They dismissed suggestions that recruitment quotas or targets were necessary to address the lack of diversity in PR, saying they would be counterproductive.
A study published last month revealed that the PR industry was failing to make the most of the talents of black and minority ethnic practitioners (PRWeek, 11 June).
At a conference hosted by Edelman last week, UK CEO Robert Phillips pledged to increase the number of employees at the agency from diverse backgrounds and those with disabilities.
However, Phillips said he was not in favour of positive discrimination: 'Open meritocracy is the way forward, but to achieve this we do need to be aware of what a properly representative firm looks like, and the barriers to entry.'
PRCA director general Francis Ingham agreed with Phillips and added: 'Adopting quotas is something to which we are entirely opposed. PR professionals should be appointed on merit. It is a worse response from the industry than doing nothing. It is patronising and self-defeating.'
Mandate CEO Sacha Deshmukh said the agency was against setting measurable diversity targets and supported a 'positive policy' to seek out and encourage ethnic minority talent. Ketchum Pleon senior partner and president David Gallagher added: 'We've made it an aim to diversify to reflect the composition of the countries and markets we operate in, but no figures have been set.'
Last week, Ingham set out a list of targets the PRCA is aiming to achieve to improve diversity. One of the first tasks will be to undertake a PR census, in conjunction with PRWeek, to provide accurate statistics about the size and composition of the industry.
The trade body also wants to establish a framework for paid internships, targeting hard-to-reach groups. It will formalise work with universities and target students who would not normally consider a career in PR.