The PR industry needs to manage its reputation through diversity

The PR industry must live up to diversity strategies and focus on breaking down stereotypes to remain relevant in a competitive marketing landscape.

There is no better time than now for the voice of the PR industry to be authentic, writes Juliet Francis
There is no better time than now for the voice of the PR industry to be authentic, writes Juliet Francis

Out of all the marketing disciplines, the PR industry seems the most plagued by its own stereotypes.

It’s regularly depicted as the ‘party profession’ – a tag I believe is perpetuated by its failure to focus on diversity in its recruitment and employment policies.

In my experience, that failure often causes a direct hit on profits.

It’s no secret that companies that commit to diversity are more successful.

Recent research from McKinsey found that companies in the top quarter for diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry average.

Companies in the bottom quarter are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns.

I dread to think what the figures for diversity were when I started my PR career 20 years ago.

The BAME community now accounts for 10 per cent of the PR workforce and two per cent of these are of black Caribbean/African descent, according to the PRCA; and all this in London, the hub of the PR industry, where 35 per cent of the population is from BAME communities.

Although there is still work to be done, in the digital agencies, and despite it being a fairly new discipline to the marketing mix in comparison, 12.4 per cent of the workforce is from the BAME community.

As this younger marketing discipline grows in diversity, campaign prowess and ultimately revenue, traditional PR will look outmoded, as the focus on brand values will continue to shine a torchlight on the lip-syncing voices across the media platforms.

The PR industry voice needs to be authentic now more than ever.

I have hit a glass ceiling more than once in my career and I’ve seen for myself how harmful that ceiling can be for the agency itself.

Despite successfully managing and growing accounts, I was consistently overlooked for promotion in some agencies.

On two occasions, valued clients quickly jumped ship soon after I left these agencies.

In one agency, someone with little experience in my sector, yet who fitted the PR stereotype, was hired to lead my accounts.

Soon after, those clients tracked me down requesting I represent them.

I know from talking to other PRs from the BAME community that my experience isn’t unique.

Ultimately, I founded my own agency.

Fortunately, in my experience I also know that PR clients are concerned with levels of service, deliverables and values, not the heritage of the people working on their accounts.

Stereotypes over substance must become a thing of the past if the PR industry is to survive as a force in the marketing world.

It must recruit people based on deliverables, creativity and their ability to manage client’s expectations, not because they match the clichéd idea of what a ‘PR person’ should look like.

Juliet Francis is founder and MD of JFPR Consulting

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