With diversity still challenging industry, clients must call for it

This week's fourth annual PRWeek/Hill & Knowlton Diversity Survey shows an industry that is still palpably struggling with the level of diversity within its ranks.

This week's fourth annual PRWeek/Hill & Knowlton Diversity Survey shows an industry that is still palpably struggling with the level of diversity within its ranks.

What emerges in particular is the disconnect between an overall desire for greater diversity and the day-to-day realities of a talent crunch in all parts of the industry, at all levels. In the open-ended question asking why the industry overall lacks diversity, quite a few respondents back up the argument of one, who says, "Smaller companies are more focused on filling positions rather than ensuring their company is diverse." Further, says another, a substantial part of the imbalance stems from smaller firms that "give themselves a pass from the need to be diverse."

Of course, no large agency is anywhere near where it states it wants to be in terms of a diverse staff. Many find that a talented staff is especially tough to maintain when the small, multicultural-specialty firms are alluring because of the big-name clients who hire them for multicultural outreach, as well as an environment that has a diverse senior management. Again, many in the survey cited the lack of senior-level role models in the mainstream firms. In the end, many of those agencies end up hiring from one another, growing their own staff, but not increasing the pool overall.

The problem is much debated, but it - and any potential solution - is not necessarily agency-specific. Most of the significant changes any agency will make will be at the behest of clients, and it's these clients who can take more steps to demand diversity and a better reflection of their products' target audience from their agencies. Many large clients, after all, operate in environments in which diversity is an essential part of the makeup, not only in the products, but also in the staff.

Clients can also vote with their feet and hire multicultural firms for more than just a specifically targeted multicultural campaign. Robert Dale, president of RJ Dale Advertising & PR, said at the Chicago Regional Roundtable earlier this year that he hopes corporations will begin to look at black-owned agencies as viable options for RFPs for general-market work. That makes sense - his firm, as well as other black-owned Chicago firms, including Burrell, has a staff that far more accurately reflects Chicago's population, with a level of diversity big agencies would be proud of.

If more clients make such appointments and demand diversity from the mainstream agencies, then those that haven't managed to diversify their ranks will be hit where it hurts most - in the revenues. In addition to increasing diversity across the industry, this shift of emphasis will also shine a brighter light on the minority-owned firms that long ago figured out how to populate their own ranks. As PR's profile in the marketing mix has increased, so, too, should the voice of these firms within the communications hierarchy, as they are the ones truly demonstrating diversity leadership.

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