North or South of the border, people still seem to be sweeping the diversity issue under the rug

I had the opportunity to speak to, and exchange views with, scores of public relations professionals attending the Canadian Public Relations Society’s annual conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

My remarks were entitled, "Creating a future-driven vision" and argued that we, as PR pros, need to keep a half-step ahead of the multiple, simultaneous marketplace changes going down or risk being swept aside as irrelevant. In the talk, I touched on everything from the rise of the corporate purchasing manager and the ‘consumer as king’ phenomenon to digital marketing ‘best practices’ and diversity (or lack thereof) in our industry.

Blogging and diversity were the ‘hot’ topics of the day. We went back-and-forth on digital best practices and agreed that blogging provided an ideal way with which to engage in new and different conversations with ‘consumers.’ That said, everyone agreed that digital ROI remains elusive to say the least.

When it came to diversity, one attendee thought my call to action was outdated and said ‘affirmative action’ was yesterday’s news. He believed it was time for us to "move on." I responded by saying that, while his comments may reflect what’s happening (or not happening in Canada), it definitely doesn’t translate south of the border.

In my opinion, the PR industry has done a very poor job of diversifying. Collectively, we don’t even come close to reflecting the society in which we live. Nor do I see any overt, proactive initiatives that will dramatically change the landscape. I believe that’s because our clients aren’t driving the discussion. Until they insist that their agency partners become more diverse (or suffer losing their business) we won’t do so (or, we’ll take our sweet time getting there).

Maybe the PR industry needs to be taken to task a la what our advertising brethren are going through. Beginning on June 17th (which happens to be the start of ‘Advertising Week’), a gaggle of ad agency honchos will be subpoenaed to testify before NYC’s diversity hearings and explain why their shops are so lily white. It should make for great ‘copy’ as an ad guy might say.

Here’s hoping our industry can get its act together and start taking real, concrete steps to becoming more diverse. And beyond leveling the playing field in terms of skin color and ethnic backgrounds, we also better wake up and figure out how to recruit more young men to our ranks. One of PR’s dirty little secrets is that fewer and fewer guys are entering the field. If we wake up one day and find ourselves an all-white, all-female industry, how will we possibly make the case for being relevant to 21st century marketers? And how long will it be before some group of media-hungry politicians hauls some of us before public diversity hearings to defend the indefensible?

7 thoughts on “North or South of the border, people still seem to be sweeping the diversity issue under the rug

  1. Thanks for sharing, Jimbo. I think Geno’s is making a mistake in alienating part of its present or prospective customer base. The U.S. has rapidly become a bilingual society, so I don’t see Geno’s move as anything but a step backwards. It may create some “buzz,” but in my book it’s the wrong kind of buzz.

  2. I’ll take my chesse steak diversity wit. The “wit” means “with,” and it’s said after “whiz” or after “onions” when ordering Philly’s most popular sandwich. Why am I spewing about this on this blog?
    Sounds, funny to you, right? Far from being proper English. The owner of Geno’s (a town favorite) is at war with his non-English speaking customers.
    Visit this link:
    This has been a story here for some time now, has been picked up by CNN, and bloggers are writing in from all over the world to share there thoughts. Geno’s has got penty of buzz due to this story, but at what cost, if any?

  3. Good point on educating students about PR being one of the choices in marketing. I was a markting major and don’t remember PR being mentioned all that often. the med supply field is filled with folks from all backgrounds. the problems we face are more about price points and customer’s understanding quality when it comes to product differentiation.

  4. I-man: I wanted to answer your question about supply and demand. I don’t think there’s a lack of college kids interested in entering the PR profession. There’s a pool of smart, creative minority kids who are interested in general “marketing.” But they may not be aware of career choices in the PR agency world. That’s why we have to be more aggressive in terms of “educating” them. And, Jenny’s right: we need to change the perceptions of PR being “a girl/party planning thing” pronto or risk losing some of the next generation’s best and brightest. Does the medical supply field face similar challenges?”

  5. Increasing diversity in PR needs to happen at the college level, or even high school. The PR industry is portrayed on TV and magazines as a “white female” job – think PoweR Girls and the new MTV reality show, The Hills. These girls are doing “PR” but in actuality it is “publicity”; attending Hollywood parties, etc. Young men are probably watching these shows thinking PR is for girls. I think the call to action is for men who are in the industry to go to colleges, career fairs, etc. and educate young men on the opportunities available in the PR industry.

  6. Lack of diversity in pr is a huge issue, I-man. Smart clients will begin demanding their agencies better reflect the society in which we live. As for solutions, I presented several in my talk: connecting with traditionally black and minority colleges and universities, inviting “minority” media reps to come into our office and talk about their online and offline media properties so that our people gain an appreciation of the best ways in which to reach America’s increasingly diverse population, and strike partnerships with minority marketing specialists like Conexion in Miami. It’s not a total solution, but, it’s a start.

  7. you have talked about the diversity problem in pr before, but really haven’t provided any solutions. but by saying that clients should drive this is essentially putting the blame on them for not doing so. if you feel that it is such a problem, then make the change at home and maybe the idea will spread.
    do you think the problem is that diverse candidates are not getting hired, or do you think they just aren’t applying. the same basic argument has been made about hockey and basketball for years and i don’t necessarily think it is a “problem.” its only a problem if diverse candiates are applying for the same job but getting left out in the cold. if a group or groups of people decide pr is not for them, then is it really a problem?