Greater staff diversity pays off on many fronts

It's no revelation that building diversity is a key initiative for the PR industry.

It's no revelation that building diversity is a key initiative for the PR industry.

Firms of all sizes are grappling for new ways to expand their roster of multicultural talent. But adding staffers of color isn't just "the right thing to do" - it makes business sense.

The job of a PR firm is to connect with all consumers, to "represent and reflect everything being thought, by all minds," says Ketchum's Ron Culp, SVP and MD, Midwest. That's practically impossible; however, if everyone on an account team has identical backgrounds and viewpoints.

To better serve clients and effect change, "you have to start looking for and developing talent in some nontraditional ways," he adds.

One way to begin that process is for firms to devise "new and creative ways to attract minorities into entry-level positions," Culp says. That includes showing them visible career paths, guided by mentors with whom they can relate.

But some multicultural students need better access to real-life agency experience before they can enter the work force at all, says Erin Weinberg, managing partner at New York-based Taylor.

To address that, Taylor launched its first Historically Black Colleges and Universities Public Relations Challenge, in which nominated seniors majoring in PR were tasked with creating and implementing a three-month campaign to generate positive coverage around local Boys & Girls Club volunteers.

Well in excess of 2,000 students were nominated by professors and counselors, Weinberg says, and those who took part gained real-world experience crafting campaigns, coordinating media, and interviewing volunteers.

Taylor benefited, too: When the challenge concluded in August, it snapped up its stand-out participant, A&M University graduate Constance Rush, as an AAE.

Internship programs also help identify talent, says Peter Heymann, VP at Douglas Gould & Co. That's the "selfish" reason the New Rochelle, NY-based firm signed on as one of the initial partners for PRSA-New York's Student Diversity Buddy Program.

The program, which launched in June, teams firms with metro-area colleges to provide internships for qualified multicultural students.

For "young people of color who want to get experience in PR," Heymann says, the Buddy Program offers an excellent opportunity. "They can really learn this business, really get exposed to it," he explains. "With this participation, at least in a small way, we can contribute to doing some good for the communications industry."

But not only does Gould's involvement in the program "fit our commitment and our sense of what's right in the world," says Heymann, it also "fits the makeup of our firm well." Because Gould caters to clients in the progressive, nonprofit space, providing them with a diverse staff is key to its client-service needs; in fact, it's practically a given.

That's a model not yet common at larger firms. It may even go unnoticed by some clients. But more and more agency executives now realize that staff diversity ultimately affects client service relations.

"It comes back to one of the basic points [of PR]," says Ketchum's Culp. "We're trying to give messages to consumers who are totally diverse in every respect... how do you know how they will translate [across audiences] if you don't have diversity in your agency?"

Key points:
For PR agencies, staff diversity at all levels is becoming fundamental to serving clients' needs

Firms and students benefit from multicultural-focused internship programs

Diverse talent is out there: Sometimes, entry-level candidates just need a little real-life encouragement and guidance

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