The Edmonds Company helps organizations bridge communication gaps with multicultural audiences
Since founding The Vida Agency nearly five years ago, Edmonds resident Amalia Martino has been on a mission to change the way organizations communicate with their increasingly diverse audiences.
His strategic communications firm, which moved its headquarters from Seattle to downtown Edmonds earlier this year, is committed to closing the communication gaps that often exist between organizations and their constituents, especially when these audiences are multicultural and multilingual.
Martino’s business primarily focuses on assisting public agencies and nonprofits, from the City of Seattle to Cascadia College to AARP, but she has also developed campaigns for the private sector. (Check out this work for Everett Mall, which focuses on showcasing local students each year for its back-to-school advertising.)
The agency’s Spanish-language ad for Community Health Plan of Washington won a Northwest Regional Emmy.
Regardless of the client, the goal is the same: to develop communications strategies that “are intentional from the start” to engage more diverse audiences, Martino said.
Martino, 46, who describes herself as mixed race, is no stranger to diversity issues. The daughter of a single mother, she grew up on Seattle’s Capitol Hill and was among the first students to participate in Seattle’s school bus program, which took her to majority-white schools north of the Ship Canal. . She graduated from Roosevelt High School and the University of Washington, with dreams of becoming an international diplomat.
“I grew up as the only brown person in a really white family,” she recalls. When working with clients, Martino said she not only brings that experience, but also what she describes as “a Northwest sensibility. When it comes to race and multiculturalism, languages, it’s an easier conversation to have in New York than in Seattle, in the Northwest. Seattle has its own way of doing things when it comes to racing.
As a child and teenager, Martino also starred in stage productions and commercials. Before heading to a post-graduate study abroad program in Mexico in the late 1990s, she appeared in a national advertisement for Microsoft, which funded much of her living expenses at the foreign.
“I came back (from Mexico) and said, ‘I’m going to be an actress and go to Los Angeles,'” Martino said. Passions “but it wasn’t really for me,” she says.
She moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she was hired at the Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy. Starting as an administrative assistant, she was promoted to communications coordinator, then worked for Kaiser Permanente International, interacting with healthcare leaders around the world. During this time, she also gave birth to her daughter, Sophia.
In 2007, when her daughter was ready to start kindergarten, Martino decided to move back to Washington State, where she had family. Her mother, Theresa Norris, invited her to move into a house in Edmonds that Norris and her sister had recently purchased as an investment. (Norris now lives in Edmonds and also serves as an accountant at the Vida agency.)
Martino moved into the Yost Park residence, which she eventually purchased. Working in freelance communications from home, “I joined the PTA and spent time as a soccer mom,” she said. (Sophia, who graduated from Edmonds-Woodway High School and is now a student, played football for the Warriors.)
As her daughter grew, “the more freedom I had as a single mom to really think about what was in store for me and that really helped me get out of freelancing and think about making some business,” Martino said. “And here we are – almost five years.”
What motivated Martino to create The Vida Agency? She pointed to her past work in other American cities — far more culturally diverse than Seattle — and the realization that the Seattle area, too, is “growing and changing.”
As the region becomes increasingly multicultural, many organizations have good intentions when trying to communicate, she explained. But often their efforts to reach diverse audiences are “an afterthought — we’ll do it (the communications) in English and then we’ll translate it,” she said.
The problem with this approach? “There’s not really any quality control in this translation,” Martino said. “If your intention is to make a bilingual campaign, then you start with that intention from the beginning. That’s the approach we really take in our work, and I think it’s the approach that works best.
“We’re not just talking about language translation,” she continued. “We’re talking, how can we do a creative campaign that says the same thing in English as it does in other languages and has the same look, feel and feeling that you’re trying to convey?”
This means involving what Martino described as “community partners and language partners” who are involved in creating the campaign from the start, ensuring that any strategic communications effort effectively reaches its target audience.
As an example, she cited the “Be Prepared, Be Hydrated” campaign that agency Vida created for the city of Seattle. It was a multicultural marketing effort to reduce youth demand for sugary drinks and promote the value of drinking water.
Instead of simply translating a campaign into English, the agency engaged a community coalition of organizations and young people to develop a bilingual English/Spanish communications approach.
Martino recalled that those working on the campaign started with three or four concepts but quickly eliminated two because “some were a pun that just wasn’t going to work in Spanish” and also “included slang that in some parts of Mexico was probably not good for extinguishing.
The campaign won a President’s Choice Award from the Puget Sound Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.
Vida Agency works with a Lynnwood-based company, Andromeda, which provides interpreting and translation services in over 20 languages. The difference between Andromeda and other translation language service companies, Martino said, is that those who work there engage in a process known as “transcreation.” It goes beyond rote translation and instead strives to adapt the content from one language to another while maintaining its intent, style and tone. “It involves understanding the context of what we’re doing, so it’s a lot of background information, understanding where we want this language to go, what the purpose of that is,” Martino explained.
The Vida agency was originally headquartered in downtown Seattle, but left when employees began working remotely during the pandemic. As his employees began to return to the office — while maintaining hybrid schedules — Martino established several smaller regional offices so workers could be closer to home.
Given South Snohomish County’s expected growth as light rail comes to the area by 2024, Martino said she thinks downtown Edmonds is a good location for the headquarters of the ‘business.
She predicts that the agency will also continue to grow, perhaps doubling in size over the next five years.
“To think about what this county will look like in 10 years, I think this (Edmonds) is the right place for us,” Martino said.
— By Teresa Wippel