As Hispanicize opens Monday for its sixth annual weeklong event packed with workshops, speakers, awards and concerts all featuring U.S. Latinos, a lot of people may not know the unusual entrepreneurial journey of the man behind it all.
Hispanicize is the largest U.S. Hispanic social media and entertainment event of its kind, specializing in marketing, media, film and music, said its founder, Manny Ruiz. “What people really love about Hispanicize is that we are the one event that is laser-focused on the aspirations, opportunities and challenges of the U.S. Hispanic.”
Ruiz’s father was an early Cuban exile and his mother is a second-generation Cuban American: “I was born and raised in Little Havana and Hialeah, as blue collar as you can get. … My family didn’t have much in Cuba and they didn’t have anything in Miami either, [but] their work ethic has stayed with me … and kept me grounded.”
Today, Ruiz, 45, is the chairman and founder of the Hispanicize brand of platforms that include the annual Hispanicize event, the Latina Mom Bloggers network, Being Latino, Hispanicize Wire and the Hispanic PR Blog.
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Before building his current grouping of media properties, Ruiz founded, led and sold Hispanic PR Wire for $5.5 million in 2008. In thinking about what his next project would be, he was inspired by South by Southwest, the big annual music, film and entrepreneurship event in Austin, Texas. The first Hispanicize was in 2010.
But here are some things you may not know about Ruiz. He almost flunked his senior year at Miami Southwest Senior High — twice.
“The shocking part of my second senior year was that despite a horrible academic record — I was 10 spots away from graduating last of my second senior year class — my high school principal believed in my investigative journalism work on the school newspaper so much she nominated me to be our high school’s [Miami Herald] Silver Knight representative for journalism,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz said he was moved to pursue journalism — he was affectionately known as “Geraldo“ in high school — after his middle school experience attending a corrupt and drug-ridden private school, Miami Aerospace Academy. It was ultimately the power of the press that got the place shut down, he said.
He then stoked that journalistic passion at Miami Southwest and later at Miami Dade College, which will install him next month in the MDC Alumni Hall of Fame, and at the Miami Herald before transitioning into marketing, online media and entrepreneurship.
The Miami Herald talked with Ruiz about his unusual entrepreneurial journey and plans for the 2015 Hispanicize, which opens Monday at the InterContinental Miami with an expected record attendance of more than 2,000. Here are excerpts of the conversation:
Q. For someone who has never been to Hispanicize, describe it in one sentence.
A. The weeklong Hispanicize event is an irreverent, creative and high-octane gathering of the nation’s leading Latinos in the fields of social media, journalism, marketing, film and music.
Q. It seems like Hispanicize is a little bit of everything — marketing, media, film, music, etc. Was that by design from the start or did it evolve that way?
A. Hispanicize originally began in Dallas as the Hispanic PR and Social Media Conference in 2010. I had just sold my previous company to PR Newswire for $5.5 million and the event represented my first post-sale investment. Immediately after the first event, we realized we had something special in our hands, so we broadened the name to Hispanicize and then began to integrate digital influencers, music, film and tech entrepreneurship.
Q. What inspired you to found the event?
A. Initially I created it because I knew there was nothing like Hispanicize for the U.S. Latino marketplace of marketing, digital, journalism, film and music. I created the event in order to build a niche national platform for launching new U.S. Hispanic media and marketing ventures, and that’s the blunt truth, but boy has it been a journey. Along the way we have succeeded in becoming the best at our industry, but it has been extremely hard work because it is a complex job and you have to be great at many, many details.
Q. Why did you start it in Dallas and then L.A., before moving it to Miami in 2012?
A. I started the event in Dallas so the concept could be geographically accessible. As our vision expanded to include all the content and media industries, we immediately saw the opportunity to make Miami its permanent home because no other city in the country has the sheer convergence of U.S. Hispanic media, marketing and entertainment that ours does.
Though we go to extreme lengths so the event is not seen as Miami-centric — and it’s definitely not — it’s never hurt me to be a pure Miamian.
Q. What is new this year?
A. The biggest update to the event this year is the massive expansion of our music platform and the fact we’re making big strides to make the event accessible to the general public in a new but limited form.
The other major update is the Tecla Awards for excellence in digital content creation and marketing, a major event that we call the “Oscars of multicultural bloggers, vloggers and brands.”
Q. What are three or four parts of Hispanicize not to be missed?
A. The event is packed with so many highlights, it’s hard to pick. 3M’s Positive Impact Awards is one pick because it personifies the spirit of Latinos being recognized for giving, and helping people is a sentimental favorite.
The music festival part of our event is arguably the one that has a lot of people buzzing with a weeklong line-up that so far includes Luis Fonsi, Gente de Zona, Chino y Nacho, Danay Suarez, PALO! and more. The Latinovator lunches are huge because they feature terrific achievers and their stories.
Q. Describe a few of your Latinovators this year.
A. Our Latinovators span various generations and industries. The most unusual Latinovator of 2015 is a tossup between YouTube star Dulce Candy and longtime Hollywood legend Luis Guzmán. Dulce is in her 20s but personifies the Age of Digital Influencers with a remarkable story that stuns many because she’s a former Army mechanic, Iraq War veteran turned YouTube beauty superstar. Luis Guzmán is arguably the best known Latino to play character actors in the history of Hollywood. We nicknamed him the Forrest Gump of film. [Another is] Don Francisco, who is, well, one of the biggest legends in the history of TV.
Q. What are some of the brands Hispanicize has launched over the years?
A. Through the years, we’ve been the place to launch everything from the new Cricket Wireless to Coca-Cola’s Hispanic World Cup song. Last year Google announced its new .Soy extension, and in other editions we’ve even launched Emilio Estefan’s headsets with Target. They did it poolside with synchronized swimmers.
Q. When did you know you were on to something big?
A. We knew we were onto something special after the second Hispanicize event in 2011 in Los Angeles when we changed the name of the event from the awful Hispanic PR & Social Media Conference to Hispanicize and when we also took the step to broaden the event from just Hispanic marketing to incorporate bloggers and other industries. I encountered a lot of skepticism for making the event about all these industries, but once we did, we kept getting told it was a stroke of brilliance. What was really happening is that by 2011-2012 these industries were beginning to fully converge and that was leading to collaborations and even competition. Our approach brought everyone together.
Q. In a sense you were in social media before social media was big. Tell me about that.
A. We were the first company in the U.S. Hispanic media and marketing industry to bet big in the Hispanic social media industry space in 2009. In 2010, when our event was still lamely branded the “Hispanic PR & Social Media Conference,” agencies and brands barely knew what social media was, let alone Hispanic social media. We were privately afraid that we were probably too ahead of the curve, but by 2011 we began to see our efforts would pay off. Today our Being Latino Facebook community is a marketers’ dream with more than 4 million Facebook fans (and 2 million in other pages) and our Latina Mom Bloggers network is arguably the Multi Channel Network that works with more brands and agencies than anybody else. In addition to these platforms we also own the Hispanic PR Blog and we continue to support Hispanicize Wire, the baby company in our pack of ventures.
Q. How does your grounding in journalism, going all the way back to your school days, influence your career?
A. My background as a former journalist gave me the foundation from which to start the Hispanicize event, but it has also been critical to the creation of all my other ventures, including the Latina Mom Bloggers network, Being Latino, Hispanicize Wire and the Hispanic PR Blog.
I fell in love with journalism during 10th grade in 1985 when I attended an extremely corrupt and dangerous private school called Miami Aerospace Academy. I was bullied a lot during that school year and towards the end of that year a major scandal broke out that brought TV cameras and other reporters to my school daily. I privately cheered for those journalists to expose the criminal things I witnessed and in some ways I feel that those reporters rescued me from the bullies. The next year I joined my new school’s newspaper staff, and from there the rest is history. I went on to become the editor of award-winning newspapers in high school and college and in the early ’90s, as a police desk reporter, I was part of the editorial team that won the Pulitzer Prize for Community Service for Hurricane Andrew. Journalism taught me critical thinking, fact checking, investigative, multimedia and writing skills that I use constantly.
Q. Was there ever a time you almost gave up?
A. Yes, the thought to give up creeps in every once in a while. At least twice a year I have days that I wonder what I’m doing because my job is extremely challenging and it’s year-round intensive. Fortunately my tenacity and faith in what the event means to all of our platforms is much bigger than my temporary negative thoughts. I think thoughts of quitting are part of the journey every entrepreneur takes because you’re often the only one who mentally sees what you want and you are often the only one who is willing to give up everything to get somewhere. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
Q. If you could do one thing over again, it would be ...
A. It’s hard to second guess my life because that journey led me to my wife and four children who I cherish. Career wise, if I knew what I do now about the entertainment industry, I probably would have moved to L.A. and majored in film because that’s still what I most want to do when I grow up. Directing, writing and producing films is what I hope the next part of my life is about.
Q. What’s the best advice you ever received and from whom?
A. Do your very best with integrity and hard work and everything else will take care of itself. I don’t think I was specifically told this by someone but if I was, it was probably something that my late pastor said to me. He was my biggest mentor.
Q. You were born and raised in Miami. In your view, what do you think about the changing Miami?
A. I have a love/hate relationship with my city. I cringe that it’s getting too crowded and congested for its own good. On the flip side, our story is evolving beyond just tourism and that’s vital to its educational, civic and cultural maturity. I’m especially excited that my companies are a catalyst in the region’s booming entertainment, media and technology future. God willing I will do something big for film here.
Q. What’s next for Hispanicize?
A. We’ve enjoyed strong organic growth for six years but are now looking at accelerating the growth of our businesses either through acquisitions and/or through outside investment. Our acquisition strategy is about more than just the Hispanicize event, which we think is already solidly positioned. Our 2015 strategy is about expanding the event for what we are planning for 2016 but it is also about our leading platforms, Being Latino and Latina Mom Bloggers. We’re in a very aggressive expansion state of mind for all of our platforms.
Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.
Position: Chairman and founder of the Hispanicize brand of platforms that include the annual Hispanicize event, the Latina Mom Bloggers network, Being Latino, Hispanicize Wire and the Hispanic PR Blog.
Previous experience: Ruiz was president of Multicultural Markets and Hispanic PR Wire for PR Newswire. Prior to PR Newswire’s acquisition of Hispanic PR Wire, Hispanic Digital Network and LatinClips in 2008, companies he founded, Ruiz was chairman and CEO of HispaniMark, the parent company of these three businesses.
Education: Associate of arts degree from Miami Dade College; bachelor of arts, history, Florida International University.
Personal: A Cuban American, he was born and raised in Little Havana and Hialeah. Married with four children.
Favorite music: Muse, The Killers, Jars of Clay and Coldplay.
What: A weeklong conference for the nation’s leading Latinos in social media, journalism, marketing, film and music.
When: March 16-20.
Where: Intercontinental Miami and other venues.
Expected attendance: About 2,100.
Tickets and more info: www.hispanicizeevent.com.