From foster care to CEO—Alicia Morga defies the odds and launches a marketing firm for the Latino market.
Just because I’m Hispanic didn’t mean I knew anything about Hispanics online, or even in general,” says Alicia Morga, who started the consulting firm, Consorté Media, in 2005 to help companies connect with Hispanic consumers and future employees. Having worked for nearly a decade in banking and venture capital in New York City and the Bay Area, Morga boot-strapped the San Francisco–based company with her own funds and has since seen the company grow at a fast clip: a 100 percent increase in revenue from 2006 to 2007, and 200 percent since then. Along the way, the 36-year-old Morga has expanded her understanding of her own culture. Morga, a Mexican American, spent most of her childhood in the foster care system, before she applied to Stanford on a whim. After getting both undergraduate and law degrees there, she landed her first job, at Goldman Sachs. Morga talked to Diversity Woman about the science and art of marketing to one ethnic group, and about embracing that group herself.
Diversity Woman: Your career was going beautifullyówhat inspired you to take a risk and start your own business?
Alicia Morga: I was working at the Carlyle Fund, where my job was to look at online advertising space for investment. I’d gone to a local ad-tech conference and looked around the room, and said to myself, “Wow, these models seem to be merging—a platform play would be smart, but which market would I apply it to?” It hit me at a time when I was paying more attention to my roots. People weren’t paying attention to Hispanics online. It was kind of like how someone says that when they met the person they’re going to marry, they “just knew it.” While that part hasn’t happened to me, it did about the business—I thought, this is something I could do.
DW: What was tugging at you about your own ethnicity?
AM: I had realized one night, late at work, that outside of my twin sister, the only person I spoke Spanish with was the lady who took out the trash. The language barrier is a big deal in this country —a lot of people don’t have access to information because of that. There’s also a stereotype of what Hispanics are—but they’re just as different as anyone else. I wanted to stay away from stereotyping and work more with data.
DW: How did you do that?
AM: We started with direct marketing and were creating ‘micro-sites,’ where we’d ask questions, then take that data and sell it to customers. You learn quickly what makes people pay attention to your site. We just started testing, asking about background, language, which headlines worked better than others.
DW: What have you learned about the Latino market, then?
AM: It’s not a marketing niche, but a preference, no more than being female, an athlete, or Jewish is a niche. If the ad is speaking to some part of you that other ads aren’t addressing, then it will be heard above the other noise. For instance, when I go to Yahoo to look at my stocks, there are lots of things competing for my attention, but when I go into a site for my niece’s quinceañera, I am going to be grabbed in a totally different way by the ads that speak to me in a more specific manner.
DW: You have mentioned ConsortÈís work with Best Buy as one of your biggest accomplishments. What made it such a success?
AM: The Best Buy case study perfectly demonstrates our ability to simplify the complex and show just how responsive the Hispanic market is online. We listened to what Best Buy needed—bilingual employees—and showed them how their goals could be met online, a medium they hadn’t been using to reach the Hispanic market. Essentially, we did this by finding the optimal combination of traffic source, and creating a landing page that delivered results. I was pleased that Best Buy came away from the campaign with not only results, but an increased awareness of their brand in the Hispanic market. We gave them key insights into how to plan and think about the market going forward—we closed the loop, not something all advertisers are used to getting.
DW: How has the business affected your sense of ethnicity?
AM: I spoke Spanish with a gringa accent. I definitely had to learn more Spanish. That’s been a good thing, since we’re starting to expand our business into Latin America. Just the way they conduct meetings there is different. You don’t jump in right away—it’s more social. You get to the bottom line quickly at the end.
DW: How does your background as a foster child affect your identity now?
AM: Growing up that way, you thought about your heritage, but in a very different way. I didn’t personalize it, if that makes sense. You get moved around a lot, and where you can go is highly dependent on your color—it becomes this marketing game, and you tend to think of it in these terms. When people asked about my family, I didn’t know what to say. It has been a long road to accepting it—it used to bring so much shame, but this was my life, this was how it went. The things that I’ve had control over I’ve done a good job with.
DW: Did people ever treat you differently because of that, or because of your race or gender?
AM: After college, people had no idea about my background—they just assumed I was some rich girl from L.A. I remember there was another young Hispanic woman who started at Goldman Sachs the same time I did—she came from Notre Dame, and she immediately put up a picture of Jesus in her cubicle. I remember thinking, “Is this what they’ll expect from a Hispanic?” She ended up quitting, and then I worried they’d think I’d quit too! I think that caused me to work even harder.
In school, it wasn’t that I got treated different, it was more that I couldn’t afford to participate in a lot of things—like, over holidays, going on the ski trips to network. I sometimes look back and think, “Why didn’t I suck it up, take on some debt, and go on some of those ski trips?” But instead I put my head down and said I’ll get there eventually. I learned a lot by observing, figuring out what was going on, and that still serves me well today. DW