Hold the PRess calls out agencies on their diversity efforts

Agencies have until July 31 to share statistics.

Nysah Warren, one of the initiative’s organizers.
Nysah Warren, one of the initiative’s organizers.

NEW YORK: A group of PR pros is asking agencies to share diversity statistics to prove they are committed to recruiting and cultivating Black talent at all levels within their companies.

The Hold the PRess initiative began contacting 60 U.S. and global agencies on June 25, asking for their organizational diversity breakdowns, the current number of Black staffers and POC in executive roles, the current number of Black-owned and POC-owned client accounts and their “action plans moving forward to propel Black/POC in the office.” So far, more than 200 PR pros have added their names in support of the initiative.

The group has set a deadline of July 31 for agencies to respond and will begin posting the data as soon as it comes in, said Nysah Warren, an account executive at Taylor and one of the initiative’s organizers. 

So far, however, no agencies have submitted statistics. Meanwhile, only four agencies — Taylor, Golin, Ruder Finn and Bliss Integrated Communication  have replied to the group and acknowledged they received the request. 

Warren said the idea of the initiative is to hold agencies accountable for the words and symbols they shared on Blackout Tuesday, an event held June 2 to protest police brutality and the death of George Floyd.

“At the time, we started seeing brands and agencies mostly posting black squares and also statements,” Warren said. “But to us, this doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like it’s genuine, especially because in a lot of PR agencies Black people are definitely underrepresented. Our voices are not uplifted in general and you are not seeing us at the metaphorical table everyone is talking about.”

Warren said she and the initiative’s other cofounders  Sade Ayodele, director of Taylor’s digital sports group; Fatou Barry, founder at The PR Girl Manifesto; and Enoma Owens, account executive at Connective Agency  were inspired by the #PullUporShutup campaign in the beauty industry and the open letter sent to the ad industry from 600-plus Black marketing pros asking for similar changes in that sector.

The project is not intended to shame PR shops, Warren said. She added, however, that she fully expects the numbers to be disappointing when or if the agencies decide to share them. 

“We won’t be shocked to know the numbers don’t show a ton of Black and people of color represented in agencies,” she said. “But it’s more to hold them accountable and not like we’re saying, ‘If [an agency] doesn’t have these numbers, it’s horrible.’ It’s more like saying, ‘This is where we are. Now let’s put some steps into place so we begin to grow and move toward change.’”

In addition to asking for statistics, the group has made several demands of PR agencies. They must recruit from historically Black colleges, especially beyond top ten HBCUs and develop training programs for Black men and women. Additionally, agencies must be restructured if fewer than 30% of their execs are Black women and men or POC, and all agencies must develop, support and fund employee resource and affinity groups.

The group is also demanding agencies enact equal pay policies and include Black and POC-led media publications in their media outreach. Finally, the group is asking professional PR organizations to sponsor one-to-two award entries for 80% Black-owned PR agencies.

Each year, PRWeek asks PR agencies to provide diversity statistics in their submissions for the Agency Business Report. An examination of that data this year found that diversity is lacking in the senior levels of many PR shops.  Also, a similar push by the New York chapter of PRSA to get diversity data three years ago did not fare well.

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