Youthful exuberance: The Diversity Distinction in PR Awards

BrandLab executive director Ellen Walthour shares her success stories in introducing diverse youngsters to marcomms in this latest PR Council-sponsored column.

From modest beginnings in 2008, the BrandLab is now supported by 100 organizations

In 2013, The BrandLab was named Best Community Initiative – In-House Team as part of the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards, presented by the PR Council in partnership with PRWeek. Truly effective programs, though, continually build on momentum. Five years from earning that honor, we have made much progress, though we still have a long road ahead to reach our vision of a marketing industry that thrives on the insights and creativity of all.

The BrandLab is a nonprofit that started in Minneapolis in 2008. It has become a movement of industry leaders, emerging professionals, activists, teachers, and students working in partnership to ensure the face and voice of the marketing industry truly reflects all the people of our nation.

We all know the statistics: our nation is becoming more multicultural. The most recent US Census predicts the U.S. population will become majority-minority in 2044. Furthermore, the minority population is projected to rise to 56% of the total by 2060 (compared to 38% in 2014). As such, having a diverse and inclusive staff is imperative for business.

The BrandLab is proud to be part of that positive change in our communities and industry, helping young people realize that being creative can lead to viable, impactful careers.

The BrandLab's Classroom program brings industry leaders to high school students

From modest beginnings, our work is now supported by 100 organizations and operates under four main pillars: Exposure, Access, Opportunity, and Equity. These pillars support our four main programs: Classroom, Internship, Connect, and Fearless. And our organization has become so much stronger as we have truly focused the intention of – and action toward – those four main programs:

•The Classroom program operates on the belief that you can’t ask for a job you don’t know exists. In this program, The BranLab brings the industry into high school classrooms – and the classrooms out to the industry, where they can see what a "day in the life" looks like in the marcomms sector.

•Students who complete the Classroom program and want to learn more can gain access to the people and places through a paid summer internship through our Internship Program. Once students successfully complete their internships, they "graduate" to the Connect program.

•The Connect program is designed to build a bridge from a high school classroom to a young person’s first professional job. Through Connect, we offer ongoing mentorship, professional development, and friendship.

•Finally, our Fearless work is designed to address the implicit biases and microaggressions that are alive in our industry. Studies show people of color hired at predominantly white and non-inclusive organizations leave sooner than those hired at more inclusive entities. We systemically address these issues by not only building a talent pipeline, but also ensuring 360-degree support for both the talent and the organization to break down barriers and thrive in their work.

Our local movement is growing faster and stronger than ever. We are poised to triple our impact by 2021.

Since 2013, we’ve doubled our impact at the classroom level and beyond. We’ve led 800 professionals in Fearless conversations about race, inclusion, and actionable steps to ensure all talent is able to both work and thrive in the industry. We launched in Kansas City this year. Chicago is on the horizon.

All of this has been made possible by the myriad organizations that now support us – and we owe a lot of that to the spotlight placed on The BrandLab by the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards.

Ellen Walthour is executive director of The BrandLab, an organization that introduces, guides, and prepares diverse students for creative careers.

Check back in two weeks for the next column, featuring 2014 and 2016 winner Borshoff.

Click here for the previous column by Weber Shandwick CEO Andy Polansky. And in early May, the PR Council, in partnership with PRWeek, will launch the eighth annual Diversity Distinction in PR Awards.

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