OPINION: Industry needs to reflect social diversity

With all the changes we have seen in media consumption and marketing in recent years, PR is in a better position to lead in consumer and corporate comms than ever before.

Colin Byrne
Colin Byrne

But in a rapidly changing society, where we need to talk with, rather than down to, clients and consumers, our industry needs to be more like the society we claim to understand. 

I flicked through four recent issues of PRWeek the other day. Of the 113 photographs of British PR professionals featured, 112 were white. Just one was black or Asian. This is hardly representative of our multicultural society.

Many companies and organisations are taking decisive action on diversity. Their PROs need to reflect that. As a cutting edge industry, we should not be lagging on diversity.

Currently, we are in the middle our of annual trainee recruitment programme at Weber Shandwick, having our largest ever response - more than 400 applications for about 18 places.

I have been critical of this scheme in the past, where I thought managers were too focused on academic high fliers, at the expense of people with a passion for campaigns and comms or who had opted for one of the increasingly excellent PR vocational degrees. I joke that I am the CEO and I would not get on my own graduate training programme these days.

This year I had my recruitment people analyse the applicants, which threw up interesting results.

Of the 400 applicants, 80 per cent where white. About nine per cent were Asian and about four per cent were black.

Of the white applicants, about 75 per cent came from 'general' arts degrees such as English, history and politics, and only 10 per cent had studied PR or journalism. The rest were from business, marketing or media studies courses.

Of the applicants who declared themselves as being from an ethnic minority background, only 55 per cent had a 'general' degree, but almost 30 per cent had studied PR or journalism.

PR is an amazing industry in which to work, gaining wide experience and mixing with talented people. To take a snooty attitude - as I have heard from many PR leaders - to the growing number of youngsters who choose a high quality PR vocational education, not only overlooks people with a passion for PR but also builds in bias against greater diversity in new entrants to our industry.

I want PR to be 'an industry of the talents'. I also think a bit more diversity in terms of race and social background would be healthy for an industry now at the heart of consumer, media and social change.

Colin Byrne is CEO, UK & Ireland, of Weber Shandwick, one of the UK's biggest agencies.

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