Customer Service

Diversity in PRThe public relations profession may have the same problem as major league baseball – not enough black executives. (Many in baseball also acknowledge a problem with too few black players.)

Although black public relations practioners have made progress, sustaining that progress remains challenging, especially at the mid- and senior-levels of the profession, states research from the National Black Public Relations Society Inc. (NBPRS).

Black PR professionals now work in all major market segments and are well represented in mid-level positions, according to the group’s survey. However, with some rare exceptions, black PR practitioners have failed to reach more senior and executive positions of major agencies or corporations, the research concludes.

Of the 20.6 percent respondents who work in the corporate sector, none were executive-level professionals and none were senior vice presidents or chief communication officers, states the white paper, 2015 State of the PR Industry: Defining & Delivering on the Promise of Diversity.

A Glass Ceiling

“Several respondents expressed their concerns about being able to reach those executive positions, particularly because of a perceived glass ceiling,” the report states.

“There is no one root cause for the diversity crisis,” said NBPRS Inc. President Richelle Payne in a press release. “We need a multi-layered, collaborative approach between the industry and black communicators. The time is right to position this organization as a critical partner in transforming agencies and corporations, and empowering black-owned businesses for the global opportunities of the future.”

The NBPRS challenges major public relations agencies to intensify efforts to improve diversity and to strengthen partnerships with smaller, black-owned firms.

Other key findings of the survey are:

  • Professionals desire PR career sustainability and career growth. They want to stay in the industry and look to industry organizations to provide support that helps them grow in the profession.
  • Networking is critical to the success of black professionals. It leads to career advancement and new business for entrepreneurs.
  • Survey respondents desire professional development workshops to help them remain competitive and deliver value. They seek training in social media, new technologies, convergence of marketing, advertising and PR, and sustainable business and entrepreneurship.

PR’s Dirty Little Secret

Lee Hayes, SVP/chief client officer at Lagrant Communications, called lack of diversity the PR industry’s dirty little secret. “Sadly, the communications industry has yet to achieve any type of real diversity during my almost two-decade career as a PR practitioner,” he writes for the Holmes Report.

The profession will only achieve real diversity when corporate clients demand that their agencies adopt and adhere to the client’s corporate goals and policies regarding diversity. They must level consequences if communications agencies choose not to promote a diverse workplace.

African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans will make up 36.5 percent of the US population and have an estimated combined spending power of $3.6 trillion by 2020. An all-white marketing or PR firm cannot, in good faith, claim that it is adequately staffed to service global brands whose consumers are increasingly diverse.

Diversity is a Business Necessity for PR

Building and maintaining a diverse workforce is a business necessity, agrees Antonio Hernandez, chair of diversity initiatives for PRSA Chicago. Diversity is essential in order for PR to connect with its diverse audiences.

“Leading brands that want to build relationships in diverse and emerging markets around the world know it begins with recruiting, developing and retaining talent reflecting their client population,” writes Hernandez, founder and managing partner of Chicago-based Globovoz Communications LLC, for the PRSA Chicago Chapter.

America of the 21st Century will be the most pluralistic, multicultural nation on earth. Leveraging powerful cultural cues can establish brand loyalty with multicultural consumers. “The real value for multicultural PR practitioners will be to work with companies that appreciate diversity and present a variety of corporate communications development opportunities,” he says. “And let’s face it, smart brands today know multicultural marketing is the new marketing, and PR professionals from all walks of life and diverse backgrounds must a have a seat at the table, Hernandez stated.”

In both baseball and PR, it will take effort to assure diversity.

Bottom Line: Black public relations professionals have made progress but face challenges in breaking into executive positions. PR leaders urge the industry to recognize diversity as a business necessity and promote increased hiring and promotion of minority PR professionals.