Progress report

From holding companies to clients to consumers, the demand for diverse talent at PR firms is stronger than ever - and agencies are responding with newfound dedication.

From holding companies to clients to consumers, the demand for diverse talent at PR firms is stronger than ever - and agencies are responding with newfound dedication.

More than four years ago, the ad industry was urged by civil rights legislation to increase diversity within its ranks. While those organizations hustled to institute programs and initiatives, the PR industry watched and waited, internally calculating its own plan to increase diversity, a problem not unique to ad agencies.

Currently, advocates such as Judith Harrison and Tiffany Warren, from IPG's Constituency Management Group and Omnicom, respectively, work with agencies to develop diversity and inclusion programming. WPP asks its agencies to develop proprietary programs – and many have stepped up. The PRSA has also taken a deeper dive into diversity, having come under fire late in 2009 for merging its multicultural communications group and diversity committee. But while the industry has taken some sincere steps toward increasing diversity, there is still much to be done.
 
“The industry as a whole is more focused on the issue than ever before,” says Harrison, SVP of staffing and diversity and inclusion for CMG and Weber Shandwick. “We have embraced the business case for diversity and every firm is really looking at it seriously, trying to figure out what works best in terms of recruitment and retention and how we serve our clients' needs.”
 
Kim Hunter, president and CEO of Lagrant Communications, has long been an outspoken advocate for diversity within the PR industry, and says that now, “the industry is truly making an effort.” However, there is still work to be done, he stresses, particularly on the agency side.
 
“My argument has been to look at all levels of the organization on the agency side,” he says. “I judge agencies based on where the people of color are. When I start seeing them have P&L responsibility, then I become impressed. It's not just about recruitment. It's recruitment, it's development, it's the retention component.”
 
The demographics of the US are changing, which will be even more apparent when the 2010 Census numbers are released early next year. In turn, consumers and clients expect the PR agencies they work with to be representative of that culture. In 2005, several major New York ad agencies and the NYC Commission on Human Rights entered into an agreement to hire, retain, and promote ethnic minorities within their ranks. Participants included Euro RSCG Worldwide, Ogilvy & Mather, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Young & Rubicam.
 
“The ad agency business was hit quite hard a couple of years ago when there was a lot of pressure to hire more diverse work forces,” says MaryLee Sachs, US chairman and worldwide director of marcomms at Hill & Knowlton.

“From the point of view of all the other types of disciplines, we are really left to look at it on our own, think about how we want to structure our outreach and how we want to work toward increasing our own diversity in the workforce.”
 
Power from within
While the advertising firms dealt with more mandated outside pressure, the PR industry, at the time, was not a part of the agreements. Warren, SVP and chief diversity officer for Omnicom Group, says this has helped diversity and inclusion efforts succeed throughout the industry.
 

“If it's going to be long-lasting and sustainable, it has to come from within,” explains Warren, who also founded the AdColor Industry Coalition and AdColor Awards. “Certainly the outside pressure wakes everyone up, but that does not sustain an overall plan. My key interest is to make sure any diversity and inclusion initiative that is launched comes from a genuine place and is sustainable for the culture and long term.”
 
Warren, who became Omnicom's chief diversity officer in February 2009, is tasked with helping agencies within the holding company develop and implement their own diversity plans for recruiting, retaining, and growing diverse talent. Her position allows her to interact with all Omnicom marketing services agencies to help them develop and execute plans that will work for them.
 
She calls Porter Novelli a “breakout” agency among Omnicom firms, and credits a lot of success to SVP and US Hispanic practice leader Sonia Sroka, who is also a member of Omnicom's diversity council. Sroka, in turn, attributes the success of her agency's work in diversity to the support of senior leaders such as president and CFO Anthony Viceroy.  
“We want to make sure we grow a firm comprised of executives whose backgrounds and cultures can be different, but who share a common passion for communications,” says Sroka. In 2010, the company launched several programs and now participates in an overall Omnicom partnership with Medgar Evers College that provides real-work experience for students within marketing communications.
 
Many Omnicom agencies have come to Warren and “sought my support in launching a lot of their diversity and inclusion efforts,” Warren notes. But, she adds, “many of our agencies have reached their goals in terms of diversity and inclusion.”
 
WPP firms have been asked to develop their own diversity and inclusion processes, which has allowed several agencies to stand out. Ogilvy works to incorporate diversity and inclusion into all of its programming, says Donna
Pedro, sen ior partner and chief diversity and inclusion officer for Ogilvy & Mather. Overseeing all agencies and disciplines within Ogilvy, she has a unique perspective of the various industries and how they embrace diversity.
 
“It's not so much programs and initiatives; it's really a diversity and inclusion strategy that aligns with our five-year plan and our business objectives,” she says, noting that the plan was introduced this year, with support from Ogilvy North America chairman John Seifert. “He's not just a figurehead around the issues of diversity and inclusion. We approach it as a change-management process. It's not a check-off-the-box process.”
 
Additionally, clients' requirements often dictate diversity among PR agencies. Working to reach a more diverse group of consu m ers, they expect their partner agencies to reflect that diversity as well, Pedro says.

“Many of our clients have also been on this journey,” she notes. “Some are holding us accountable. Some are partnering with us. Our prospective clients are asking us, ‘What are you doing?'”
 
H&K reports its employee base is 83% Caucasian, with 17% reporting a more diverse background, including identifying with two or more ethnicities, says Sachs. She admits overall hiring has been down during the recession, whic h hasn't allowed for a change in diverse hiring over the past couple years.
 
“I certainly don't think our agency, and I wouldn't hesitate to say most mainstream agencies, reflects the makeup of our population, yet we are expected to be communicating with our population,” she adds. “It hasn't changed as much as it should.”
 
Hunter agrees, noting that the “browning of America” will impact clients and, eventually, agencies. “The marketplace and demographics have changed and these companies' consumers reflect diversity,” he explains. “At the end of the day, clients are going to dictate on the agency side about their lack of diversity.”
 
Answering the call for change
With pressure fro m clients, support from agency and holding company leaders, and simply a changing culture overall, agencies across the sector, and even trade groups such as the PRSA, have launched programs ranging from mentoring and education to fun activities and affinity groups.
 
The PRSA combined its multicultural communications section and LGBT affinity group with its diversity committee in 2009, prompting criticism from members and non-members alike for seeming to abandon multicultural and diversity focus. But Lynn Appelbaum, currently on the PRSA's national board of directors, says the combination was a good thin g, bringing more energy to the team and getting more concrete backing from PRSA headquarters. In 2010, PRSA chair and CEO Gary McCormick instituted five pillars into the organization's mission, including diversity, which Appelbaum says has been integrated into all of the others.
 
“Diversity was one of the five pillars, but what the PRSA worked to do is not only look at it from a vertical perspective, as its own initiative, but it sought to integrate diversity into each of the other pillars: advocacy, the business case for PR, community, and education,” she adds.
 
The organiz ation is also developing more intensive online resources to help members and non-members with best practices for recruitment and retention, as well as reaching out to more multicultural consumers.
 
Appelbaum says PRSA membership has gotten more diverse in the past five years, with 14% of members self-identifying as diverse, up from 7% in 2005. Additionally, Rosanna Fiske, a Latina, will take over as chair and CEO in 2011. The PRSA has also partnered with organizations such as the Black PR Society and The Lagrant Foundation to network and build relationships.
 
“The PRSA has done a great job of refocusing its efforts on diversity, ingraining diversity as part of the different aspects they work on,” says Porter's Sroka.

Within her agency, Sroka has been working with senior leadership on several initiatives that kicked off in 2010, including an overall 12-month plan to attract, retain, and promote the best talent. Porter's outreach includes diversity ambassadors at o ffices across the US, recruiting through Howard University and the American Advertising Federation's Most Promising Minority Student Program, and mentoring programs, including speed mentoring events, where employees can quickly meet several potential mentors to be more effectively paired up.
 
The firm is also involved with TORCH, a New York-based program where students interact with business professionals. Th e company hosted students during an eight-week PR 101 session, where pros spoke to the students about social media, building a blog, media relations, event planning, strategy and creative idea execution, and more.
 
The partnership has already produced a success story: Jennifer Vasquez. The TORCH alum joined the agency as a full-time employee focused on diversity initiatives and consumer account work after the program. She is also helping with diversity initiatives, which Sroka explains is another avenue for retaining employees.
 
“Internally, this div ersity plan serves as a leadership platform for a lot of up-and-coming pros,” she adds. “They get exposure to leading something within their office. They've not just made contributions to clients, but also to their environment.”
 
Burson-Marsteller created its Diversity and Inclusion Council three years ago, with support from the FutureWorks Institute, a workplace diversity consultancy. The council has changed and evolved over the past three years, says Gillian Edick, M D of US HR for the agency, but currently has three branches, each of which has several programs and initiatives.
 
The Raising Awareness and Levels of Respect branch includes affinity groups, diversity workshops for senior leadership, and a recently launched blog on the Intranet. Career Development and Mentoring includes reverse mentoring programs, as well as peer mentoring, where younger staffers team up to work in a mentor group with a senior executive. The Sourcing Talent branch focuses on recruitment and includes partnerships with the Black PR Society, the variou s associations for black, Hispanic, and Asian journalists, and recruitment tactics through Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
 
“We've made it a lot more about relationships,” Edick says. “It's been successful because people are seeing Burson in a different light. It's an opportunity to have a conversation with us in a different way than a traditional interview.”

She adds that using non-traditional forms of hiring, for the junior, mid, and senior levels, can really impact the diversity of employees, whether it's ethnic diversity or simply having agency versus non-agency backgrounds.
 
“We are now realizing it's so valuable to have these people from these backgrounds, in addition to people who grew up in the agency world,” says Edick. “When you're hiring broadly like that, it opens you up to more diversity in the standard definition.”
 
Impact at all levels
Ogilvy & Mather's Pedro agrees, adding that non-traditional recruitment and hiring can also boost the mid- and senior-level hires, an area that needs most improvement within the PR industry, many say.
 
Ogilvy recruits at the mid-level at the National Black MBA Association Conference and other MBA association eve nts, she says, as well as events like South By Southwest. “There is life outside Howard University,” adds Hunter, who encourages agencies to be creative in their recruitment tactics at all levels of the organization.
 
“My point of view is to bring them in at the entry level, the mid-tier, and the high tier,” he explains. “Generation Y is more sophisticated and smart. If they don't see people who reflect who they are, they're not going to go there.”
 
In the future, Pedro says, “I would hope we see talent retention from our entry-level hires and more penetration in the mid- to senior-level ranks.”
“I'd say we're moving in the right direction and doing more and more every year,” CMG's Harrison says. “I want to see many more people of color, specifically at the mid- and senior-level. I look forward to seeing steady gains and expanded opportunities for underrepresented populations and a more inclusive industry overall.”
 
Now that firms such as Burson have had diversity and inclusion programming for a few years, it's time to reevaluate and move toward a more inclusive environment overall.
 
“It's time to do the focus groups and surveys again,” suggests Edick. “That will be the real benchmark. Historically, it's been more about numbers, but we really wanted to focus on it being about culture growth and enhancement.”
 
All agencies and holding companies in this feature were asked for statistics on demographics, but only PRSA and Hill & Knowlton provided figures.

Hope for the future
Industry leaders offer thoughts on the steps that can be taken to increase diversity going forward:

Bill Imada, chairman and CEO, IW Group: If diverse individuals are not engaged in meaningful ways, you'll never achieve the intended impact. Such goals must be an organizational priority set by top leaders. And senior managers must be held accountable for achieving diversity goals. Finally, all executives should be required to sponsor – and support – diverse staffers. The success of such relationships can only be assured if tied to performance and compensation.

Shannelle Armstrong, PR director, Sears Holdings Management Corp.: The industry is increasing the number of multicultural pros, but, to continue this momentum, we must focus on retention, as well as recruitment. Their unique voices, viewpoints, and expertise are necessary for the PR industry to maintain its credibility and influence within the global market, especially in this age of citizen journalism and social media.

David Henry, president/CEO, TeleNoticias; president, New York chapter, Hispanic Public Relations Association: A better job must be done of showing diverse individuals PR is a great career choice and that their background can help get them a job. Programs that focus on getting more people into multicultural PR are needed, including at the college and high school levels.

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