PR, ad firms lagging in diversity outreach

WASHINGTON: PR firms and advertising agencies are not keeping pace with other business sectors in implementing measures to increase employee diversity, according to a key-note speaker at a conference on diversity.

WASHINGTON: PR firms and advertising agencies are not keeping pace with other business sectors in implementing measures to increase employee diversity, according to a key-note speaker at a conference on diversity.

At the event last week, Edie Fraser, CEO of the Public Affairs Group (PAG), which offers resources on diversity best practices, noted that the marketing world is behind the curve in increasing minority representation in the workplace.

In comparison, she noted, 81% of Fortune 500 companies now have chief diversity officers.

Many companies have devised systems to track their progress in achieving a balanced work force and are transparent about their efforts to hire minority employees.

"The best PR firms need a framework for diversity," Fraser said. "If I [were running] a PR firm, I would name a chief diversity officer so fast."

The conference, "Strategies to Achieve Minority Diversity in Public Relations," was sponsored by the Black Public Relations Society of Washington, Diversity Best Practices Inc., and several top PR firms and organizations.

Marcela Berland, president and CEO of Latin Insights, said that pursuing a diverse workplace could benefit an agency's bottom line. There are 48 million Hispanics living in the US, and they have $750 billion of spending power, she noted.

Minority-owned firms, Fraser said, will continue to win multicultural contracts as long as the bigger agencies opt not to take the issue seriously. Fortune 500 companies are beginning to ask potential contractors, including PR agencies, about their levels of employee diversity before awarding contracts, she added.

Most of the speakers stressed the importance of PR firms providing mentors, not only at the junior level, but also all the way up the corporate ladder.

"I had no mentors in PR who were Asian," said Bill Imada, chairman and CEO of the IW Group, a communications firm specializing in the Asian-Pacific-American market.

Rochelle Ford, assistant professor of advertising and PR sequence coordinator at Howard University, explained that there remains great dissatisfaction with the commitment to achieve diversity within PR agencies. Ford was one of the leaders of a recent survey that polled 132 multicultural PR practitioners.

In the survey, 44.6% of respondents said that they had experienced overt racism in their work as PR pros, she said.

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