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Women Leaders in PR: From Nicaragua to New York, Claudia Mejia-Haffner Can Handle Change

In the latest Women Leaders in PR profile, we talk with Claudia Mejia-Haffner, who was recently named the MD of JeffreyGroup‘s New York office and head of the U.S. Hispanic practice.

JeffreyGroup is an independent PR firm specializing in efforts that reach Latin audiences across the Americas. The firm has offices in the U.S. (it’s headquartered in Miami), Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina.

We talk with Mejia-Heffner about her personal journey across the Americas, reaching Hispanic consumers, and why, for her, “being Hispanic has always been an advantage.”

Claudia Mejia-Haffner, JeffreyGroup

Like some of the other women we’ve profiled for this series, Claudia Mejia-Haffner stumbled into PR while in college, on the road to a career in journalism.

“I was looking for an internship, I was broke, and I heard about PR from a friend,” she told us during a phone interview. “I heard about a paid internship at Edelman and did that for a couple of years.”

When Mejia-Haffner graduated from New York University, Edelman was in the process of creating a Hispanic practice. She describes it as a small group at its inception, one where she was doing the work of an assistant one minute and doing higher level work, like organizing a media tour, the next.

“It really gave me an opportunity to learn all aspects of PR,” she says. “It was an interesting time to start. The market was heating up and more companies were starting to engage the Hispanic market.”

To learn more about Mejia-Haffner’s beginnings, you have to go all the way back to her childhood. She came to the U.S. from Nicaragua when she was 10 years old.

“For me, coming from Nicaragua was probably one of the most important facets of my life, one of the most influential things,” she says. Mejia-Haffner recalls growing up in Nicaragua as a time of “political turmoil.” (You can read more about that here.) “I came to the U.S. with nothing. That fires me up and pushes me to try and do things better. Coming here with nothing teaches you not to be afraid of change and have no fear to seize opportunity.”

With that in mind, Mejia-Haffner sees being a minority as a chance to “bring something different to the table.”

Fast forward to her time at Edelman, and Mejia-Haffner talks about a period where outreach to the Hispanic community was undertaken by certain companies — pharmaceutical and liquor companies, for example — targeting  largely first generation Hispanics.

Now, she describes a market that has become more “mature” and interested in doing things that have become more “complex.”

“We’re targeting the second and third generation of Hispanics,” Mejia-Haffner says. “Clients are looking for targets in the Hispanic media, but are also asking more about engaging Hispanics in the general market. And social media has really changed things. It’s just exciting.”

After spending four years with Edelman, Mejia-Haffner went to DeVries Public Relations, where she worked not just with the Hispanic market, but also targeting African Americans. After a few years, she left for Euro RSCG where she did a lot of work with events and brands like Heineken. After a move to Massachusetts, she was back in New York for the first of two stints with Axis Agency. In between, she worked with both Hispanic and general market outreach at Hill + Knowlton Strategies (then Hill & Knowlton).

As she settles in at the JeffreyGroup, she’s faced with a landscape that’s been dramatically changed by the 2011 U.S. Census figures. The number of Hispanics in this country now totals more than 50 million, with predictions that one out of three people in the U.S. will be Hispanic by 2050.

“Agencies are starting to put more efforts into the market, they’re interested in hiring people with the expertise, and they want to take advantage of these numbers,” says Mejia-Haffner. “The Census coupled with what we’re seeing in pop culture — with Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara, and Modern Family — it’s becoming more a part of American culture.”

These demographic changes set the stage for another opportunity for Mejia-Haffner, who will now be working with clients including Diageo, Fox Hispanic Media, T-Mobile, Volkswagen, and UnitedHealth Group. It’s also an opening for other PR pros of Hispanic heritage.

“When you are Hispanic and you’re working in the Hispanic market, you have unique insights,” she says. “For me, being Hispanic has always been an advantage because I’m offering something that not too many people in the industry have.”

 

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