Are we doing enough to influence racial diversity in PR?

Diversity

A recent survey by The Public Relations Society of America shows that less than 10 per
cent of those working in the North American public relations consultancy business are black or
Hispanic despite the fact that those two groups make up 30 per cent of the US population, with
that figure destined to reach 50 per cent at some point in the future.

The lack of diversity in the US PR industry is mirrored in many other leading markets such
as the UK, and was one of the topics discussed in a panel I chaired recently at The Independent
Agencies Day as part of the 2014 Global PR Summit on the topic of Managing and Retaining
Talent.

How can we be truly effective and represent our clients’ interests, never mind society’s, if
this situation continues?

Consumers are becoming wary of hard-sell marketing and PR tactics. They don’t want to
be sold to by brands; instead they would rather become a voice within the brand’s growing
community. Today, content marketing is all about creating stories to connect with their
community, and this is an integral part of securing brand loyalty by establishing a credible level
of trust.

But how can this be achieved if brands and their PR companies don’t have enough common
ground with their consumer base?

America is set to become one of the most multicultural nations on earth with a complex
web of ethnic and cultural diversity. It’s already 40% multicultural and this will continue to
increase every year.

A level playing field of mutual understanding needs to be established between consumers
and brands, but is it feasible to expect this to be achieved if consumers don’t feel their
demographic or cultural perspective is fairly represented?

The power of PR is in the ability to relate. If we can’t do that, where does that leave us?

The topic of ethnic diversity in the PR industry has been on the agenda for over a decade
and in 2011 the Council of Public Relations Firms co-hosted the Diversity Distinction in PR
awards. As well as recognising the best PR firm diversity initiative and spotlighting a diversity
champion in the industry, the most important award goes to the best PR firm community
initiative. This is an important driver for focusing and engaging the next generation of PR
professionals into the talent pool.

Our world is changing and moving so fast that we can’t just focus on today’s consumer, we
have to look into the future and connect to tomorrow’s generation of consumers.

It’s not enough to encourage diversification in the PR Industry by offering a token role
within our agencies to fill a social quota. We need to fully commit to finding the next generation
of professionals to maintain the integrity of our industry and invest in building a talent pool
that’s a true representation of society.

The Millennial generation is the most ethnically diverse generation to date, and many have
come from multiracial families. These are the digital savvy generation. They are surrounded
by mobile devices and on-line interaction and are adept at navigating the quagmire of content
marketing and social media.

Their value to the PR Industry isn’t just in their diversity, but it’s also rooted in their deep-
seated understanding of how to navigate the digital landscape. They live it and breathe it, and
we need to do what we can to attract this expertise into our agencies.

This generation’s opinions and perceptions are shaped by the impact of globalisation and a
brand’s focus on corporate responsibility. What’s more socially responsible than making sure PR
companies represent the voice of society?

Shrewd brands already know that multicultural marketing is the foundation to ensure future
growth and success. Many large brands, such as Ford and Nokia, have realised their employees
have a crucial role to play as brand ambassadors.

Employees are out in the digital landscape representing their company amongst their
own universe of communities. Their efforts help to create an emotional connection to brands
through the use of personal experience and stories. This is PR on a personal level and we have to
reclaim our seat at the table.

If the teams and leadership within PR companies aren’t able to make these same
connections in this evolving cultural landscape, their value as a representative voice of brands
will diminish.

As the go-between straddling brands and consumers, PR practitioners have to lead by
example. Some recognised brands have already established a diverse cultural and ethnic balance
within their team’s makeup, and yet more – Google for example, are still struggling to get to
where they know need to be. This is where the PR industry can establish itself as a high profile
thought-leader with clear intentions.

The PR industry needs to actively build teams with cultural and racial diversity that have
the knowledge and expertise to interpret and relate to the cultural diversity on both sides of
the brands and consumer equation. For brands that are struggling to establish that cultural and
racial diversity, PR companies can play the valuable role of influencer. At the end of the day it’s
what we do best.

If we don’t step up to the plate we will be as useful as an old paper dinosaur in a digital
ocean. I for one don’t want to see anyone get left behind.

What do you think? Is the industry doing enough to ensure that its professionals are a true
representation of society?

AUTHOR: Michel Murphy