In its second year of fielding a survey on diversity in the PR industry, PRWeek and Hill & Knowlton convened a panel to discuss the results and to try to identify the real barriers to diversity in the industry. PRWeek editor-in-chief Julia Hood was in attendance.
Here are three other industry professionals providing commentary on diversity issues. D. Michelle Flowers President and CEO, Flowers Communications Group BA in English, Winston-Salem State University, MS in advertising, Northwestern University Q. When did you first become interested in the PR profession? A. My initial career path was journalism. I had aspirations of being a reporter and while in college I did several internships at a daily newspaper and television station. My college guidance counselor made me aware of PR as a career option, but it was not a path I seriously pursued. After graduation I was offered a position as a communications specialist and the more I researched and learned about PR, the more intrigued I became about the enormous and varied career opportunities. Q. Did you have any mentors who helped you to navigate the PR profession? A. My first agency job was at Golin Harris where Al Golin and Rich Jernstedt mentored my development as an agency professional. They helped me to understand the agency mindset and such things as client relations and client servicing. I credit them with acclimating me to agency life and strengthening my desire to make the agency path my career. Tom Burrell fueled my passion for ethnic marketing during my days at Burrell Communications and motivated me to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams. Q. Do you think the PR industry is tackling the issue of diversity recruiting in an appropriate and meaningful way? A. No. More aggressive and effective tactics are being implemented in the government, nonprofit and corporate sectors. Agencies must do more to diversify their workforces to better reflect a more black and brown America. There is no commitment in terms of performance objectives. If people were held accountable for diversity that would really create some systemic change within the industry. If companies tracked the prime candidates they would increase the number of diverse individuals in their firms. And once you increase those numbers, the new individuals in turn can further help increase the numbers. When clients start to demand more diversity, the agencies will start to produce more diverse individuals. There is not enough of a stimulus to create the desired change. Q. What measures do you think the industry should implement in order to create a more diverse workforce? A. There should be continual recruiting at historically black college and universities, and companies need to partner with media that reach African-American college students. Agency principals can talk with students as young as high school age about the wonderful career opportunities in PR, and they also can offer stronger internship and mentoring programs. It also is very important for senior management to take an interest in the diverse junior personnel within their organizations in order to showcase their commitment and to provide mentoring. Many executives have so much to share in terms of the career obstacles they faced and how they overcame the challenges. More often than not young diverse people are being introduced to a new industry and environment, and it takes someone who has been successful to help guide them along the way. Q. Are you glad you chose the PR profession? A. Yes. My career in PR has been very gratifying. I love the diversity of writing and getting involved in the strategic planning of moving clients from point A to point B in the marketplace. I also love working with the media and helping to provide information to shape their stories. Jacinta Gauda EVP and head of corporate communications, the Global Consulting Group BA in education, Harris-Stowe State College Q. When did you first become interested in the PR profession? A. I started out as an elementary and junior high school teacher but left after just a few years for the challenges and opportunities in the business world. I worked in marketing for Honeywell, and also had jobs in organizational development, public affairs and training before ending up in PR. Communications has been a common denominator in all those areas. Q. Did you have any mentors that helped you to navigate the PR profession? A. Richard Wolff, the CEO of the Global Consulting Group - who I have worked with for many years - recognized my particular talent in corporate communications and crisis management and helped me through my development and in focusing my career in that area. He was a good role model for learning how to run a business, and being an expert consultant and a leader. Q. Do you think the PR industry is tackling the issue of diversity recruiting in an appropriate and meaningful way? A. The industry is trying and struggling, but it can and should do better. There has been much discussion about getting a diverse pool of employees into the profession but it hasn't led to cultures of inclusion. Often a client will require a diverse team and that becomes the business rationale for diversity. But that is diversity by default. We need honest dialogue within our industry that identifies the barriers to having a more diverse workforce, and then we must attack those barriers. We can learn from the models in corporate America that hold leaders and managers accountable for diversity, and who understand the importance of having diverse senior-level personnel Young people that don't see diverse representation at firms begin thinking that maybe the profession isn't right for them. But they also realize that advancement within a company is possible when they see diverse individuals in high-level positions. Q. What measures do you think the industry should implement in order to recruit a more diverse workforce? A. Companies need to expand their networks and pipelines to include minority groups, such as the Black Journalist Association, the Hispanic Journalist Association, and black and Hispanic MBA organizations. Such groups can provide resumes and good candidates. And organizations shouldn't rule out people who don't have a particular degree or background. I'm interested in talking to people who, for instance, might have practiced law and decided that the profession wasn't for them. I'm more concerned about their thinking and leadership skills, not their pitching abilities. We should be going to business schools and looking at finance majors because those individuals might be great for financial communications or investor relations. We won't have access to many of the best candidates if we continue recruiting in the traditional ways. Q. Are you glad you chose the PR profession? A. Yes. It is a privilege to provide counsel to clients. If this field didn't exist I probably would have created it because this work is what I do well. I enjoy helping clients get through difficulties and being appreciated for that advice. It's a field where you get better over time, and not one that you must leave as you get older. It's a career of different experiences and each problem that we deal with is almost always unique. Armando Azarloza, EVP, Weber Shandwick BA in Political Science, UCLA Q. When did you first become interested in the PR profession? A. My father was a political prisoner in Cuba so I grew up very politically active, and that turned into an interest in how to best communicate a message, whether it's a political, legislative or social message. For two years I was part of the advance team developing and executing events in the Western US for First Lady Nancy Reagan. I also was communications manager for what today is called Clear Channel Outdoor, one of the largest billboard companies in the country. And for seven years I was press secretary to Congressman Buck McKeon (D-CA). I actually thought about running for political office, but ultimately decided that I would rather be an aide to an elected official. Q. Did you have any mentors that helped you to navigate PR profession? A. Jim Dantona, who was a senior aide to a top Democrat here in California. He opened a small PR firm, Dantona & Associates, and I was there for about a year between working for Mrs. Reagan and Clear Channel. Jim taught me how to be passionate about my work and how to develop the right relationships in order to leverage business opportunities. And Congressman McKeon, who still is a mentor. Both guys taught me never to shy away from a challenge. That you should take the challenge straight on. And after you examined the challenge as much as you possibly could, to then come up with bold and creative ways to address it. Ultimately that makes you a better person and allows you to do a better job for your clients. Q. Do you think the PR industry is tackling the issue of diversity recruiting in an appropriate and meaningful way? A. The industry hasn't done enough to market to persons of color the job opportunities that are available in this business. Part of it is the fault of the people that run the offices. They aren't demanding their people to be more aggressive in reaching out to persons of color. We need to challenge our senior executives to put the resources behind those kinds of efforts. While there are a variety of initiatives underway to address the issue, more work is needed. We're not anywhere near where we need to be in terms of reflecting the diversity of this country. Q. What measures do you think the industry should implement in order to recruit a more diverse workforce? A. People of color need to feel there are opportunities and that they are not going to be an account coordinator or account executive all of their lives. We have to offer training and development so they can pursue jobs in management, and also provide diverse persons with scholarships and grants. Q. Are you glad you chose the PR profession? A. Absolutely. I don't know of many jobs where you can be doing healthcare one day, education the next, working on defense issues the following day, and tackling the launch of a new beverage on the fourth day. The opportunity to do so much in so many different categories is what makes this job so interesting and fulfilling. I come in every morning and I'm dealing with something completely fresh and different. Each day is an opportunity to be challenged in new ways.
This article was first published on PR Week USA
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