Striving to Build Bridges through
By Robin Washington – Special to the Journal
It’s not unusual for some entrepreneurs to look back over the first five years of a venture and identify a period of too-rapid growth, where demand outstrips capacity as a company strives to get off the ground.
Josiane Martinez isn’t one of those entrepreneurs.
“I started this company in 2013,” she says of Archipelago Strategies Group, her marketing firm, which was named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2017 Minority-Owned Business of the Year for Massachusetts.
“In 2014, we grew 500 percent. In 2015, we grew 300 percent. In 2016, 180 percent and last year we grew 120 percent. I don’t know if it has to do with my personality, but I like it. I love the challenge. I feel a sense of urgency because there’s such a need for cross-cultural marketing.”
Part of that is due to the polarized social climate, with segments of the population becoming increasingly siloed from each other, even if they share the same geography. One of her company’s primary services is helping bridge that divide.
“We see different groups not talking to each other,” she says. “Multicultural (marketing) is no longer optional. It’s fundamental.”
A project that addressed that was a series of town hall meetings for Boston Public Schools families, held in Haitian Creole, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Spanish — “the native languages for the people we were trying to reach,” Martinez says. The effort went beyond just translating schools’ information.
“We had celebrity moderators from the communities, like (El Mundo publisher and Channel 7’s “Urban Update” host) Alberto Vasallo, along with culturally appropriate and accessible venues, and the opportunity for those who could not make it to participate from home.”
So where did Martinez acquire her expertise?
She grew up in Puerto Rico, in “a family with little money, but high hopes for their children,” she says. Yet in school, she says she was “ostracized for being a gay woman.” She persevered, earning a bachelor’s degree at the University of Puerto Rico before coming to Boston for graduate study, attracted by the city’s progressive reputation. She freelanced for El Mundo and El Planeta, the city’s Hispanic newspapers, before joining the re-election campaign for then-Gov. Deval Patrick to coordinate ethnic media. After the election, she joined his press office and was later appointed to head the Massachusetts Office of Refugees and Immigrants.
Wait a minute: Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.
“Technically, I’m not an immigrant,” she agrees, “but many of us, when we come here, we face many of the same issues,” she said.
Puerto Ricans can also be a bridge to other Latino communities, she said.
Sometimes, those shared backgrounds can lead to unfounded assumptions, as when she first called Alejandra St. Guillen, then a Latina aide to an office-holder.
“I call and start talking to her in Spanish,” she recalled. “She understood some of it, but not 100 percent. She was like, ‘I don’t know what to do with this woman. She keeps calling this office speaking Spanish.’”
Eventually, they did figure out how to communicate — and got married. The couple now has a 6-month-old son, and St. Guillen is director of the city of Boston’s Office for Immigrant Advancement.
A board member of Eastern Bank, Roxbury Community College and founding member of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Martinez counts numerous mentors, such as former Gov. Patrick, Alianza Hispana Executive Director Janet Collazo and former Sen. Mo Cowan. Her company is staffed with eight employees and 20 more subcontractors, with revenue of $2 million.
So after that rapid growth in the first five years, what does Martinez see for the next five?
“It’s going to be working nationally, maybe in different countries. … I’m (also) thinking about expanding to Puerto Rico,” she says. Often thought of as a single island, Puerto Rico is actually an archipelago of about 140 islands; hence the company’s name — though it could refer to Boston’s Harbor Islands. “This is where I got interested in cross-cultural marketing, creating assets and resources, making sure the Latino community has an opportunity in Boston.”