Alberto Monserrate Interview

Alberto Monserrate Interview

Photo of Alberto Monserrate

Alberto Monserrate’s Biography

Alberto Monserrate is co-founder and CEO of NewPublica, a public relations and strategic communications firm focusing on new audiences and new communications.

Alberto is a leading authority on multicultural communications and marketing in Minnesota and has been a regular commentator in the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Minnesota Public Radio and other Minnesota business media.

He was elected to the Minneapolis School Board in 2010, serving as chair from 2012 to 2014. Alberto is Currently the board chair of Great Minnesota Schools, is the former board chair of Hiawatha Academies and served on the founding boards of KIPP Minnesota and Twin Cities Academy. He served on the board of the Minnesota Broadcasters Association and on the advisory editorial board of Minnesota Business Magazine.

He has worked with Radisson Hotels International, Ameriprise Financial, Wells Fargo Advisors, Latino Communications Network, Minnesota Senate and Minneapolis Public Schools.

Share on Linkedin Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Messenger Share on Reddit Share on Skype Share on WhatsApp Share on Email

Multicultural Marketing

David Erickson: I am here with my very good and very long-time friend, Alberto Monserrate. He is the CEO and co-founder of NewPublica. That’s a PR agency in Minnesota that specializes in multicultural marketing. And Alberto is a brilliant multi-multicultural communications mind. So we’re gonna talk a lot about that for the interview today.

Growing Up In Puerto Rico

David Erickson: But past is prologue so let’s start first where it all began. You were born in Puerto Rico, Alberto. What was the experience growing up in Puerto Rico like and how did that influence where you are today, if at all?

Alberto Monserrate: Well, yeah, I grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico and that had a lot of influence. I grew up on one end in a beautiful island with beautiful beaches and a very laid back culture, right? On the other end, I unfortunately, during time I grew up there, there was also a lot of violence, a lot of crime. And I think that had quite a bit of an influence. I also, you know, growing up in Puerto Rico, was very aware of a lot of social injustices that were going on. I very much got very interested in social justice, racial equity, while i was growing there. So I think that, you know, this was…my teens were spent in the early 80s where there was a drug war going on down in Puerto Rico; a lot of different gangs positioning for the drug trade. And so that violence around–I think that had a lot of influence. On the other end, I did, you know, I grew up speaking Spanish. Parents from Puerto Rico, and I was very influenced culturally by that.

Study Sociology & Psychology

David Erickson: Sure, sure. So that’s interesting. I guess we’ve never really discussed this. Why you…? So you went to you went to school at the University of Minnesota but we never discussed why you studied sociology but that–what you just said–kind of makes a lot of sense now that I know that. So talk a little bit about what led you to sociology. I think you’ve already hinted at it, though.

Alberto Monserrate: Well, I actually started with psychology. I was very interested in behavior and to know what made people behave the way they do. But University Minnesota also had a major in sociology that specialized in criminal justice, criminal law and procedure. And so after almost finishing a major in psychology, I kind of honestly got a little bit more of the psychology and the whole issue of law, criminology, really was interesting to me. And also kind of, since I grew up around a lot of crime and just knowing more about why, right?

David Erickson: Sure, sure.

Alberto Monserrate: I was the kid that asked why, probably too much, you know.

Marketing Communication Education

David Erickson: No kid can ask too much, too many whys. So it fascinates me because just in the frame of marketing, we have now schools of communications where a lot of the people that are going into advertising or public relations are coming out of schools where they’re teaching, they’re getting degrees in strategic communications. And you and I did not. You got a degree in sociology; I got a degree in English. And I kind of think that that limits–getting a strategic communications degree–limits your kind of effectiveness as a as a marketer. What do you think of that? I think, you know, that your sociology, it’s a study of human behavior. And that’s a large part of what we do in marketing.

Alberto Monserrate: Absolutely. I think psychology also helped me. I mean, I basically ended up with a double major and in psychology and criminal justice. And I do believe in strategic communications majors but I do believe also in a broad liberal arts education. And I have hired quite a few team members who have studied communications or mass media communications and so I value that.

But I, in my case, most of what I’ve learned–I did learn some definitely about human behavior in college and a lot about business and relationships, which has been very important to my business, in college parties. I joke around but my mom didn’t appreciate as much. But you I think that really my marketing communications knowledge has really come from experiences, come from developing relationships, and learning a lot of trial and error. And I’ve had the benefit of working with a lot of colleagues who have studied more…

David Erickson: Sure, sure. Yeah, I guess what I was getting at is if you go into sociology, you go into English–I mean I went to English because I like to read, you know. But it was the curiosity. I wasn’t thinking of a career after, what I was gonna do with it; which was probably stupid at the time. And it never paid off until I started doing marketing and then it paid off in spades. So I think just the people who do–I’m not trying to dump on strategic communications degrees–but I’m just saying they’re looking, they know where they want to go with their career, which is great. But again, a broad liberal arts education allows you to connect a lot of different dots that I think that you wouldn’t otherwise.

Alberto Monserrate: Well actually, interestingly enough, if I would have stayed in Puerto Rico–you know I left for the US–but if I would have stayed in Puerto Rico, I probably would have studied communication. There was a university there that has a very good program. I actually was very interested in journalism. I’ve always had a passion for journalism, a lot of respect for journalism. I think if you asked me at 15 years old what I wanted to be, I wanted to be covering wars and hurricanes, right?

David Erickson: Sure.

Alberto Monserrate: As a correspondent or something like that.

David Erickson: Sure, sure.

Alberto Monserrate: So I do think that I always had that passion for that. I think the passion for journalism came before for marketing communications. That kind of evolved a little bit later.

Financial Advising

David Erickson: Yeah, yeah. So from college, you became a financial adviser. So how did that come about?

Alberto Monserrate: Well, you know, it became a reality when I was done with college in the late 80s, early 90s, where there was a deep recession and I tried to get a job related to criminal justice. And I could not find a job and so I did the practical thing. Yeah, I got a job at what is now Ameriprise, was IDS financial services. I got a job doing customer service originally helping people with their investment decisions. And that was just, that was really a practical thing that ended up actually being a part of my career that I really enjoyed, I did move on from customer service to actually managing corporate retirement plans for several years.

Alberto Monserrate: And it also gave me an incredible amount of experience with marketing. I mean, I did get involved with either turning around clients who, you know, we’re about to leave the company or helping members of our team bring in new corporate clients. And I also got involved actually meeting directly with the CEO and a number of the other marketers from the company.

First Multicultural Marketing Experience

Alberto Monserrate: And actually, it was my first multicultural marketing effort. So I was in a team that was looking at back then American Express Financial Advisors–they were looking at doing more marketing in diverse communities; and in my case, specialize a lot in the Latino community. So that was another great opportunity. And I actually really enjoyed that part of my career.

Starting A Business

David Erickson: Alright, yeah. I imagine that also has some benefits, that experience has a lot of benefits in just running your business.

Alberto Monserrate: Oh, absolutely. Although it was interesting, because I did spend 10 years, one way or another, involved with investments and managing investments; later went on to what was Prudential Securities, which is Wells Fargo Advisors now. And, interestingly enough, I actually did leave. But first of all, I did get some management experience that was really helpful in running business, got a lot of financial experience.

But when I actually went out and started a business, it was actually very humbling. Because I thought I knew a lot more. And absolutely, it’s been very helpful to have that knowledge starting a business from scratch 20 some years ago and growing it.

Learning From Immigrant Entrepreneuers

Alberto Monserrate: But I actually learned from a lot of immigrant business owners who had barely high school degrees; those were the ones who really taught me. I had been their financial advisor at some point. And I did business with them later on in my business and I learned a lot more about business from them than in college. I joke around but I’m not so joking around, I think I learned more about business in college from the college parties.

David Erickson: That’s awesome. So you and I met while you were still at IDS Financial, I guess. That’s right, yeah. And we were both working at–you were also working, you had two gigs at that time, right? Um, we were also working at–

Alberto Monserrate: You were talking about Dayton Hudson, the Target or…

David Erickson: Dayton Hudson Corporation.

Alberto Monserrate: Yeah, actually, that was a job I had through college. I think we met through through the end of college when I was


David Erickson: Okay, okay ,okay. So yeah, we were both at Dayton Hudson Corporation–now known as Target–doing some customer relations slash government affairs kind of thing. But I think we bonded over our shared interest in politics. So we got to know each other that way.

And then and you have an interesting journey in politics. I think young people, you either come from a family where the politics are front and center and you inherit your politics from your parents. And then I was like, I didn’t have that experience. My parents, we didn’t talk politics in my family. So I kind of was free to figure it out for myself. And I remember calling myself an Independent in college, without knowing a lot about politics. But thinking independent is better than being associated with a party and then came to came to Democratic politics.

You have an interesting journey yourself. So why don’t you talk about how you got interested in politics and, you know, what the journey looked like.

Alberto Monserrate: Oh, probably my first involvement was as a teenager in Puerto Rico. I grew up in a very political family. My dad was, I think he could be considered radical left-wing; he had been involved with unions. And so I grew up in a very left-wing home where politics was discussed a lot.

And then when I moved to the US, I kind of continued some of that enrollments in college. And then as I started reading in college, and started, you know, got very involved. I actually did get a minor in political science as an interest and also in history. And so my ideology kind of evolved from very left-wing, Marxist upbringing to, you know, what I consider more, I’ve been kind of a center-left, center-right throughout my my career.

DFL Politics & Bill Clinton Campaign

Alberto Monserrate: I got very involved with–once I started getting a little more practical, I got involved with DFL politics in college, I got involved with national Democrats. I did a lot of work in the Bill Clinton campaign organizing students around the country between 1991-92.

Minnesota State Senate

Alberto Monserrate: Worked in the State Senate for a period of time also. Actually had great communications background; when I was working in the Senate, I would prepare the daily digest in the mornings. I would get up really–I would get earlier than anybody else to what was then the DFL caucus in the Senate, go through every newspaper, actually cut them, choose what everybody–all of the, not just what the Senators were going to read, but also what the reporters were going to read–and so just pasted, copied it and then distributed it throughout the Senate. So it was actually a fun gig to have.

David Erickson: Right.

Alberto Monserrate: Early 20s.

David Erickson: For young people, that’s why they call them newspaper clippings, news clippings.

Alberto Monserrate: Now you have a lot of newsletters that kind of keep you up-to-date but yeah, back then, that was quite the–I also did a lot of interviews with Senators that we would send out to radio stations and things like that. So very old media in the early 90s.

Politics As Training For Marketing

David Erickson: Yeah, right. How does that political experience or political understanding influence your communications practice now?

Alberto Monserrate: Well, interestingly enough, I was very, very involved in politics till twenty-five. I mean, that’s almost all I did. Then I got burned out. And I decided to take off for about 10 years, actually. Which I thought was very healthy as I had a family, helped raise two beautiful kids who’ve grown up now and went into the investment world and then started in business.

And politics, you know, being involved with many political campaigns really helped develop further both marketing and communications, media relations skills.

Running For School Board

Alberto Monserrate: I did actually run for office in 2010. I ran for Minneapolis school board. I got to chair the Minneapolis school board for a couple years and served a term. And that also taught me a lot about communications. Minneapolis, we were, you know, from crisis to crisis. Minneapolis schools. So learned quite a bit about crisis management. Spent a lot of time with our chief communications officer, Stan Alleyne, who’s a communicator, too, communications professional. And so yeah, politics is I think is a place where you really can learn a lot about communications, you really can learn a lot about marketing, you really fine tune your skills. And it’s a very, as you know, it can be a very–especially campaigns–can be very, very, very fast-paced. Which prepares us well, for the world we’re living now, which is 24/7, million different devices and platforms.

Latino Communications Network

David Erickson: Right, right. So you and I were were partners in an early digital publishing venture on Minnesota politics. And that kind of leads me into my next thing is you had your media career. So your next venture after financial management, financial services is the Latino Communications Network. So tell me, let’s talk about the LCN.

Alberto Monserrate: Well, first of all, when I was in the corporate world, I went through training, which ironically was meant to retain me in the corporation I was working in. That training it became very clear that I should be an entrepreneur. So I was actually training to retain me that kind of led me to leave the corporate world and start a business. So I have that entrepreneurial bug.

And I also noticed that I needed a deeper connection with at that time, the Latino community. Originally from Puerto Rico grew up in you know, my adult years, in Minnesota and the community was growing rapidly. And I also need a deeper connection. I actually saw myself staying–none of the environments I worked in, corporations I worked with, was diverse–and I saw myself staying late at night, sometimes looking forward to talking to the the janitor, the cleaning crew who often spoke in Spanish. That just kind of got me to want to connect more and more to the community.

I did help the companies I was working with with some philanthropies and multicultural marketing efforts that were involved. So I started sitting on some boards. And then I noticed the community was growing rapidly and so decided start a Latino media companies back then.

Which, you know, everybody who listened to me thought I had gone crazy. My mom was almost crying: What happened to you? My friends, my colleagues, were thinking, you must be going to a competitor, why would anybody be so stupid to start something like that? So it was quite the–I really believed in it, I really wanted a change. My daughter was just about to be born back then. So it really sounded like a crazy thing. But I really believed in it. I knew, I had done a fair amount of research, literally, in Lake Street; which is where we based ourselves, East Lake Street. It was almost like a block a week that were more and more Latinos were moving into, Latino businesses were starting everywhere. Areas in East Lake Street that had been very economically depressed were just booming with activity. And so that just attracted me and also my love for journalism; if there was, this was an opportunity to kind of go back to what I wanted to do originally, right? To leave a little bit of the practical and going into media, which is something I really love.

Media Properties

David Erickson: So let’s talk about the, I mean–you have an impressive roster of media properties that you developed under the Latino Communications Network: La Prensa, the newspaper; Vida y Sabor, a magazine; La Invasora, radio; Minneapolis Cinco de Mayo Festival, and so events; and Hispanic Yellow Pages directory. So can you talk a little bit about each of those?

Alberto Monserrate: Yeah, well, we started…one of the things I noticed when we looked at the landscape…and actually, originally, we thought about starting an agency that would market to the Latino community, locally; that was kind of our beginning. And then we thought we would expand from there. And then we kind of noticed that a lot of the media, local ethnic media was was barely surviving. You had a newspapers who struggled paying the printer, you had radio stations struggled to pay for licenses and all that. So we thought that to develop some economies of scale and bring in different media outlets into one place that will give us also the ability to hire talent and to be able to have more stability, right?

And so that’s really how we started. So we actually started with a magazine, Vida y Sabor, which we called–we were kind of looking at the landscape: There was one Latino paper and one Latino radio station. And then there was another new newspaper that was starting up, La Prensa had started already moving, so that was starting. La Prensa was more based out of West side of St. Paul, that looked at what was traditionally a Mexican American, second-, third-generation community where in Minneapolis you saw primarily, recent immigrants, who spoke primarily Spanish. So those were the two papers.

And then we first thought about let’s do something different. And back then, in year 2000, we were looking at younger members of the Latinx community. And that’s why I started with Vida y Sabor, which at that point was like the Latino CityPages. We actually started as an insert in several zip codes for CityPages. And so we started doing that, then we bought Gente de Minnesota, we later on bought La Prensa and started combining that and then we tried to buy the existing radio station, we couldn’t up with an agreement so we started one with La Invasora.

So that ended up at its top–before Google and Facebook, you know, grabbed so much advertising money–we really had, we grew to close to 40 employees at our top with three publications, two Spanish radio stations. And it really was great. I mean, our mission was to be the most effective way to reach Latinos in Minnesota and that was definitely–we captured 50% of the Latino advertising market locally at that point. And just grew a very fun, effective company.

NewPublica = Public Relations + Publications

David Erickson: Sure, sure. Well, a lot of different types of content. Content marketing is the thing, now; I mean, it always has been but people are pouring money into it now. And you’re kind of–you’re not kind of–you’re well ahead of the trend of PR agencies, incorporating publications, owning publications. So then you started NewPublica. So did Latino Communications presumably transitioned into NewPublica? Is that correct?

Alberto Monserrate: Yeah, well, I probably say that the peak for Latino Communications Network is probably somewhere between 2008-2010. Actually, things were working going so well at that point, I decided to run for school board.

And then we didn’t know it at that time but then Google and Facebook happened. So significant amounts of revenue, a lot of the businesses that advertise with us, we started noticing, we’re cutting their budget significantly; we started finding out where they were going. And we found out later that Google and Facebook and other online advertisers were really grabbing a lot of attention. We probably didn’t react quick enough. And we actually ended up losing about half of our revenue in about a three year period. Which came with layoffs, unfortunately. We were going down at the same rate the entire market was; we always kept 50% of the market. And so everything–you know, local TV station division, different radio stations, all really went down dramatically.

So at that point, we made a decision to get out of radio. We had partners that you would need to buy out or they needed to buy us out. And so we did a projection for radio; it didn’t look very good to completely own the radio station. So we decided to get out of radio.

And we by then had noticed that a lot of the clients were coming to us not so much because they wanted to buy advertising but they wanted to reach the Latino community, which we had by then formed really good alliances with other ethnic media; Hmong media, African American media, and other media outlets, so we were developing more and more expertise in diverse communities.

And by 2014, when NewPublica was founded, we made a decision that there was more of an interest in consulting than there was in media. We had a big passion for media, we had exited radio, we had kept publications that had a lot of activity online. And so what we decided to do, we formed NewPublica with my business partner, Melissa Franzen. And then we to buy the assets of Latino Communications Network as a division. And so that is something that over the years has really integrated well.

Multicultural Communications Agency

Alberto Monserrate: Our primary business right now is communications consulting. Primarily, we’re known for multicultural and I think that’s an area that we have a lot of expertise on; we do also mainstream communications, and it’s often: We attract clients through the multicultural we’re able to do other types of communication. But that ended up–the media, and we’ve kind of developed other media, like we developed La Prensa, for example–it is really integrated well into some of the campaigns that we have.

David Erickson: So what what kind of–I mean, obviously, multicultural and you do mainstream, as well–but what kind of work, what kind of clients do you work with?

Alberto Monserrate: So our clients have, primarily over the years been a good combination of government agencies and foundations and nonprofits. And more recently, we’ve been working more and more with corporate clients; that’s been probably our biggest area of growth. We have noticed over the years but I think especially over the last year, where there’s been what I would say is a huge increase in demand for both communicating to multicultural communities and also to communicate about racial equity.

And so that is a–the type of clients we worked on with government agencies, it’s often we work a lot in transportation, for example. But we were also work a lot with, like, for example, with the City of St. Paul, with their college savings account or safe housing or other issues that they get involved with, often in collaboration with foundations. And so the type of work we do is pretty diverse, everything from traditional media relations, occasional crisis management, drafting communications, community engagement has been a very rapidly growing part of our business, where we actually go out to diverse communities, primarily, although we go out to pretty much all communities. But we usually get hired because of the multicultural communities that we reach out to.

And so everything from from going door-to-door, to having community engagement meetings, to doing all kinds of engagement. We work very closely–and this is something that I think has been very important–we work very closely with the Latinx community, African American community, East African Community, among Native communities. And I think that a key thing other than knowing, you know, developing some expertise of where people are in the digital space, in the social media space, and also what type of media people in those communities consume.

But also we’ve developed long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships with members of the communities. So we usually we have people who are reaching out who, you know, often haven’t reached out to those communities before, so when we reach out, they’re going to recognize us. We’ve worked together for many years. So I think that old school in-person, one-on-one relationship building is often been more valuable than all the, you know, digital expertise. That is incredibly important but that other people can do too. So–

David Erickson: Yeah, well, the amount of work you put into it, you get a lot back. That’s hard work; there’s a lot of legwork in that, there’s a lot of–relationship building isn’t easy. It’s not as easy as putting a couple of dollars into a Facebook account and running a digital ad. You actually have to meet people and yeah, so I can see why that would be. Why that would pay off.

Alberto Monserrate: Another area, research is another area that we really developed during the pandemic. So, you know, holding virtual listening sessions or focus groups in all the communities that I mentioned before, has also been another area. So it’s been fun that we’ve been able to get involved from the research point of view, to then crafting messages and campaigns and then executing. I always like to say, we’ve developed a lot of insight but you don’t really know until you really know, right? So that research is also very important.

Diversity Within Diversity

David Erickson: Yeah and so that gets me to my next thing is the public relations industry is seventy percent white; advertising, probably more. And so when marketers think–as largely white marketers–think of reaching people of color, they don’t probably think as penetratingly as they should be about who they’re trying to reach. So if they’re talking about Latinx, they’re probably thinking Mexican. So let’s talk about the diversity of communities of color. Start with Latinx. So you know, in Minnesota, in particular, we have a bunch of different communities that are that fall under the umbrella of Latinx.

Alberto Monserrate: Yeah, so that’s the case with just about every community. First of all, people of color now make close to 20% of the population in Minnesota; immigrants make close to 10% of the population. So you have a very significant percentage of the population that you’re not effectively reaching out unless you are developing expertise there. There is an incredible amount of interest in marketing, obviously, to wider communities. And I think that after George Floyd, and after the murder of George Floyd, and also after the pandemic, a lot of that interest increased quite a bit also. And if you actually look at the communications firms–which many of them we actually collaborate with and work closely with.

But you go to–all you got to do is go to websites and you’re not going to see a lot of diversity. And that’s something that’s been interesting about the communications industry, I think, also from the advertising industry, maybe not so much.

But that is something that that strikes me. As a matter of fact, a lot of our team members are communicators of color, who got attracted the industry because they heard a communicator of color, you know, an executive speak at an event and recruit them, right? And but they did say that they struggled a little bit.

So I think it’s an industry that has taken a bit of a while to adapt. Like I said, I do see a lot of interest from other firms and we collaborate with them. But it is; they are very white. And campaigns are often very white. We recently worked with a corporate client, they had developed a campaign–they have an excellent marketing department–they had developed a campaign, they did a couple of focus groups around that campaign, and it completely bombed with people of color, right? And that was one of their main audiences that they were trying to reach.

So we had to develop everything from scratch, from the name of the campaign to there were references that immigrants, for example, could not relate to at all; you know, songs that they were singing, or words that we’re using that just were completely bombing. And so we saw the interest. What a lot of times is lacking is the knowledge and the expertise in communicating effectively.

And so part of it is understanding the diversity of the communities. The Latinx community is an example of a community that is very diverse. It is in the state of Minnesota about 60-some percent is Mexican American or has ancestry in Mexico. There is then a significant amount of members of the community that are from Central America; also a significant and growing from South America; Ecuadorians are a growing group, significant number of Puerto Ricans.

The community now makes officially more than five percent of the population. And in some areas of the state make very significant percentages. I think other than St. Paul has a significant population; Minneapolis has a significant population. But there are towns around the state–especially in southern Minnesota like Austin or different towns in southern Minnesota–where the population will reach twenty percent or more and schools will actually have a very, very significant percentage of the population. So it has been a growing community.

You also have the Asian community, the Hmong community is the largest. And one of the biggest, becoming one of the most influential communities in the Twin Cities. We do a lot of work and help manage communications for several organizations. And there is the Karen community now in the city of St. Paul, which we collaborate with on campaigns, translate a lot of their documents to both Hmong and Karen and Spanish, Somali and Oromo, right? So that’s another community–the Somali community, the East African Community–there’s a difference. And the Somali community; there’s also a significant Oromo community, right? And others, right?

So I think–the other type of diversity we see is rural and urban. I think that’s something that–definitely in the Latino community, you see big differences between people who live in southern Minnesota and people who live in the city.

And then the biggest one that we’re working on now–where it’s in political campaigns or marketing campaigns–is generational. We’re seeing some big generational shifts in every community of color that I mentioned before. Generational differences of how you market, what language you use, what issues are important to people? So a lot of diversity within the diversity.

David Erickson: Right, right.

Alberto Monserrate: And it’s no longer that, where diversity means whether you’re Swedish or Norwegian.

David Erickson: Yeah. This is great, because when markers in our largely white industry need to think about all these different nuances. And so there are visual differences between between, you know, South American countries and cultural references. And, again, your languages that need to–

Alberto Monserrate: A clear example: You know very well too that visual communications, especially nowadays, can be even more important than written communications. Where a lot of the more traditional cultures in Minnesota tended to use colors that weren’t quite so bright, right? So that’s something we struggle a bit with clients when we’re developing visual communications, where they would like to use colors that we’d tend to find a little bit more boring. But all communities I mentioned before, that’s something that we tend to have in common is brighter colors. And so that’s a perfect example of where a lot of times, a lot of marketers are missing the boat.

David Erickson: Just within the United States, going from Minnesota to like New Mexico, you notice that. There’s a larger percentage of Latinx population in New Mexico than there is–at least when I visited years ago–than in Minnesota, and the colors are well, not bright, bright, but pastel bright. And you don’t see a lot of pastel colors in Minnesota. So it was striking to me.

Alberto Monserrate: You know, you mentioned New Mexico, too. We talked about diversity nationally, because we’ve done some of that homework too. The Latino community is very diverse around the United States. And something I think that was discussed quite a bit in the last presidential race and a lot of political campaigns. And you have in New Mexico, for example, a largely Mexican American community, many of them have several generations that have lived in New Mexico. You see that in Colorado, too. So their attitudes are going to be very different than in other parts of the country.

You see, California: Largely Mexican American with a lot more recent immigrants that you would see maybe in New Mexico or Colorado. And then you see Florida where you have Cuban Americans, a significant number of Puerto Ricans and a significant amount of South Americans, also, that make the majority.

In New York you see, overwhelmingly, Latinos from the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic. So the Latinx community is a community that is definitely very diverse. And a lot of the communications we do right now are in Spanish and a lot of communications right now are in English, where we’re communicating the members of the community who don’t speak very much Spanish, right? There’s a lot of diversity there.

David Erickson: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, you mentioned Cuba. The other thing is, I think a lot of left-leaning people assume that people of color writ large, are going to be left-leaning, because of course they are. There’s a lot of political diversity as well among people of color. And that’s most glaringly obvious in Miami in the Cuban community, traditionally has been conservative.

Alberto Monserrate: Right. I mean, George Bush actually got–the Bush son–got 45% of Hispanic vote. That went down over the years. Trump actually, ironically–a lot of people would find it hard to believe–but actually support picked up in the Latino community. And so that can happen everywhere from communities with immigrant populations that have left Cuba or Venezuela or Nicaragua, and where anything that they perceive close to socialism is something that is not appealing to them.

You also have parts of the country; you go to Arizona and you go to New Mexico, a lot of people would be surprised that there are members of Latino community there who’ve been there several generations who have actually anti-immigrant views themselves. So it is a very, very diverse community.

I think that marketing, often to the Latino community, as it is with other communities–multicultural communities–has a lot to do with where you’re marketing. So to really pay attention to the zip code and where you are going and really get to know that community, the components. I think there are things that can cut across: Like Chicago has a Latino community that’s been there longer but it’s very similar in Minnesota, right? And the same thing happens in a lot of Midwest states, or even southern states, where the percentages of, the demographics are going to be very similar. But they’re going to be very different than where I was just last week in Miami, for example.

George Floyd

David Erickson: I wanted to get to this. You mentioned zip code. You also mentioned that a lot of the the equity budgets basically have been expanding, people have been spending more money on equity efforts in wake of the George Floyd murder and the kind of awakening that occurred as a result of that. You are in that neighborhood. So tell me about what happened in the aftermath of of George Floyd’s murder and what your perspective was on it.

Alberto Monserrate: Well, I mean George Floyd’s murder was devastating to a lot of people in our area, and especially to people of color. It was very traumatic for a lot of members of the community that saw the murder happened on video just a few minutes after, the night it actually happened. And that had a very big effect on me personally, and a lot of members of our team.

And then, obviously, the civil unrest that happened later. Our office actually wasn’t, is close to Lake Street. Not not in the area that got affected the most; it was in the Lynn Lake area, by Lake and Lyndale. But our building was actually hit and there’s a jewelry store that got broken into. So it had a very direct impact. The gas station a block away, that broke down. As a matter of fact, I was leaving work a couple days after, I couldn’t find a gas station for a week. There’s at least three gas stations close by that had been closed, that had been actually burned down. So we had a very direct impact.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Communications

Alberto Monserrate: And then from the business point of view, just by every client we had wanted to have some kind of impact statement, right? Right at the beginning. So we had a lot of very tough discussions with clients about what was appropriate and what was not appropriate. I know that a lot of our advice shifted away from communications and more into do something and communicate what you’ve done after you’ve done it. Because people were getting a little bit tired of statements.

So our team was very impacted. Several of our team members were actually out protesting. But we also had a lot of conflicted clients who were struggling with everything that was happening. We did notice that increase in diversity training, equity, inclusion training went up dramatically. We don’t do that type of business. But we did, as a result of a lot of that training, get a lot of requests for helping draft communications and also increasing outreach to communities. So it was a rough period of time.

A year later, it’s kind of interesting seeing what has happened. Several of the nonprofit clients that we support have done some very significant things. We have some corporate budgets, I noticed; maybe not everything that was committed to has come through. And that is something that people have to explore and a little bit of worry that the interest might be waning a bit.

But we have seen a very significant increase with the investments. One of the clients we work with is list, for example, which is a nonprofit, that is a national nonprofit; it has a local branch. And that’s where a lot of corporations actually donate their money: Into racial equity. And we’ve seen very significant budgets and some programs that are transformational. Like building wealth among developers that are rebuilding; for example, it’s like over 1900 buildings got damaged one way or another, some of them got completely destroyed. So we’re helping communications and programs that are helping developers of color from the neighborhood actually rebuild and own those buildings. That’s transformational work that I think can do a lot of good and can make things…but we’ll see long term. There’s a lot of work till we get to where we need to get to in this country.

Building Wealth

David Erickson: Right, right, right. Well, I do think that what you just mentioned, the building of wealth, is, as you say, transformational. Judgment will come I guess ten years down the line, or whatever, but that, it seems to me, is the place to start. It is that building of wealth idea.

Alberto Monserrate: Well, living in Minneapolis, which is the city I love. Absolutely love this city. But it also happens to have some of the biggest inequities in the nation, right? But it also happens to have some of the most active philanthropy and very engaged communities. So I think Minneapolis can be an example for the country in how things can be done.

Educational Disparities

David Erickson: Well, speaking of disparities, right? There has long been in Minnesota–we’ve long been at the top or near the top of disparities in all kinds of measures among people of color, but significantly among education. And you have long been passionate about education. So tell me where your passion comes from and in some of the work that you’ve done.

Alberto Monserrate: So I had a very non-traditional education pathway. I’ve shared with you I got kicked out of high school at the end of my junior year. And it very much looked like then I was going to be a high school dropout. I had a principal–actually, the principal kicked me out–who made it a point that I stayed in high school; tutored me, wrote a letter of recommendation for me to get into college, and just really kept an eye on me so I didn’t get in any trouble my senior year. Made sure I got in another school. That had a huge impact in my life. I mean, at that point, pretty much everybody had given up on me, except for my mom. So having that grown-up that had kicked me out of school–

David Erickson: Right.

Alberto Monserrate: –and later took that interest, really made me think, you know, where would I be if I wouldn’t have continued to go to school and have the opportunity to get out of the environment I was in and go to Minnesota. Which was a great place for me to go to school. And so, then later on when I found what looked like was success in my career, I really started looking at, you know, I got to somehow give something back. Both my parents were actually teachers and begged me to not go into teaching.

So I found other ways to get involved with education. So I got involved with a number of nonprofit boards. Then I helped found–I was on the founding board of several charter schools, some of them that are well-known today: Hiawatha Academies, KIPP, Twin Cities Academy.

And then out of that interest came an interest in actually running for school board in Minneapolis, very much with that racial equity point of view. I could not think of a single issue I could get involved with that I thought could have more of an impact than education. There’s a lot of other things that need to be taken care of, right? And we do have a lot of disparities in healthcare and in income and the judicial system. The way the police treats, young people, especially young black men, compared to other races. Those disparities are very real and are things that our children have to deal with on a daily basis. Some of our kids are risking their lives when they walk to school, for example. But a school with the right environment and with the right tools and with the right kind of support can really be the difference. And can be the key to developing some future generational wealth and eliminating some disparities.

So that’s been an issue–you know, my son was born 26 years ago–and since he was born, I’ve been involved one way or another with that topic. And it is an area we’ve done a lot of support on with communications, both in K-12 education and with early childhood; if you can start even earlier to eliminate some of the opportunity gaps. So we’ve done a lot of support with legislative campaigns or other types of campaigns. Little Moments Count campaign, which is an early childhood campaign to educate parents around the state, led by HealthPartners and Minnesota Public Radio and United Way. That’s a program we’ve been very involved with from the very beginning in just getting the information to the people who we want to reach.

The Future Of Multicultural Marketing

David Erickson: Yeah. Cool. What should I have asked you that I didn’t ask you?

Alberto Monserrate: Well, you did a very good job in asking questions and probably got more out of this interview, more out of me than most people I’ve known. So…I think maybe thinking about the future, right? And how the type of work we do will change, which, by the way, we have no idea. But I do think a passion of mine is keeping up with how communications are changing and how communities continue to change.

I think we’re looking at the US as a country that we’ll be majority minority. A term I don’t like but, you know, people of color will make a majority of the country. I think more and more campaigns, for example, will actually start in communities of color and then those campaigns will expand into what some people call mainstream audiences.

I do think things will become more international; a growing part of our team is living abroad and we’re doing some creative work with people abroad that’s getting more and more exciting. The pandemic and Zoom kind of created opportunities. So I think there’s some very interesting communications. What I do hope we figure out at some point is how do we get–you know, twenty-four/seven, seven days a week with 20 different platforms is kind of hard to sustain. I’m kind of hoping we start reducing those and we start claiming back some of our time.

David Erickson: I hear you, I’m with you there. So how do people get ahold of you?

Alberto Monserrate: Probably the easiest way is to Google me. Google my name: Alberto Monserrate. You can email me at But if you Google me, you’ll find my phone number, you’ll find my email and every other way to communicate with me.

David Erickson: And you know, I couldn’t end this podcast without saying Alberto José Monserrate Suarez. When I found out that you had four names and they were so cool to say, I had–I practiced and practiced and practiced till I got it nailed down. And whenever I see, Alberto, it’s Alberto José Monserrate Suarez, because it’s so cool.

Alberto Monserrate: Yes, you actually learned how to say that better than most. That’s one of the things that I’ve reclaimed is my full name, so not everybody has to learn how to say it as well as you do. But yeah, it’s Alberto José Monserrate Suarez. We have two last names and I was cool enough to do that to my kids. I gave my kids two last names also, so–

David Erickson: Yes, well done, sir. Well done.

Alberto Monserrate: Getting their driver’s license has been a challenge.

David Erickson: Ah, good. All right, well, thank you, my friend. I appreciate you taking time out to chat and we will talk soon enough.

Alberto Monserrate: Yeah, it’s a pleasure to talk to you again and one of these days now the pandemic is over, I look forward to playing some of those guitars you have in the background with you.

David Erickson: In person. We’ll do a jam session. Fantastic.

Alberto Monserrate: All right.

David Erickson: All right. Take care.

Alberto Monserrate: Great talking to you.

More Marketing Interviews