Diversity Distinction in PR Awards 2013: Change agents

Societal realities have transformed diversity and inclusion from an admirable desire to a bottom-line necessity. In turn, the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards take on added resonance.

Societal realities, such as those indicated by the most recent US Census, have transformed diversity and inclusion from an admirable desire to a bottom-line necessity. In turn, the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards take on added resonance.

“Diversity and inclusion remains a vital objective for the PR industry, especially as the business grows more complex, integrated, and global,” says Kathy Cripps, president of the Council of Public Relations Firms. “Along with our partners at PRWeek, we are supporting this program to recognize firms and individuals implementing real change in their business practices. We hope these leaders inspire others to raise their game.”

A key factor in these awards is a display of greater diverse and inclusive representation among staffs – a criteria all winners met. Many nominees proved their commitment to community programs, but the hope going forward is that all entries will hone in on the staffing impact of those efforts. Moreover, even small advances should be celebrated, as they indicate a true effort to address this key issue. We anticipate more submissions next year based on that.

Entries were accepted from late April to late June and winners were selected in the following categories: Best PR Firm Diversity Initiative; Diversity Champion; Best Community Initiative – PR Firm; and Best Community Initiative – In-House Team.

Winners were selected by a septet of industry leaders including James Boyd, VP of PR, Americas, Singapore Airlines; Judith Harrison, SVP of staffing and diversity & inclusion, Constituency Management Group; Bill Imada, CEO, IW Group; Cheryl Ann Lambert, assistant professor, communication, Boston University; Rosemary Mercedes, VP of corporate and digital communications, Univision; Rudy Rodriguez, senior director of multicultural marketing, MillerCoors; Lauren Wesley Wilson, founder and chief networking officer, ColorComm, and account supervisor, MSLGroup.

Diversity Champion: Elise Mitchell
Few people have put the topic of diversity on the industry's radar like Elise Mitchell. “In fact,” commented one judge, “she is a major reason we are even conducting this awards program.”

Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell Communications Group and the Dentsu PR Network, has unfailingly supported and promoted diversity both within and outside the industry – starting in her own firm.

Her commitment to growing a positive employee culture that attracts team members who bring a diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives has led to results. Women and minorities hold 80% of the leadership positions across the firm. She grew the Hispanic-American, black, Asian-American, and American-Indian team members to represent 9.8% of Mitchell's staff in 2012, up from 2.6% in 2010.

She accomplished this with unique initiatives such as Big Break, an all-expense-paid internship program that gives opportunities to college-level students to gain real-world experience at a PR firm over Spring Break. In 2013, the effort supported eight interns, half of which represented minority ethnic groups.

Mitchell has also championed opportunities to communicate and reinforce the importance of diversity and inclusion as a core agency competency. For example, she led a firm-wide leadership training session, Respect in the Workplace, and is working on a cross-cultural immersion series in the agency's Full Throttle professional development platform.

In addition to being on the national board of directors of Women Impacting Public Policy and serving as national chair of the PRSA Counselors Academy, she has taken on advocacy, too. Among her accomplishments, Mitchell founded and chairs Leading Employers Advancing Diversity/Inclusion (LEAD).

“She is a true champion of diversity in the PR industry and her community,” summarized one judge of Mitchell. “She puts her money where her mouth is, too,” To wit: this year she gifted her alma mater, Abilene Christian University, with $100,000 earmarked specifically for diversity-related efforts on campus as well as the student-run advertising and PR agency, Morris & Mitchell.

Finn Partners' Gail Moaney, managing partner and director of the firm's Travel and Economic Development Practice, “is a quiet powerhouse,” noted one judge. “Her commitment to diversity has been unfailingly consistent.” And her role on the boards of The New York Urban League and The Lagrant Foundation, among other groups, underscores a conviction to the cause that has helped ensure a notable uptick in the number of diverse employees who have joined and advanced at all entities at which she has worked.

Best PR Firm Diversity Initiative: Weber Shandwick
Weber Shandwick's diversity efforts can be greatly attributed to its ambition to be a diversity and inclusion thought leader in addition to providing development and advancement opportunities for employees of diverse backgrounds.

“The best program hands down,” explained one judge, “with a notable multilevel approach.” The results are hard to ignore: 20% of Weber's Q1 2013 hires at the VP and SVP level were diverse.

The firm's strategic approach is exemplified by its work with the Digital Diversity Network, which aims to advance diversity in leadership in the digital media and tech sectors. New York and Washington, DC-based leaders in Weber's Diversity & Inclusion, Public Affairs, and Measurement, Analytics & Insights divisions collaborated to refine the event concept and present a high-profile, timely, and insightful event that made a strong impression and fostered relationships with influential, diverse candidates.

Of the 75 candidates who attended the March event, three were recruited by Weber and another 17 were added to the pipeline.

“Weber's outreach to diverse communities is clearly translating into new hires,” noted another judge.

Weber also expanded its multicultural talent development initiative with offsite programs. Its Chicago office piloted a yearlong diversity-focused mentoring program. Across all of its US offices, the firm rolled out live, customized diversity and inclusion training.

Most encouraging is the momentum being built. Weber now has about 100 Diversity & Inclusion champions who share ideas, create local programs, and enlist peers to spread the word. For example, the Dallas office hosted a Women in Leadership & Diversity panel while the Washington, DC, branch hosted the National Urban League's Urban Ideas Forum.

Since the Alfred Fleishman Diversity Fellowship program debuted in Q1 2012, FleishmanHillard has increased the applicant pool by more than 92% and has more than doubled participation. This past April, a planning workshop for the Fellows was conducted to gain insight from their experiences, further underscoring the firm's commitment. “Just a really solid program with impressive hiring results,” noted one judge.

Best Community Initiative: Edelman – Posse Scholar Program
Edelman saw an ideal fit for its diversity and inclusion strategy in The Posse Foundation, an organization focused on developing multicultural students from public high schools with exemplary academic and leadership potential. The firm places worthy students in supportive teams (Posses) of 10, gives them eight months' leadership development training and four-year, full-tuition merit scholarships.

Members of Edelman's Chicago office cultivated a relationship with the organization that led to the firm becoming a career partner, employing 10 Posse summer interns for three months in summer 2011. The goal was to give the scholars an opportunity to gain hands-on PR experience, while simultaneously enabling Edelman to build a strong talent pipeline.

“The program's focus on training is very effective,” noted one judge. Edelman's leadership and HR teams developed and provided training to scholars in one-hour weekly sessions. The HR team also met regularly with interns and their managers to ensure Edelman was fostering a positive learning environment.

The Chicago office has already hired Posse scholars into full-time AAE posts within the business practices in which they first gained their experience. “This program is focused, long term, scalable, and strategic,” added another judge. “It's a model for the industry.”

Edelman is working to identify other cities to roll out similar programs. In addition to Chicago, The Posse Foundation has sites in Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Houston, and Washington, DC.

Fully committed, the Chicago office plans to hire another class of Posse scholars next year. It will also host the Internship Gala at its newly renovated space in the Windy City. Moreover, Edelman will measure outcomes of the partnership with the foundation in three to five years to ensure the initiative results in changed behavior in addition to staff count.

With the effort, Edelman seeks to raise the total of multi-ethnic candidates for available posts, increase diversity in new hires at all levels, and lower attrition numbers of high-performing, multi-ethnic staffers.

“Using your employee resource group as a channel to broaden product lines is a great way to engage new and diverse groups,” said a judge of the Caramel Flan Latte Hispanic Community Program executed in San Diego by Edelman for Starbucks. Along with creating unique, culturally relevant, in-store sampling experiences that led to an awareness boost for the item, this effort put the firm and company on the radar of the Latino community groups involved in the program.

In-House Team: The BrandLab
The BrandLab brings together industry competitors to contribute and boost the supply chain of new talent with the goal of nothing less than changing the voice and face of the marketing industry. “It's a great example of how collaboration can and should work,” one judge summarized.

Launched in 2007, the nonprofit aims to tackle the challenge of sourcing diverse talent with a fresh perspective. It brings together agencies, companies, and volunteers in the Twin Cities to create opportunities for high school and college students to learn about and connect to the advertising and marketing industries.

The BrandLab Classroom program is a six- to eight-week experiential learning course that teaches students the foundations of marketing. Students visit local agencies and corporate marketing units, while industry volunteers offer mentorship and guidance in the classroom as speakers, panelists, and coaches.

The BrandLab Connect program follows and supports students from the classroom to the workplace through internships, scholarships, and opening doors for those who want to pursue a career in the industry.

“The commitment and long-term potential of this program is incredible,” said another judge.

The list of firms and marketing departments who support The BrandLab grew to 32 in 2012 from just three in 2009. In 2013, more than 500 students in 23 classrooms received 800 volunteer hours to be better educated in marketing. In summer 2012, Connect placed 32 interns in 23 agencies in marketing departments, which required 1,700 hours of volunteer time.

Major local companies such as General Mills and Cargill have hosted students and volunteered time to support The BrandLab. Meanwhile, the American Advertising Foundation gave the nonprofit its 2012 Mosaic Award as Best Multi-ethnic Student Program.

Not resting on its laurels, The BrandLab recently launched a series of community events to raise awareness for the need for diversity within the industry.

Through its work with the Teach For America program, FedEx is directly helping ensure students from all backgrounds have access to quality education, which in turn drives employee engagement. The company clearly sees this program as vital to ensuring future business success, including creating avenues to find talented staffers. “A comprehensive and admirable program,” said one judge. “FedEx's commitment is also notably substantial.”

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