OP-ED: Adding another dimension to the PR diversity dialogue

I contacted PRWeek in response to the coverage and follow-up letters regarding the magazine's look at diversity within the profession and throughout its pages. For the past 10-15 years, when terms like "diversity," "multicultural," or "cultural sensitivity" have been used, the tendency was to think about ethnicity, gender, religion, or age. When I read about PRWeek's current look at diversity, I immediately thought about the lack of representation from those who practice in a nonprofit, association, university, or government setting. So there is yet another dimension to the diversity conversation.

I contacted PRWeek in response to the coverage and follow-up letters regarding the magazine's look at diversity within the profession and throughout its pages. For the past 10-15 years, when terms like "diversity," "multicultural," or "cultural sensitivity" have been used, the tendency was to think about ethnicity, gender, religion, or age. When I read about PRWeek's current look at diversity, I immediately thought about the lack of representation from those who practice in a nonprofit, association, university, or government setting. So there is yet another dimension to the diversity conversation.

I enjoy reading trade publications because they allow me to keep up with the goings-on in the profession. Through a variety of columns and articles, there is an informal type of benchmarking I do in order to evaluate how my PR program is doing. However, it sometimes feels like the issues and individuals featured in the magazine are predominately from the corporate or agency environments. It would be good to see communicators from nonprofits and associations featured in the "Quote of the Week," "Profile," or "A Day in the Life." I've worked in the nonprofit and association arenas for most of my career, and it's nice to see that "we" communicators are all struggling with the same issues. Revamping crisis PR plans, preparing for a change in executive leadership, branding, and, of course, identifying the right measurement and evaluation techniques that show a good ROI are just the tip of the iceberg. Like many of our colleagues in the corporate setting, our constituencies are large in number and, in many cases, larger. For the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, where I am PR director, there are 109,000 members. AARP has 33 million members. United Way, Goodwill Industries, the American Red Cross, and the Salvation Army all have hundreds of local entities, serve millions of people, and manage fairly sizeable budgets. As for nonprofit or association PR budgets, some are meager, some may be considered large. But again, the faces and names of those PR pros are scarce when it comes to tapping the profession's range of expertise. In addition to managing the day-to-day PR/communications functions, there is also that delicate balancing act of responding to the needs of volunteer boards and committee leaders that is included in the "job description" of the PR pro in nonprofits and associations. That experience is something I'd really like to share with my colleagues in agency and corporate settings. Spending years working with various volunteer boards and committees came in handy when I served as chairwoman of the IABC a few years ago. So many agendas for so little time and resources. As PR pros, our training, preparation, and work priorities are the same. I love the fact that the nonprofit and association career path chose me. The work is rewarding. I've had the privilege to work on exciting media events related to volunteerism, community service, healthcare, and voter education. I've partnered with some top global PR and ad agencies to create award-winning national public awareness campaigns. I've seen where my coaching of volunteers allowed them to speak with compassion and conviction through media interviews and during congressional hearings. This is just a small sampling of the "great rewards" I've received from this career path. And unlike many of my colleagues in agencies and corporations, it has been decades since I was laid off! When I was in school majoring in English and mass communications, all of the internships and job postings were from media outlets, agencies, and a few corporate communications departments. Jobs in nonprofits and associations weren't even on the bulletin board. That's a subtle message that has existed for a long time, and probably hasn't changed much over the years. But it was a nonprofit educational forum (think tank) that gave me a part-time job right out of college to go along with my other part-time job in radio. As PR pros, I know we all apply similar strategies toward similar issues. The work involves understanding our organizations' business priorities and researching the appropriate tactics toward developing a strategic integrated communications plan. Of course, the evaluation component will be revealed whether or not we succeeded. The hope is that the communications component is recognized as a part of the successful business outcome. The job is tough no matter the industry setting, but we know that top management relies on communicators to help identify solutions to a wide range of business issues.
  • Brenda Siler is the PR director for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

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