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Ads in ethnic media key to highstakes census count

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The U.S. Census Bureau's efforts to count citizens include placing advertisements in ethnic media outlets--whose audience is vital to Minnesota's push to keep its eight congressional seat--but local ethnic newspapers say they've been passed over. 

Minnesota's population many not be growing fast enough for the state to hold on to all its congressional representatives. Estimates released by the Census Bureau Wednesday put Minnesota on the cusp of losing one of eight House seats after next year's official once-a-decade count.

There are dozens of ethnic newspapers in the Twin Cities, including those that serve the African, African-American, Asian, Native American, Hispanic and Russian communities. Steve Wetzler, president of TCB Marketing, handles advertising for many of them. But so far, he says he's placed only one Census-related ad. 

"We did place one ad, a classified ad for hiring managers for the Census in the Hmong Times newspaper back at the end of July. It was the one time they did it. But other than that, there's been nothing," he said. "We're hoping there will be advertising dollars coming through for these different papers for 2010. You'd think it would be set pretty soon if it is coming."

Wetzler says he's gotten some requests for information for the Asian and Russian papers he represents, but no "buys" yet...and the launch for the ad campaign is just weeks away. 

The bureau set aside about $140 million for advertising -- about half of that is for local markets. Census officials say the bureau will be the number one advertiser in the first couple of months of next year.

Outreach through advertising, free public service announcements and media coverage are all part of the Census strategy for getting an accurate count next year. And that count is critical for -- among other things -- distributing federal dollars and even determining the size of a state's congressional delegation. 

But it looks like the Census Bureau won't be going after the audience of the network that operates two Spanish-language radio stations in the Twin Cities area. Latino Communications Network vice president Juan Carlos Alanis said the ad agency hired by the Census Bureau already told him he should not look for any ad revenue. 

"We think that it's important that we reach our local people with local outlets."

"Apparently we don't exist or we are not enough. Isn't that ironic? We're not enough because we haven't been counted right. At the same time, they don't put money to be counted right," he said. 

Census spokesperson Steve Jost said even though there may not be any local ad buys on those stations, Minnesota's Spanish-speaking population will still get the message about the 2010 Census. 

"We're not making buys on his station, necessarily, but we are buying network coverage that will reach Minnesota for the Spanish audience," he said. "So what we're doing is we're covering our bases with our national buys and then we're going into markets with high percentages of Hispanics or high percentage of Asians and we're going and making additional buys in the local markets."

That may mean California's Asian or Hispanic markets and not Minnesota's. Barb Ronningen, a demographer with the Minnesota State Demographic Center, is not happy with that.

"We think that we have local outlets that will reach local people better than the national ones," she said. "With language issue, we think that it's important that we reach our local people with local outlets. 

Ronningen said she's hoping to persuade the Census Bureau to change its mind about how it divvies up the local advertising dollars and she may have time; census officials say they're still negotiating advertising contracts. The ad campaign kicks off on January 17th.