Broad support, but few concrete commitments by firms for PRSA NY diversity push

PRWeek contacted the 11 biggest PR agencies based in the U.S. Six responded. Most voiced support for D&I in general but said they want to learn more about PRSA New York's diversity initiative.

NEW YORK: Several of the biggest U.S.-based PR shops have declared broad support for the Public Relations Society of America New York chapter’s call for workplace diversity data, but only a pair of firms specifically pledged to cooperate.

Of the 11 largest PR agencies by revenue based in the U.S. that were contacted by PRWeek, six responded: Edelman, Golin, Weber Shandwick, FleishmanHillard, Ketchum, and MSLGroup. The shops were generally supportive of the PRSA’s efforts, but only Edelman and FleishmanHillard definitively said they will cooperate.

The firm will be "collaborating with [PRSA-NY] in their expanded work to drive increased [diversity and inclusion] in our industry," an Edelman spokesperson said.

The agency has claimed in its 2017 Global Citizenship Report that 24% of its U.S. workforce is racially and ethnically diverse, while 41% of senior positions worldwide are held by women with a goal of 50% by 2020.

HP Inc. issued a mandate to all its agencies, including Edelman, to set and reach D&I targets, but found mixed results. All agencies achieved their targets for gender, but many fell short on race.

Fleishman CEO John Saunders said the firm "will be transparent and cooperative on [the request]. But this is not just a numbers game. I want to make sure everybody who works in any of our companies feels that Fleishman is incredibly inclusive."

Golin said it would not be able to immediately disclose diversity data. However, agency co-CEO Matt Neale sent a statement calling the PRSA NY effort "helpful."

"We need to examine the detail and work through it with our agency, however we believe  more transparency is needed on this issue; whether that’s publishing data, sharing successful strategies, or simply the learnings when an initiative hasn’t worked out," the firm said in a statement. "Our industry: academia, agencies, and the corporate sector need to pull together to make a meaningful impact in 2018."

Weber Shandwick said it is "reviewing" the PRSA chapter’s request and the firm "commends" it.

"We will continue to support the PRSA, the PRSA Foundation, and other industry organizations nationally and on a local level as part of our shared mission to foster diversity and inclusion, as we have for many years," the firm said.

MSLGroup said it has been following the diversity and inclusion effort by PRSA New York and that it broadly supports the push. "We look forward to hearing more and engaging with those in the industry who are also thinking about this issue as we evolve our diversity and inclusion programs going forward," MSL said. Asked if it would disclose its data on ethnicity and gender, a spokesperson said, "The statement stands on its own."

Ketchum previously released a statement saying it supports D&I initiatives broadly, but wanted to learn more about the specific request PRSA-NY was making.

Cohn & Wolfe, Burson-Marsteller, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, and Ogilvy didn’t respond to numerous requests for comment. Brunswick Group declined to comment.

In its call to action issued this week, PRSA NY said the demand for greater transparency was made in response to Edelman CEO Richard Edelman’s call to action for an industry-wide set of ethics standards called the "PR Compact," as we as the PR industry’s persistent lack of diversity.

Sharon Fenster, president-elect of the chapter, said she does not want agencies to think the organization wants to put them in a position where they could lose business.

"They have a valid concern about what the industry is going to think of them," Fenster said. "The problem is people think there are punitive damages involved, that clients and peers will think badly of them. It’s just the opposite: by showing transparency, you’re taking a first step, a forward step."

Finn Partners volunteered its own diversity and inclusion stats. Senior partner Helen Shelton said 12% of its employees come from minority backgrounds. That number has been as high as 19%, but recent acquisitions have affected the figure. Shelton added its HR department audits its staff and new hires on a semi-annual basis and reports the results to principal Peter Finn.

"It’s not a numbers game," said Shelton, who oversees the firm’s diversity program. "If some in the industry choose not to be transparent and opt out of sharing their data, I would not judge them, but it would definitely send a message that either they don't value diversity or have other priorities."

PRSA national chair Jane Dvorak said via email that she spoke with Fenster and the national office and New York chapter are looking forward to addressing the issue next year.

"PRSA is committed to working jointly to advance the diversity and inclusion challenges facing our industry and all businesses. Top PR professionals from around the country met in October to brainstorm ways that PRSA can address this important topic," Dvorak said. "This framework does not include asking for demographic information from agencies, but rather working collaboratively to address strategies and tactics to move diversity initiatives forward."

This story was updated to include quotes from Dvorak.

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