PR firms need to heed ad agencies' diversity failures

The advertising industry was recently taken to task for its lack of ethnic diversity. At a January 8 press conference in New York, the new Madison Avenue Project, flanked by the NAACP, released a 100-page report that found blacks are grossly underrepresented in ad agencies.

The advertising industry was recently taken to task for its lack of ethnic diversity. At a January 8 press conference in New York, the new Madison Avenue Project, flanked by the NAACP, released a 100-page report that found blacks are grossly underrepresented in ad agencies. It also determined that racial discrimination is 38% worse in the ad industry than in the overall US labor market.

Cyrus Mehri, the lawyer behind the project, has “a track record of extracting large settlements on behalf of employees of giant corporations” based on racial discrimination, to quote The New York Times.

Fortunately for PR agencies, the group says it does not plan to target the PR industry – for now. But if it did, it would surely find cause for another 100-page report, or maybe just one page that read “failed.”

The most recent PRWeek/Hill & Knowlton Diversity Survey (PRWeek, December 15, 2008) found that the industry recognizes this. More than half of the respondents believe the industry has a problem recruiting ethnically diverse pros.

It is time for firms to stop shuffling their feet on the issue. First, it will take a proactive recruiting strategy at colleges with high minority populations, whether that is the local city college or a Howard University. Hopefully, the recruiting staff is also diverse. Getting the younger generation interested in PR will help to ensure HR receives more résumés from black, Hispanic, Asian, and other minority groups.

Second, management must develop that talent so diversity doesn't stop at the junior level. An ethnically diverse senior staff will show minorities that there are growth opportunities in PR. It's also time to get creative. If you can't find the right PR graduate, find a smart person from another industry whom you can train and develop. Tying executive pay to the ability to attract a diverse work force might wake up a few, too.

It's an uncomfortable issue, but it's one that gives agencies the opportunity to make a real difference in the future of the industry and its reputation.

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