The PR Show: 'You have to believe this in your bones' – the secret to earning Blueprint accreditation

Agencies must already have diversity and inclusion embedded in the heart of their organisation to be successful in being accredited for the Blueprint scheme, according to leaders of the only three agencies that have qualified.

Govier, Obubo and Hawthorn tackle racial diversity in the latest episode of The PR Show.
Govier, Obubo and Hawthorn tackle racial diversity in the latest episode of The PR Show.

The Blueprint scheme to improve diversity in the industry is a rigorous and detailed process that aims to sort out legitimate champions of diversity from the pretenders.

The initiative, which was set up by BME PR Pros founder Elizabeth Bananuka, recently handed out its first round of accreditations.

In the first round of applications, only three received an accreditation: InFusion Communications and Blurred were awarded ‘ally’ status, and Manifest received the coveted Blueprint kitemark. There have been 39 applicants in the second intake.

In the latest episode of PRWeek’s podcast, The PR Show, representatives from Blurred, InFusion and Manifest opened up about the application process, what they found most challenging and rewarding, and provided tips on what agencies need to do to receive the accolade.

“The industry has ‘talked the talk’, but hasn’t ‘walked the walk’. The Blueprint brings in a level of accountability, measurable targets that is vital,” Manifest brand strategy director Julian Obubo said. “It serves as a bit of a signpost for BAME talent to know which agencies and companies are doing the hard work of creating diverse and inclusive cultures.”

Agencies that haven’t thought about diversity and inclusion until recent soul-searching due to the Black Lives Matter movement are unlikely to be Blueprint-ready anytime soon, the trio warned.

The rigorous application form, with more than 40 questions, looks at how a business operates, and whether this contributes towards diverse and inclusive work environments.

It includes obvious areas like recruitment, D&I policies and training, to more challenging aspects like assessing the diversity credentials of your supply chain and how well your agency performs in other areas of diversity.

Filling in the gaps

“For us it was about not having all the answers but recognising where all of the gaps were. So going through the process allows you to see the things that you are missing,” InFusion managing director Sara Hawthorn told The PR Show.

“From that you then develop an action plan in place that is quite bespoke that propels you forward and gives you a clear course of action to move on from Blueprint ally status.”

Hawthorn said that it took her “a good few hours” to go through the application form, as well as about half a day of admin to make sure all of the processes and supporting documents were in place.

Blurred co-founder and CEO Nik Govier said it took her at least a day to go through the application form even though her consultancy had already embedded many of Blueprint’s principles.

“Anybody who thinks it’s just about filling in a form from a standing start and getting ‘ally’ status from there – it won’t work,” she said.

“You have to believe this in your bones and be doing it well to get 'ally' status. To get Manifest’s 'Blueprint’ mark, you have to be excellent. It’s simply not just about the amount of time you put into the application, it’s how much time and energy you’ve already put into your business to date to make sure you have this stuff in place.”

Agencies are marked on each question and receive points, but getting enough points to receive accreditation has proven difficult for the majority. 

Govier said it is critical that everybody across a business is “drinking the kool aid” rather than D&I being championed by one individual or siphoned off to the HR department.

Obubo said the process is about showcasing the work and value of D&I initiatives in place, which demonstrates that it is at the heart of a company culture and the way it operates.

“If diversity and inclusion is something you woke up to yesterday... it’s probably not a good idea [to apply for Blueprint right now],” he said. 

“We didn’t apply for this in a self-congratulatory way… to get a stamp of approval. For us it was a way to be more accountable to ensure that within our teams we are doing better measurement, talking about it more frequently and getting more people across the agency – from senior management down to interns – on board with this process. Getting the full Blueprint status was great, but it’s a starting point.”

And that’s the key of the programme. After receiving a ‘blueprint’ on how to improve diversity, agencies are reassessed every two years to see if they have made progress or regressed. 

It is this appetite for self-improvement that the programme’s proponents hope will drive meaningful change over time and make sure agencies remain accountable.

The PR Show also asked the agency leaders which parts of the process were most challenging. Although this will vary from agency to agency, there was consensus on one aspect that was much harder to get right. 

To find out what this is, and pannelists' brutally honest views of racism in PR, listen to The PR Show podcast below.

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