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The Hispanic market seems to be the only one still flourishing these days in the face of economic doom and gloom.

Foreign-born Hispanics in the US have been historically unaffected by economic downturns. Why? Experian Consumer Research reports that 58% of Hispanics did not use a credit card in the last month and that approximately one-third opt for cash transactions, making them less likely to be affected by the credit crunch.

Hispanic households often have multiple sources of income from family members, allowing them greater percentages of expendable income.

In addition, many immigrants are accustomed to weathering tough financial times and don't connect with the sense of panic that other Americans are experiencing. They also do not rely on English-language media sources and subsequently are not manipulated by "the end is near" reporting. No wonder the Selig Center for Economic Growth projects that in 2009 Hispanic buying power will actually grow—to $1.1 trillion.

Smart businesses will take this opportunity to hire a Hispanic-marketing expert and win big despite the news reports. But everywhere you look, someone is hanging out a shingle claiming expertise in reaching Hispanics. So how do you make the right choice?

In 1849, America was gripped with Gold Rush fever. Thousands of people streamed into California, lured by the promise of riches "in them there hills." Fortune seekers were greeted by "guides" who claimed to be experts at finding elusive veins of gold. Most people went home with pockets full of pyrite, or fool's gold. Don't make the same mistake.

Follow these six steps to hiring the real McCoy and keeping your business afloat during tough times:

1. Don't assume that someone who is born with a Spanish last name has special knowledge about marketing to Hispanics. Hispanic marketing is a field of study. Being born Hispanic does not magically impart such knowledge. So don't be tempted to ask Mr. Perez in Accounting to fill the slot.

2. Hire only at the expert level. An expert should possess a combination of education and experience in Hispanic marketing. Taking Spanish in college does not count. Living in Argentina for a summer? Nope. Married to a Mexican? Sorry, not the same.

Look up the definitions of "code switching" and "Generation Ñ" and then ask your candidate to explain each one to you. If the candidate's score is less than 100%, walk away. Why? For the same reason you wouldn't hire a mechanic who wasn't familiar with a crankshaft or a voltage regulator.

Only a handful of colleges offer degrees in Hispanic marketing, so not having a degree isn't a deal breaker. An expert should still have a strong grasp of theory via self-study. Ask the candidate about online courses taken, books and research read, and seminars attended in Hispanic marketing.

Of course there is no replacement for real-life experience, but accept no less than five years' worth.

3. Choose someone with experience in your industry. Hiring a candidate who needs to be trained in your business model is like having someone borrow your watch to tell you the time.

4. Pinpoint which segment of the Hispanic market you are trying to reach. Verify that your candidate has successfully marketed to that segment. Past behavior really is the best predictor of future performance.

5. Hire a candidate who is truly bilingual. Hispanic marketing requires a keen feel for the spirit of the language and how it affects consumers. Free language testing is available online.

6. Know the current pay scale for the candidate's experience level.

* * *

Don't expect immediate gratification. It takes time, but the payoffs are well worth the wait. Just ask Disney, Ford, or McDonald's. They are predicted to survive and even thrive during the recession due in part to their large, lucrative, and loyal Hispanic customer base.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Blaire Borthayre

Blaire Borthayre is a Mexican-American consultant in the field of Hispanic marketing and CEO of Hispanic Marketing Resources (www.hispanicmarketingresources.com).