Payne: 10 strategies for diversifying the PR profession

It's easy to be negative about what's not being done, but it's a lot easier to offer suggestions on how we can achieve greater diversity.

Diversity in the public relations profession has been and is an issue that needs constant attention.

Sure, it’s easy to be negative about what’s not being done, but it’s a lot easier to offer suggestions on how we can achieve greater diversity if industry professionals identify specific steps to make a difference.

As a public relations professional for nearly two decades, I have seen it all. As president of the 16-year-old National Black Public Relations Society, I have developed this organization’s agenda to provide a platform for change. Wherever I go, I encourage my industry colleagues to value and embrace the importance of having different points of view sitting around the table at all levels – in major and boutique agencies and in corporate communications divisions.

Our organization’s founders, such as the late Pat Tobin, created this organization with several goals in mind, such as generating jobs and creating partnerships. Here are our organization’s 10 tips on how to diversify the industry.

1. Partnerships: At the national and local level, agencies should look at partnering with local diverse public relations organizations. For example, our Black Public Relations Society Los Angeles chapter has joined forces with such agencies as Edelman and Golin to present local seminars and special events. Burson-Marsteller and Weber Shandwick have partnered on events with several chapters throughout our footprint. What our chapter presidents and members tell me is that these partnerships are invaluable. 

2. Sponsorships: Throughout the country, our local chapters have garnered the support of donors, including Coca-Cola, Chick fil-A, CBS Entertainment Diversity, Disney, and UPS to provide critical financial and human resources to produce informative and educational events. Sponsors of our NBPRS National Conference and Career Fair, being held this week in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, include Edelman, Coca-Cola, MSLGroup, Mitchell Communications, Safeway, and Walmart.

3. Scholarships: Let’s face it: the future of this industry requires all of us to invest in talent. What a better way for agencies and companies to create scholarships for talented college students to help them stay in school to complete their degrees. 

4. Seminars: Providing seminars on trends, strategies, and career advice is one of the easiest ways to identify and bring together diverse public relations professionals. Getting industry professionals to network, discuss, and learn from current executives is a logical way to make lasting connections. In years past, the Public Relations Society of America has included NBPRS leadership in its Presidents Rally.

5. Mentorships: Many of us have mentors, formal and informal. Over the years, we’ve seen how connecting senior-level executives with current professionals and students is an invaluable method to develop lasting relationships.

6. Internships: There are thousands of talented, diverse college students planning to graduate to pursue careers in public relations. Whether you target students at some of the more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities or at other colleges, there’s a vast pool of talent looking to get experience so they are prepared for a full-time opportunity. Internships also are a perfect way to identify future talent.

7. Jobs: It’s no joke: It’s all about who you know and the "good ol’ boy network." So, the industry has to break the mold. The "we can’t find any" excuse is played out. Major agencies can recruit and hire by looking at NBPRS and other professional organizations representing diverse students and professionals.

8. Management development: Every agency should look at how it can better develop all of its talent. One clear way to recruit diverse talent is to demonstrate that there are opportunities in senior management. It’s critically important to understand the career goals of its diverse professionals so there is a path from entry-level to senior-level and C-suite jobs. 

9. Career fairs: Local agencies can promote their firms and opportunities if they participate in local and national events to recruit diverse talent. The key is developing a pool of diverse candidates so that when internship and job opportunities become available, you have a database from which to access.

10. Case studies: We know there are success stories. We want to develop examples of how companies have recruited, developed, and partnered with local organizations. Let’s share best practices so there are no longer any excuses. Let’s work together to pool the resources to ensure that every agency increases its diversity to better represent the faces, voices, and stories of this increasingly diverse country.

Richelle Payne is president of the National Black Public Relations Society, based in Los Angeles, and managing partner and consultant at Hurst & Leigh Communications Group, a Philadelphia-based boutique PR consulting practice. She can be contacted @rickroxpr  or @nbprs.

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