COMMENT: PLATFORM; Getting under the skin of the PR industry

Black people have proved they can reach the top in PR, so why are there so few of them in the industry, asks Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones

Black people have proved they can reach the top in PR, so why are there

so few of them in the industry, asks Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones

My worst fear in writing this article is for anyone to think I have a

‘chip on my shoulder’, the only chip I possess is the one on my front

tooth, and that was only recently acquired - from a West Indian fast

bowler. What I would like to be regarded as is a successful person

working in an industry I enjoy; I just happen to be black.

My company is young and expanding. We are proactive and are rapidly

gaining an enviable reputation as a key player in the leisure and

lifestyle market. To date my colour has not proved a handicap: but why

would it appear that I am in the minority?

Today we live in an increasingly multi-cultural society. Black people

play an active part in our society. We have black MPs, black judges,

black TV executives - all high profile occupations reflecting today’s

social mix. But in the public relations industry such a mix does not


Ethnic people in PR seem only to proliferate where specialism is needed,

such as ‘exclusively black’ agencies dealing specifically with ‘black’

products and aimed at stereotypically ‘black’ consumers.

By getting stereotyped as ‘ethnic’ PR, however, agencies run the risk of

potential clients, and the rest of the industry, thinking that’s all you

can, or wish to, handle. Stereotyping can be a problem. If you’re black

and you’re not a cricket player, an entertainer or a drug dealer, well

what are you? Can you possibly be a public relations professional?

The biggest problem facing black people wanting to get into the industry

is the interview process. Many black colleagues say that if you go to an

interview without a recommendation the shutters automatically come down.

I don’t believe this is because people are racist, but because they are

scared. PR companies are concerned about whether their clients would

accept a black executive. In my experience all a client really cares

about is whether we can provide the service that they need.

Companies’ apparent reluctance to recruit blacks means that the public

relations business is seen by many blacks as a white person’s

profession. The sheer lack of numbers in the industry is a powerful

signal that says ‘keep out, this isn’t for you’. So for those blacks who

have managed to make this our profession - well done!

I am not advocating that a black applicant should be favoured when

recruiting staff - far from it; everyone should be judged equally on

their talent and abilities. What I am aware of is peoples’ initial

reaction of discomfort when dealing with a black person.

Just as other professions have ensured that they are attractive to a

cross-section of people who have the abilities they need, it’s important

that the PR industry does the same. It is equally important that the

industry’s governing bodies seriously look at this situation - it would

do no harm at all for the IPR to undertake a survey of its members to

get a fuller picture of the reasons why blacks are so poorly


If some of the leading figures in the business could stand up and say

they are keen to see a better ethnic mix in the industry to reflect the

communications needs of our clients, this surely would send the right

signals throughout the industry. The reality is that black people do not

necessarily have chips on their shoulders; they just need a chance.

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones is a director of Communications plus

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