Book Review: “Communicating with the Multicultural Consumer” by Barbara Mueller
The racial and ethnic demographics of America are shifting. The Census calculated that by 2050, the Hispanic population of the United State will become 30% of the population. By 2050, 62% of the children in this country will come from a current minority background (e.g., Asian American, Hispanic, African American, multicultural, Native American, Pacific Islander/Alaskan Native).
As minorities become emerging majorities, the need to produce public relations practitioners who can see the world from multiple viewpoints and who understand the importance of ethical, culturally sensitive communication to publics from various communities and language/cultural backgrounds is imperative. Too often public relations practitioners ascribe identities to individual groups and do not take the time to see the public as the public sees themselves (i.e., examining the avowed identities of the group). Or practitioners create messages that reflect their own background and interests rather than the public’s background and interests. It’s difficult to teach diversity in public relations because of the thin resources (journal articles, books, websites, and collected examples) available. Although diversity initiatives and emphases are established by accrediting councils and professional associations, few textbooks address the issue of multicultural audiences and multicultural communication/outreach. No sole textbook looks at the diversity issues inside strategic communication (advertising, public relations, marketing communication practitioners and organizations) and outside (the publics that organizations must reach).
This is where Barbara Mueller’s book fills the gap, offering essentials and practical perspectives for targeting messages. Understanding audiences who exist beyond the typical public relations practitioners’ experience is important for all practitioners to know and implement in their workplaces and in their projects.
Mueller makes sense of racial and ethnic markers that tend to frighten and frustrate some public relations practitioners. Instead of flattening all groups into easy categories, Mueller gives a nuanced approach that discusses the variations and contours in each group. For example, when discussing the Black (or African American) audience, the book points to the Caribbean American and African populations that are pushed (without their knowledge or consent) into this population moniker. Lumping and dumping all Hispanics into pre-made categories negates the geographic, class, and ethnic markers that exist within this community. Pushing all Asians into a box forgets acculturation patterns, language differences, and country affiliations.
The book is a practical, convenient reference for understanding demographics and psychographics of multicultural audiences. Mueller puts together a collection of rich data (more than 100 tables and figures), astute observations, and current (and compelling) campaign examples. This book will be useful when teaching diversity issues in strategic communication and when professors need to explore how different outreach strategies and campaigns are used to reach various groups.
Submitted by Natalie Tindall. Natalie is an assistant professor of public relations at Georgia State University. She specializes in diversity and identity in public relations and teaches Public Relations Writing, PR Research and Campaigns.
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