NBPRS: Black PR pros staying in the industry, but opting for non-traditional roles

The National Black Public Relations Society found in a recent report that the industry is making some progress on improving diversity, but it must extend that to senior positions.

While research has shown the PR industry’s lack of diversity is partially a result of poor retention, the National Black Public Relations Society has found in its own report that black PR pros are staying in communications – just not in traditional roles.

Many black PR pros want to stay in the communications field, but are choosing to go out on their own, according to Rochelle Ford, chair of the PR department at the SI Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Ford is also the co-author of the NBPRS’ State of the PR Industry report.

She emphasized that respondents said they want to stay in PR.

"There is a perception that [black PR pros] are dropping out and that they don’t want to stay," Ford noted. Yet she explained that what is actually happening is black communicators are leaving traditional roles at agencies and corporations to freelance or open up their own shops.

She added that while many black PR pros have secured roles in middle management, very few are making it to the C-suite, one reason why many are establishing their own firms.

"A lot of agencies are looking for talent to hire within, but not necessarily a partnership with a subcontractor," Ford said. And while other industries, such as government or manufacturing, are required to fill a quota of contracts with small, minority, or disadvantaged businesses, no such requirements exist in the public relations industry.

"This is something that our industry needs to investigate and take more seriously," Ford said.

Of the survey’s 199 respondents, 50% of corporate professionals were at a managerial level, while 10% of agency practitioners were mid-level professionals. Twenty-two percent said they own firms or consulting practices. Seventy-one percent of respondents were female.

The study also found that 75% of respondents have a master’s degree. However, a post-graduate degree is not a requirement to work in PR, and the number of practitioners who have one in the industry overall is quite small.

"This is definitely unique to the African-American experience in that they feel that in order to get ahead, they need additional credentials," Ford said. 

In terms of improving the industry’s diversity numbers, Ford said African-Americans need more opportunities and people looking out for them in order to reach the corner office. While many surveyed said they have mentors, they did not necessarily feel like someone in the executive network would vouch for them.

Of all respondents, 62% said they do not have any black men in communications leadership roles at their organizations, while 37% said they do not have female black communicators in leadership roles. About 14% do not have black female communicators at all, while 47% said the same for black men in their organizations.

"The industry needs to take more seriously the idea of sponsorship and the idea of not just mentors, but going a step further with outreach and partnerships and maybe executive searches that identify and look at talent differently," she said.

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