you are trying to reach made up? How is it structured? What are you trying to achieve? What is the right Hispanic audience for what you are trying to sell? Once you determine the answers to these questions, use those filters to see how you can better reach the Hispanic community.