Diversity Survey 2007: Progress report


Erica Iacono moderates this virtual roundtable where PR educators share their perspectives on the diversity issue—and what agencies and corporations can do to improve the situation

Lynn Appelbaum
Advertising/PR program director
Department of media and communication arts
The City College of New York

Rochelle Larkin Ford, PhD
Associate dean for research and academic affairs
John H. Johnson School of Communications
Howard University

Rosanna Fiske
Associate professor and graduate program coordinator
School of Journalism & Mass Communication
Florida International University

Dean Kazoleas, PhD
Associate professor of PR,
Department of communications
CSU Fullerton 

Francis McDonald, PhD
Assistant professor
The Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications
Hampton University

Renea Nichols
Senior lecturer, advertising and PR
College of Communications
Pennsylvania State University 

Cathy Rogers, PhD
Associate professor and PR sequence head
School of Mass Communication
Loyola University New Orleans

Marcia Taylor, EdD
Assistant professor of mass communications and journalism
Department of communications
Norfolk State University

Natalie Tindall
Assistant professor of PR
Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communications
University of Oklahoma

Erica Iacono (PRWeek): How do you view the current professional market for your students? Are most of them continuing on into a career in PR? If not, what are the obstacles?

Lynn Appelbaum (The City College of New York): Recent grads from CCNY's undergraduate advertising/PR program, about 90% of whom are black, Latino, and Asian, have had good success in getting entry level jobs in PR, advertising, and marketing. Internships have been an essential step for students to get experience, demonstrate professional commitment and most importantly network. Our most successful grads have been hired directly from internships into entry level jobs and have moved up from there.

The biggest challenge I continue to hear about from some of my diverse students is that, depending on the agency, they are not made to feel a part of the agency culture. While all intens may be treated the same, their perception is that they tend to feel more like outsiders. This has had a negative impact on several highly talented and motivated students choosing to continue with agencies even if they've been invited to stay on.

Our location in New York has been a significant plus for students interested in pursuing careers in marketing communications, because of the access to so many media related businesses. A number of grads have also pursued master's degrees in business, administration, graphic arts, and research. For those who do not get hired by agencies or businesses, students are increasingly entering the industry as solo entrepreneurs especially in new media. They are bypassing the traditional employment channels. 

Rochelle Larkin Ford (Howard University): The job market for Howard's PR graduates seems optimistic and bright. The Council of PR Firms has established a strong relationship with the University, hosting a job fair for PR students in the spring. Each company has invited students for follow-up interviews and many have made job offers to the last three graduating classes. However, it appears mainly the top students are getting hired. The average student has more difficulty. The students who don't want to work in New York or Washington DC also have more difficulty. The students who want to go into corporate PR have it the hardest. 

While the majority of the students want to go into PR, some students decide that a law career or another industry would be better for them. Our major has grown so large that, I don't think it's problematic for some to choose another industry. It does bother me though that many agencies prefer to have non-PR graduates. I think there is some disconnect.  

Also, there seems to be a major quality gap between colleges offering PR and communications degrees. Recruiters at Howard's annual communications job fair say that some other programs are not producing quality students. Therefore, I think the industry needs to work more closely with smaller or lesser known programs to help improve the quality of their students and graduates. We need to have stronger industry-university relationships. 

Rosanna Fiske (Florida International University): At Florida International University, we have an incredibly diverse pool of journalism, mass communication, and PR students, yet we find that recruiters who do come on campus mainly come to address media outlets' needs, not PR firms or corporate departments. For example, we have established a great partnership with Scripps Networks. At the moment, the company's main focus is finding diverse journalists, who have diverse perspectives and diverse skills. I find it very telling that media companies are avidly addressing the diversity hiring issue and PR organizations as a whole are lagging. Ironically, I've seen several of our PR graduates actually move into the media ranks, taking jobs as reporters, writers, or even in advertising sales. They have not found it as easy to penetrate the PR profession. 

Dean Kazoleas (CSU Fullerton): Because of our location in Southern California, CSUF PR students have many opportunities for careers in PR in the local area, especially given the strong presence of the entertainment, tourism, and hospitality industries in the SoCal Region. Moreover, in the SoCal area students from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and with stong second language skills (Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc.), can find an even stronger job market due to the growth in firms that target these audiences.

I believe that the "job market" is strong nationally, and that students can find high quality PR or communication related positions in almost any market. There are several obstacles, some of which can be overcome with education. One of the problems that I see is that some students perform job searches using only the terms PR and/or media relations, and don't often examine positions with titles like public affairs, corporate communications, or public information officer. Today's organizations have learned that they need highly skilled communicators to create and maintain relationships with their stakeholders, and they want to hire skilled individuals, our students at times are a bit myopic in their job searches, and don't recognize employer needs and hence excellent opportunities.
Francis McDonald (Hampton University): Similar to what has already been articulated concerning the current job market, I believe the opportunities have always been available for students who are determined, passionate and have developed the skills indicative of the demands of the industry. The Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications at Hampton University was developed to address the issue of diversity in the media industry. Rather than an exclusive focus on ethnic diversity, our School's mission requires that we emphasize academic diversity, and leadership diversity of the media establishment, as well.

High expectations and academic excellence are Hampton traditions. Under our dean's leadership, we began a systematic approach to motivating our students to overachieve in their fields by emphasizing voluntary educational purposeful activities. These include the Dean's 6 o'clock Club at 6 a.m. for serious freshmen, linking advisement to learning outcomes, grammar enhancement, GPA strategy, etc., and support programs (the Academy of Writing Excellence, the Center for Broadcast Excellence and the Media Sales Series). These support programs are crucial especially for predominately Black or Hispanic student populations, traditionally underserved groups, in public schools and colleges in order to build basic skill sets which can lead to confidence and improved academic success. This is especially important for students studying PR. 

Renea Nash: Penn State is a predominately white campus. I can name all of the students of color I have had in my three years here teaching PR. Most of the white students are heading abroad after graduation or heading "home" to begin the interview process. The students of color tend to continue their education and pursue a master's degree. Sadly, I don't see them being "recruited" although through our multicultural office, [though] the students do have a chance to go to "minority" job fairs.

Cathy Rogers (Loyola University New Orleans): For Loyola University New Orleans, the market is promising. My experience is that students who want PR jobs find them, but it is much easier when they take advantage of the numerous internship opportunities in New Orleans. The internship market is stronger than ever and provides excellent professional experience because of the post-Katrina demand. Obstacles for jobs in New Orleans right now include housing costs and the fact that many jobs that demand their PR skills are not necessarily called "public relations."

Marcia Taylor (Norfolk State University): Norfolk State University is located in Hampton Roads, Virginia, a ripe media market for launching PR careers. Our students can see numerous, successful people of color working in various media industries each day. A new publication, Mix Magazine was recently launched to celebrate Hampton Roads' racial and ethnic diversity. From my experience, students of color have greater success in larger media markets due to the positive attitudes of residents toward diversity and because of the various business sectors available for employment. Yes, Norfolk State University graduates are obtaining positions in PR. Many of our students also seem to find employment with media outlets rather than with agencies or in corporate PR.

Many NSU students face the obstacles of juggling the school commute, employment, and class attendance. This juggling act reduces the time they have to connect with professional organizations such as the PRSA or the IABC. Talented students of color are then denied the opportunity to access the professional organizations and their “networks” that lead to internships and ultimately positions.

Natalie Tindall (University of Oklahoma): At the University of Oklahoma, the professional market is strong. Our college has built a relationship with the university's Career Services, allowing our students greater access to on-campus placement resources. Because of the outreach efforts of our faculty, our College has established firm relationships with PR and strategic communication firms in the region. The outlook is good, but the majority of the top students, the brightest students in terms of GPA and skill look at PR as a gateway major. Three of the Bateman students I am advising this year are going to law school because of the prestige of a law career and the money that profession can give. Last year, several Bateman students opted out of PR. I ran into one of my best PR Campaigns students at Starbucks last week. She is in medical school, but she majored in PR because that is what she liked, but not necessarily what she hoped to do as her career.

Dr. Ford made a good point about the disconnect between agencies and PR programs. This is endemic of the profession; people with graduate degrees in PR are looked upon as odd ducks. Anyone with strategic thinking skills, the ability to conduct research, and the ability to string nouns and verbs together in a coherent fashion are seen as qualified candidates, whether or not he or she understands core principles of communication or has slight insight into theories of persuasion or communication.

When the Princeton Review snubs or downplays the importance of a degree in PR, stating “most professionals agree a degree in public relations is unnecessary” and “Any major that teaches you how to read and write intelligently will lay good foundation for a career in public relations,” why wouldn't agencies do the same? 

Iacono (PRWeek): What do you see as some of the more successful ways for corporations and PR agencies to reach diverse audiences from a recruiting standpoint? 

Appelbaum (CCNY): Agencies and corporations are most successful when they make diversity a priority in their recruitment efforts. There are some obvious choices of schools that offer degrees in PR and have PRSSA chapters, but agencies also can look at institutions that have talented diverse students in traditional liberal arts areas from which to draw, such as historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and even public universities which might attract a more diverse student body. Professional organizations, such as Black Public Relations Society, also serve talented professionals who are looking for corporate and agency jobs, and can be used as an additional resource.

Many students not schooled in PR don't think about it as a profession, so the industry can do a better job by educating diverse liberal arts students about the profession through college career centers and targeted outreach to competitive colleges that have a strong multicultural student enrollment. HR directors and recruiters need to think creatively and to increase their outreach to campuses and professional organizations that serve diverse students.

The PRSA NY Web site has a Diversity Central link on its home page (prsany.org) that provides information on a variety of multicultural organizations and college recruitment avenues.

Ford (Howard): Go where the fish are. HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities), HACUs (hispanic association of colleges and universities) are both obvious choices. Participating in MAIP, contacting the PRSSA chapters at HBCUs and HACUs, reaching out to the PRSSA multicultural affairs scholarship winners, reaching out to the student chapters of the NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists), AAJA (Asian American Journalists Association), NAHJ (National Association of Hispanic Journalists), and the NAJA (Native American Journalists Association) are all good steps. It's about being proactive.

Many minority students do not have the money to complete non-paid internships or travel to major cities on a $10/hr or less internship. Many minority students can't afford to take graduate internships upon graduation because their families can't support them. Also, be creative about the outreach. For the last four years, PR agencies such as Edelman, APCO, and Ketchum have team-taught an undergraduate agency-management class at Howard University. This has given the students insight into agency careers and gave the sponsoring agencies first glance at our graduating seniors.
Fiske (FIU): At the risk of sounding preachy, I would ask them to stop thinking of diversity as a black and white issue, and purely, as a hiring issue. It's wonderful that companies are reaching out to HBCU -- please keep doing that! -- but they also need to think about the marketplace and the diversity represented within it. Just like corporations and PR agencies are looking at how to best address the growing diverse population, they also need to look at how best to recruit diverse employees. They are not going to do that by going to the same well for a different flavor of water.
For example, Hispanic Outlook each year names the top schools awarding communication degrees to Hispanic students. Most recruiters don't even know the list exists. The few who do — mainly those in the media -- pull out the list each year and go straight to the job fairs at those schools. They are thinking outside of their universe; they know that finding different ways of reaching diverse audiences means reading and getting your hands on different publications than what you're accustomed to reading. 

Kazoleas (CSU Fullerton): I agree with some of the other posts. Many students choose universities because they are convenient and close to home others because they identify with current students at the university. If recruiters want a diverse workforce (to reach increasingly diverse audiences) they should look to universities that offer high quality programs and feature diverse populations.

At CSUF (Cal State University Fullerton) approximately 26-28% of our students have Hispanic backgrounds and another 22% are Asian, and these numbers reflect the area that surrounds our university and region. Moreover, recruiters should also work with professional organizations such as PRSA (and its multicultural affairs section), PRSSA, and more regional associations such as HPRA (The Hispanic Public Relations Association) to recruit high performing students and to put on job fairs and/or presentations that highlight their organizations.

Our career center at CSUF recently had an event that featured many organizations, and best of all we were contacted by our alumni that had were working in those organizations. They key here was the focus of those organizations such as Disney and NBC on diversity and the importance that they placed on developing it in their organizations.

Nichols (PSU): The College of Communications at Penn State has a career (job/internship) office and a multicultural center. These are two great avenues to get directly to our students of color. Talking directly to faculty (if you can find them) of color is a good approach as we often have a handle on the students who are seeking employment and those in the pipeline. I think the advertising industry has many programs, awards, internships, and recruiting fairs that the PR industry can learn from. It seems they are in constant dialogue on this issue and actively trying to create some balance and enhance diversity.
Rogers (Loyola): Be an advocate for paid internships. Too often in our market, students cannot afford to do internships on a volunteer basis. While I understand the argument that the experience one gains from an internship cannot be measured financially in terms of the long-term benefit for one's career, reliance on volunteer internships continues to advantage those students who may be in a better financial position or whose parents are in a better financial position.

We continue to hear professionals say they hire from within and often look first to previous interns, but if students who pay their own tuition, regardless of whether they are minority students, are not able to take advantage of those invaluable experiences, then the gap continues to widen between those with financial advantages. A less expensive route is to offer executives as classroom guest lecturers, particularly minority role models since many programs, like ours, suffers from a lack of minority faculty. Look for ways to engage with student groups, whether through PRSSA or the University's student affairs division.

Taylor (NSU): PR professional organizations like the PRSA, the IABC, the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) could form an alliance to reach out to diverse job candidates. The local chapters of these organizations could also develop individual mentorship committees to support PR education.
PR educators need practitioners to partner with us as mentors. We all have a stake in preparing students for the profession. Educators can not do it alone. I do believe that practitioners want to help but they may have time constraints due to job demands. This is where management is needed. Corporations routinely allow their employees to use work time to “give back” to their communities. We need PR organizations and practitioners to “give back” by picking up the phone, or shooting an email to let us know when they are available to come in to discuss their PR careers with our students. It's that simple.

The mentors can provide additional career guidance and possibly job shadowing opportunities. Practitioners can also mentor by inviting and paying for students to attend monthly professional meetings during the year. The mentors can also speak at their mentee's university.

If PR organizations begin to reach out to educators at least once a semester, we could assist with identifying diverse students who are prepared to pursue PR careers. More communication needs to flow both ways. Organizations may enhance their applicant pool by communicating with the PR professors and the career services offices at the universities.

Tindall (University of Oklahoma): The pipeline for talent does not appear magically at the senior year of college. Exposing high school and middle school students to the possibilities of PR and giving them the basic grasp of what PR is, is the key. 

Iacono (PRWeek):  Do you believe that corporations and PR agencies are making enough of an effort to recruit diverse employees? What can they be doing better?
Appelbaum (CCNY): The easy answer is no, but that's not the most helpful response. Some agencies and corporations are beginning to put diversity recruitment on their agenda. To genuinely make diversity a reality in our workforce, the commitment and directive has to come from the top leadership. It needs to be built into core company values and mission. Otherwise, recruitment of diversity becomes something companies and agencies know they "should" do, but don't take significant steps to actually change the way they recruit. Many agencies and companies recruit on inertia by relying on their tried and true feeder schools for entry level jobs. That won't lead to finding more talented and diverse professionals.
Ford (Howard): Yes, the PR industry has come a long way, but still has a long way to go. Howard has reaped the benefit of the efforts of agencies and now even some corporations. Target came to recruit our PR and advertising students recently. This is a major change. The challenge now is to help agencies and corporations mentor and nurture their diverse employees so that they will want to stay at these companies. It costs a lot to be a pro-active recruiter; so if you're going to make the recruitment effort, you must make the retention effort. Retaining good talent is more cost-effective than continually having to recuit new talent when you lost it for unnecessary reasons like lack of a nurturing, supportive, inclusive environment.

Fiske (FIU): The PR profession as a whole has come a long way. I remember the days when I was the only diverse individual participating in a PR conference. Today, there are the usual suspects — a few of us who have remained committed to the profession. I hope tomorrow my colleagues of color and I don't have to continue to look around the room to see if we're the "only ones." So I challenge corporations and PR agencies to look outside their comfort zones.

Don't get me wrong ... I believe corporations and PR agencies are making an effort, but just not enough of an effort. The few diverse employees who are brought in are usually entry-level. Often they are pigeonholed into covering their "area of diversity". You rarely see a corporation or a PR agency hiring a diverse individual at the VP level or higher. And that mainly has to do with the fact that a lot of the higher level hiring takes place through relationships or through executive searches. I find it interesting when I hear SVPs from agencies or headhunters tell me that they're trying to find more people of color in the executive ranks. I then ask them if they found any at their country clubs. I truly wish we went beyond the set decorum and reached a little further.

Kazoleas (CSU Fullerton): My suggestion to organizations who want to be more diverse is to again focus their recruiting efforts on universities in areas with diversity and that feature populations of students with similar backgrounds, and more important is to find universities with strong PR programs (as opposed to merely focusing on institutions with higher brand equity because they may be larger, have larger endowments or are more well known) to recruit diverse employees with strong PR skills. The primary focus should be on ability and skills as well as diversity. Twenty years ago there were significantly fewer high quality PR programs; today there are many, and many of the students that graduate from those programs are from diverse backgrounds. 

McDonald (Hampton): There's always room for improvement as we are clearly seeing more diverse employees entering the profession. My question is, are we seeing more diverse employees in leadership positions? Diversity of the PR workplace can be achieved if academic institutions concentrate on developing a significant number of graduates who represent underserved groups to assume leadership positions. When corporations and agencies partner with academic institutions that produce diverse aspirants who are motivated, competent and skilled, the outcome improves the chances of diverse people succeeding in their career choices and establishing a leadership presence in the PR profession. In so doing, it is in a leadership position that corporations and agencies can make more of an effort. 

Taylor (NSU): No, I don't. It saddens me that my students are grappling with the same excuses for the lack of diversity in PR that existed almost 20 years ago. Students of color want the opportunity to work as PR professionals without relegation to an “ethnic communication” track in the firm. If they are not given non-ethnic/racial clients or opportunities, the message that's sent is that “you're good for issues of color, but not outside that box”. This mindset devalues the global contributions that people of color have made to history, language, culture, the arts, and business. It's important for every employee to effectively communicate with diverse audiences, not just people of color. If not, the profession will reinforce attitudes that value and devalue based on race and ethnicity.

Iacono (PRWeek): Our corporate and PR agency respondents in the Diversity Survey noted that they have increased their outreach to colleges as a way to recruit diverse employees, yet the results are far from overwhelming. Have you noticed this increase in outreach? If so, why do you think they haven't been more successful? 
Appelbaum (CCNY): City College of New York: I have experienced some increased interest from agencies to recruit diverse candidates. Mostly, the change has manifested itself through a more open response by internship coordinators, if I initiate the contact. I have not experienced a significant proactive outreach by agencies to increase their pool of entry level diverse candidates. We are not anywhere close to the tipping point in our industry efforts. Some agencies are beginning to think of new models about how to recruit diverse young professionals through internship and entry-level training programs, and this is certainly a positive change from the status quo. But we are in the infancy stages.

One successful outreach effort I was involved in was through our PRSA NY Chapter, which created the Diversity Buddy Program. Our chapter paired colleges with established PR programs and agencies interested in fostering diversity, as a way of fostering increased commitment to recruit multicultural interns. We had a successful start that paired three colleges with agencies to provide internships for multicultural students. It was a win-win for everyone. The agency commitment and ownership to fostering diversity was key.
It's essential for agencies and corporations to understand that efforts to recruit diverse candidates alone are inadequate. They need to think about what their corporate culture is like and how it also supports inclusiveness, as supported by research that Dr. Rochelle Ford and I conducted (www.ccny.cuny.edu/prsurvey). Often our business perpetuates a "sink or swim" mentality for all employees. That "survival of the fittest" mentality is not the best model to build and retain a diverse workplace. You can find diverse talent, but agencies need to look for ways to support and mentor them. It doesn't take a lot of time or resources. Helping multicultural employees make personal connections within the company goes a long way. 

Ford (Howard): Unfortunately, I think many companies expect diverse candidates to be superheroes or near perfect to make up for their minority status. When many of students who are hired go to agencies whether as interns or account coordinators, their white colleagues often know little about PR or about writing, etc. They often have connections to clients or the media that my black students don't.
Fiske (FIU): They keep going back to the same colleges and universities. They keep wanting the potential employees to be pigeonholed. There is great diversity at the University of Texas at Austin, University of Florida, my own university, just to name a few. Yet my colleagues in those universities all tell me their PR students are not being recruited. For example, one of my top PR students, who led an advertising team to win first place in the US and Canada in the InterAd competition, tried desperately to obtain an internship with two of the top PR firms in New York. Her expertise, drive, and knowledge were first-class. Her references were top-notch. And, she happens to be Hispanic. Not one of the firms followed up with her after she told them she wasn't interested in doing Hispanic PR. She wanted to work in general PR like many of the other candidates. So, perhaps we need to differentiate the need for hiring diverse employees and the need for addressing diverse markets. By the way, my former student gave up on PR and she's now very successful in interactive marketing.

Kazoleas (CSU Fullerton): The results have been mixed because the recruiters may not be going to the schools that produce the best applicants and/or work with the programs at those schools that would provide higher quality applicants (which increase the chances for a successful employer-employee match). The recruiters go to the same universities, often those that are larger and are considered to be "better" universities because they feature large research components, and large endowments. I am not saying that those universities won't have good communication and/or PR programs, but many times the schools listed in the top 20 or 30 of the media rankings don't feature strong PR, journalism, or communication programs. Yes, some do have good programs and others may feature a communication program that is research oriented or focused on speech communication (rhetoric), but they may not be teaching the basic skills needed for success at the entry level.

Similarly, the recruiters often work only with a career center to attend a large job fair as opposed to a college or department. The result is that they leave with 3000 resumes, and may actually may miss many well qualified students who either don't hear of the event, have classes and cannot attend the event, or may not want to fight a crowd of thousands to spend less than 10 seconds with a recruiter. Organizations should work with communication/PR colleges and departments to hold events that specifically target the students who have developed the skills necessary for success in the PR industry. Moreover, they should also work with organizations such as PRSA, PRSSA, IABC, and again professional organizations that feature diverse populations, such as HPRA (Hispanic Public Relations Association)
McDonald (Hampton): I agree with what others are saying about this issue. For example, I remember attending a diversity conference not too long ago and a recruiter said his effort in recruiting was based on the “model” his predecessor had been using. That model was to primarily visit the same schools each year hoping there would be an increase in the number of skilled and competent minority candidates to interview and subsequently result in an increase of potential employees. Well, I hope we who are involved in this discussion can see what is flawed with this model. If you keep using the same model, the results will most likely be the same. It seems to me that corporations and PR agencies need to move away from the circular trap they have become caught up in regarding the recruitment of diverse employees. For example, if companies know that new technology is a necessity and opportunity, they will invest in the resources to redefine themselves technologically because this will make them more competitive plus improve the work they do. Put into context with hiring diverse employees, companies have to develop a new “model” that is long-term, not short-term oriented. They also have to develop the mindset that it's the contributions of the entire community – the academic and professional worlds – that has to be on the same page in recognizing that diversity is an essential process-oriented ingredient. I see that the reality is not so much just an outreach program, but a long-range commitment to fundamental change.
Nichols (PSU): The recruiters are heading to the business colleges. At least, that's where they go on our campus. Our ethnic students are taken "on the road" to job fairs because recruiters are not coming to PSU much specifically looking for diversity. Then again, since I'm not involved directly they could be doing more outreach. Still, I just don't see or hear about recruiters looking to fill careers in PR. I think if agencies had a bigger continual presence on campus, more diverse students would be attracted to the field, and they would see some results eventually. Students … know who comes on campus to recruit— and they'll go for those careers. I would. But if PR agencies and corporate communication folks at large corporations start making a presence on campus (speakers, sponsoring events, workshops, boot camps, internships, working with student groups), the culture would change in their favor.

Rubbermaid comes to the business school to recruit, but since one of my PR students got a position there (first in sales, then PR), they now let us know when they're on campus. Raytheon is the same. But it took some direct "inside" contact to get these employers to the students.
Taylor (NSU): I have noticed a slight increase in the corporate and agency outreach to PR students.  The outreach initiatives often require students to incur travel and lodging costs to take advantage of the opportunity. Again, many students can't afford this kind of opportunity. I have taken students to the Howard University, Communications Career Fair for many years. Howard has been a gracious host to diverse students seeking diverse media careers. I've met students who traveled in cars for 15 hours to attend the event. I believe the enthusiasm and interest in PR is there among students of color; however, the industry, professional organizations, and universities need more opportunities to dialog and develop win-win solutions. 

Tindall (University of Oklahoma): There isn't a shortage of diverse candidates on the market. However, if one goes into process thinking there is, one will have blinders on through the entire process, limiting their understanding of the depth and breadth of the marketplace. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy many organizations (inside and outside of PR) have fought.

Colleges are not the only place where corporate and PR agencies can recruit diverse employees. The professional organizations such as NBPRS (National Black Public Relations Society), HPRA (Hispanic Public Relations Association), NAJA (Native American Journalists Association), NAHJ (National Association of Hispanic Journalists), NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists), AAJA (Asian American Journalists Association), MAJA (Muslim American Journalists Association), SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association), and NLGJA (National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association) have career fairs, career development sessions, and training workshops —all opportunities for recruiters to see how deep the talent pool is.

Also, agencies and corporations should take a more creative approach to recruitment. For example, in the late 1990s, when I was in school, the must-go-to event was the Boot Camp hosted by Ketchum and created by Betsy Helgager, a Florida A&M University graduate and then-leader of the African-American markets group at Ketchum. It was an intense three-day workshop that exposed students to what PR practitioners in the “real world” were responsible for and what people did on a day-to-day basis. Not only was this an example of a good tool to understand your public, it was a great way to embed your name, your brand, your organization in the minds of college students. People were hired because of this program, and people into PR–through the official major and minor at FAMU—because of this program. Another example: GE has partnered with a national, predominately Black sorority to form Leadership Delta, a mentoring and leadership program for African American women but also serves a training ground for future employees. Again, this is a great way to brand yourself in the minds of potential jobseekers and to express your commitment to diversity.

Erica Iacono (PRWeek): Natalie Tindall raised an interesting point earlier— that getting students interested in PR before they enter into college is actually the key to increasing diversity in the industry's ranks. Do any of your universities work with students at this level? Have you seen any interest from either corporations or PR agencies in introducing PR as a viable career choice to these younger audiences?

Fiske (FIU): FIU hosts Journalism Day along with the Florida Scholastic Press Association. It's a long-standing annual event to which all high school students involved in their schools' journalism programs — mainly newspapers, magazines and yearbooks— attend. There is one session during the day devoted to "journalism-related" careers; that session has consistently included professionals in PR, advertising, direct mail, promotions, media sales, among others. It's interesting to see the students' lack of understanding for all of these disciplines, yet they are interested enough to take the time to attend the session. Most of the students mention hearing about these professions through entertainment vehicles, which brings up a whole other set of dynamics to an already lively discussion here. I don't know if we'll ever get to a working understanding of what we do as professionals ... say the same way that lawyers or doctors have. But, it's encouraging to see that for all the negative backlash entertainment is given about its inaccurate depiction of PR, in many ways we're getting young people continually interested as a result of that first spark.
Kazoleas (CSU Fullerton): I agree with Natalie's assessment that we need to create an awareness of what PR is and the career opportunities that it offers to younger audiences. Few high school students or college freshman seem to know what PR is and/or what a PR professional does for a living. This is in part due to the recent growth and the breadth of the discipline. Our program at CSUF is developing ways to reach out to high school students interested in the area of journalism, and I have heard of other universities that feature programs that also target journalism in high schools, but I know of none that focus on PR. Perhaps we need to target guidance counselors and career programs in high schools across the US with a goal of also building outreach programs targeting schools that are in areas with diverse populations. Programs might start with a presence at "career days/fairs" and information on our field, but could include partnerships, mentorship programs, campaign contests, and/or field trips (agency tours).
McDonald (Hampton): The Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications is beginning an effort to have our freshman students identify someone from their high schools who would be likely candidates for subsequent recruitment. We feel freshmen would likely identify someone much like themselves who have similar interests and passion for this field of study. We have been continually working with our Admissions office to address recruitment efforts and we feel this latest initiative can at least double the number of new students into our program. With the assistance from our Admissions office, our school can then more precisely target our communication efforts to prospective students with information about not only their choice for college, but a major as well. The benefit for that high school student is that they can be more informed about making such an important decision concerning their education and career choice— especially if the encouragement is from a close friend. As a consequence, corporations and PR agencies will have a larger pool of diverse candidates to select from if they focus their recruitment efforts to universities having those higher concentrations of diverse students. 

Taylor (NSU): Corporations, PR agencies, and not-for-profit organizations need a multi-step approach to attract talented and diverse students to the PR industry. I don't know of any PR firms or corporations that reach out to high school students. There are vocational and technical high schools nationwide where students specialize in mass communication. Some of these schools have been around for over 20 years. PR organizations can target these students for scholarships to universities with PRSSA Chapters. The students might be given the incentive of possible employment after graduation in addition to the scholarship, if they maintain the grade point average, and complete internships at the organization. Once these students declare the PR major, they would benefit greatly from mentorship. 

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