Agencies have work to do on diversity

PRWeek surveys agency leaders on the all-important subject of diversity and inclusion and finds there is still a long way to go before the agency sector mirrors the customers of the clients their firms work for.

The Lagrant Foundation’s Kim Hunter called out the agency sector in an op-ed for PRWeek published in February noting the lack of black faces – especially male black faces – on the leadership org charts of the major PR firms.

PRWeek spoke to PR agency CEOs for the Global Agency Business Report and asked them about their views on the current situation regarding diversity and inclusion and what they are doing to improve matters – both at their firms and across the overall industry:

Richard Edelman, president and CEO, Edelman:
"I look around the room and it’s true, we have work to do. We’re doing better with women. But that doesn’t answer [Kim Hunter’s] question about African-Americans.

"We have Trisch Smith [DC-based EVP leading on diversity and inclusion], who is really focused on this. We’re doing better with female African-Americans than males.

"We continue to recruit at primarily black colleges. We have some very promising people who are now at manager/deputy manager level in geographies.

"That’s progress. Agencies have to keep them and cultivate them. A lot of talented African-Americans go into corporate. We have work to do to improve on this. We are determined in my tenure that we’re going to fix this and that it’s important."

Paul Newman, North America president, MSLGroup:
"We all need to do a better job on diversity. That’s why we’re working very closely with Lou [Capozzi] and the PRSA Foundation and many other organizations to strengthen our efforts on diversity.

"In North America, we don’t have diverse individuals running P&Ls. It takes time. Aleisia Gibson-Wright, an SVP leading health practice, is a great example of getting people from diverse backgrounds into leadership positions.

"We scored 100% on a corporate equality index in a national benchmarking survey. In our leadership team in North America, more than half our leaders are women. I’d like to see even more." 

On the outstanding gender discrimination lawsuit faced by MSL:

"MSLGroup is committed to the fair and equal treatment of all of its employees and the remaining claims relating to the suit will eventually be rejected, as others have. We remain confident that the lawsuit has no merit and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously."

Andy Polansky, CEO, Weber Shandwick:
"Leadership in the PR profession, whether on the corporate or agency side, would readily acknowledge that we need to attract more diverse pros into the biz, and focus a lot of energy on it through recruitment efforts and industry associations.

"It’s one of the highest priorities we have in our business, because it’s the right thing to do and it’s where we all need to be to properly counsel clients."

Fred Cook, CEO, Golin:
"The Lagrant Foundation is one of the best things in our industry. I agree with him [Kim Hunter]. It’s not healthy that there aren’t more diverse people in senior roles. That’s why we hired Pamela Culpepper as chief people officer. She was in charge of diversity and inclusion at PepsiCo. She’s African-American.

"It’s not a token gesture: Having her here allows us to reach out to those communities. She’s involved in that world and it’s going to help us find and recruit more diverse people into our business. It’s hard: There are not a lot of African Americans in PR, let alone at senior levels.

"We have a multicultural team working with [large clients such as] Walmart, less so with McDonald’s. We’re very dedicated to diverse markets as a business opportunity as well as internally. My compensation is impacted by how well we do on diversity. Clients express their desire to have a very diverse team on their business and we do everything we can to deliver on that."

Rob Flaherty, senior partner, CEO, and president, Ketchum:
"We’re making some nice progress. I’m very pleased that people with different ethnic backgrounds are much more present in all our offices. We’re on the board of The Lagrant Foundation; we work to source interns; and we put an emphasis on diversity so people know it’s a cultural priority and they’re recognized as leaders for having done a good job with that.

"I don’t believe a lack of role models is the biggest issue facing our business. Show me the huge population of people with diverse ethnic backgrounds and the exodus of them leaving the business; then I’ll believe it was a lack of mentors and role models. It’s really a matter of getting people in the door; we’re trying everything to do that and we’re making good progress.

"We have a director of diversity, Sharon Jones; we have a Hispanic woman running Ketchum Atlanta, Diana Charlante, a boomerang who came back from Coke 10 years ago. We’ve made progress in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. ‘Jobs’ is the one word that describes our approach to diversity."

Stuart Smith, global CEO, Ogilvy:
"Diversity is important to me. The industry has a responsibility to address this but it’s not a quick fix. We have to take it seriously and it’s an urgent thing. It’s not just the right thing to do - It’s the right business decision to do it. We have to be able to represent the diversity of our clients and their consumers."

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