Ethnic PR comes off the sidelines: Companies are realising the power of the ’black pound’ but with so many from ethnic minorities striking out on their own, the mainstream PR consultancies may find they have lost out on a lucrative market.

Ever since the Reggae Boyz drew 0-0 with Mexico last November and won themselves a place in this month’s World Cup Finals, Jamaica has been bursting with patriotic pride.

Ever since the Reggae Boyz drew 0-0 with Mexico last November and

won themselves a place in this month’s World Cup Finals, Jamaica has

been bursting with patriotic pride.

Not because anyone expects the island’s football team to leave France

with the trophy - that is hardly likely. Rather, from the moment they

made it into the big league, Jamaica has been watching its boys score

goal after goal in the international popularity stakes.

Elle magazine voted them number ten in its league of 100 hip things to

watch out for in Britain this year, and the team’s list of commercial

sponsors, including major players such as Clarks and Cable and Wireless,

is growing by the day. Everybody knows that the youth market is a

lucrative one, and companies are realising that black youth culture is

hip. From fashion to music to the latest street vernacular, the Reggae

Boyz are a symbol of today’s ’It’ culture.

But it was a Caribbean-born PR outfit, Parris Bonaparte, that realised

the team’s money-spinning potential. ’It is difficult for a mainly white

agency to come to a table and discuss PR with an ethnic client. The

larger companies have better resources but they also need manpower to

reflect different communities,’ says partner Bryan Bonaparte.

The 3A market - Asian, African, Afro-Caribbean - is worth around pounds

10 billion a year in the UK, and growing. More than one in ten of all

university graduates is now of black or Asian origin, and the Asian

population alone has an estimated annual disposable income of pounds 5

billion. Projections show that non-white women as a group will soon earn

more than white women in the UK.

Yet mainstream PR agencies and many UK companies have been slow to tap

this potential and big advertisers have shied away from magazines such

as The Voice, Pride and The Journal, despite their increasing profile

and circulation. However, there are signs that the PR industry is

beginning to wake up to the ’black pound’, at least in the way it is

targeting products.

Yvonne Thompson, managing director of ASAP Communications, has just won

the contract to market the Government’s New Deal welfare-to-work scheme

to the black community. ’Wall-to-wall PR doesn’t work any more; clients

are realising that it is more cost-effective to break up their budget

and give some of it to smaller, targeted agencies,’ she says. Thompson

sees the increasing awareness of ethnic markets as part of a broader

shift in strategy, involving greater recognition of all previously

minority audiences.

Thompson, of Afro-Caribbean origin, insists that an agency must be able

to empathise with the culture it is trying to target. ’You can’t know if

you can’t feel it. You have to be from a particular cultural background

if you want to understand and target it properly.’

However, she argues this does not mean ethnic PR professionals are

unable to target a white audience. ’We have had to understand and adapt

to the mainstream; it has not had to adapt to us in the same way.’

According to many ethnic-run agencies, including Parris Bonaparte, this

creates a distinct advantage. ’We don’t see ourselves as specialist

ethnic PR company - we simply have the advantage of being able to work

within the mainstream, yet we are able to accommodate certain minorities

because we have a particular understanding,’ says Bonaparte.

But Ardi Kolah, director of communications agency, Maverick, disagrees:

’We shouldn’t be talking about ethnic minorities, but about cultural

diversity. You just need to understand your audience and for that you

need to be a good PR professional.’

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, director of Communications Plus, is of Jamaican

origin and believes that the Afro-Caribbean community is generally too

well assimilated into the mainstream to be treated as a niche


’If, say, you make a TV programme specifically for Afro-Caribbeans, they

don’t want to watch it. Like everyone else, black people want to watch


The Asian community, however, is a different matter, says Raj Ghai,

director of Media Moguls, an agency dedicated to the Asian market. ’The

Asian community has totally different buying patterns. The way they

shop, the way they perceive campaigns, their languages and religions all

need a special understanding,’ he says.

But despite their differences, ethnic PR specialists tend to agree on

two principles: the audience must be made to feel included in the

mainstream, and a pro-active approach is needed.

’In some areas, people from ethnic communities may never come into

contact with white people. There’s a lot of scepticism in these

communities as to why people who are trying to reach them with campaigns

are doing what they are doing,’ says Werbayne McIntyre, a partner in AM


He maintains that if you want to sell a product to members of a

community, you have to physically take it to them and show them how it

works. Bryan Bonaparte agrees: ’You have to give people something to

chew on, something tangible they can identify with.’

The hands-on strategy seems to work for ethnic communities but, say

critics, the PR industry seems reluctant to use it. Abi Adeniran, former

marketing and PR manager of The Voice, who now runs agency, Hothouse,

believes there can be a reluctance to court black consumers for fear of

being seen by whites to pander to the black community. ’The aim is to

target all communities without being seen to alienate any,’ he says.

But the issue is apparently not that simple. ’There is an element of

racism in the industry, but more importantly agencies are not opening

their eyes to the opportunities,’ says Thompson. It may be that the

industry is handicapped by a lack of ethnic expertise - a recent PR

Week/Media Appointments Salary Survey revealed that people from ethnic

minorities accounted for just three per cent of the industry. IPR

President Peter Walker says: ’PR is a meritocracy. It may be that we

have a three per cent ethnic membership, but you have to consider the

figure in terms of percentage of the whole population that is of ethnic

origin,’ he says.

But others argue PR is a London-centric business, and therefore the

ethnic population is vastly under-represented. The Office for National

Statistics’ 1991 census revealed one in 20 of the population was of

black or Asian origin, but the figure rose to nearer a quarter within


John Dalton, course director at the London School of PR, says people

from ethnic backgrounds account for just ten to 15 per cent of


’The problem is one of perception,’ he says. Certainly PR has as a

reputation for being a bit of an old boy’s network, which means from an

ethnic point of view, it is seen as a white man’s industry.

But among the bigger agencies, there are at least a few who are

beginning to challenge this reputation. Hill and Knowlton puts a premium

on the cultural expertise that its ethnic staff can offer but does not

set any ethnic quotas in recruitment. It does not have a dedicated

ethnic PR division, believing that this would be counter-productive in

trying to include all audiences within the multi-cultural


Some, like McIntyre, agree. He believes that the UK PR industry is

better than in the US, where positive discrimination is practised.

’Without a quota-type pressure, there is more creativity. The UK market

is looking for people who are good at what they do, not a token black,’

he says.


Navnect Kang is 24, Punjabi, and a trainee account executive at the GCI

Group. When she started in the job four months ago, her first question

was: ’Why are there so few people from ethnic backgrounds working in


She concluded that there was a lack of awareness among ethnic


’Indians, for example are very traditional people and they go for

traditional professions. People, and not just ethnic minorities, simply

don’t know what PR is all about. I made it a point to find out.’

But even if they do apply for a job, says Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, they

are likely to come up against the barrier of the old boy network. ’It’s

not a matter of racism, but of people hiring in the industry wanting to

surround themselves with others who they have something in common with -

just like any business.’

His own clients at Communications Plus are largely mainstream, and he

has never come across prejudice in his work, but he does sense

discrimination in the recruitment process. ’In the end, working in PR is

about earning your wages. An employer has to think, if they employ a

black person, what is the client going to think about it?’

Bobby Ayuub Syed, who runs ethnic specialist agency Hearsay

Communications, believes that ethnic professionals are not getting a

fair crack at the industry whip. He set up the Ethnic Minorities Media

Awards (EMMAs), first held in April, to highlight the level of

professionalism in the ethnic community. ’The message is that ethnic

people should be given jobs, not because they are ethnic, but because

they are professionals. They are not getting a fair opportunity to show

what they can do,’ he says.

However, Angela McIntyre who runs AM Consultancy with her husband

Werbayne, believes that the situation has improved over the past ten

years. ’When people come across a black agency, they will give accounts

geared towards black communities. That can marginalise you, but I do not

feel disadvantaged.’

Yvonne Thompson started in the industry 15 years ago, and ran the first

known, black-owned and run agency in the UK, Positive Publicity. ’There

was a time when the black market was totally ignored. Things are

changing, but there is still a narrow-mindedness,’ she says. Black

students used to be told that they were under qualified for jobs in the

industry, she says, and now many are leaving college more qualified than

their white counterparts. ’But now they are being told they are

over-qualified - minorities just don’t have a chance to get started.’

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