By Neil Foote, President, National Black Public Relations Society, Inc.
The New York Times recently reported that several major brands including General Mills, HP and Verizon sent letters to the world’s top ad agencies saying that their lack of diversity is a liability. Diego Scotti, Verizon’s chief marketing officer, explained it quite clearly, “We’re still in a very male-dominated and non-diverse industry. In order for us to create work that’s more connected with the consumer, it needs to come from a deeper connection to what’s going on in society and what’s going on in culture.”
What I’m hoping is that my friends in public relations will join me in the urgent need for us to bring transformative change in diversity. As president of the National Black Public Relations Society (NBPRS), a 501(c)3 nonprofit, I’m navigating my way through some challenging times. NBPRS is an association for both men and women. We’ve prided ourselves on targeting midcareer and senior-level executives who are looking to engage, to learn, to network, and most importantly, to succeed in this business. Our programming is focused on skill development, industry trends and thoughtful conversation. I’ve heard attendees over the years thank us for quality of our programming, and had professionals thanking us for helping them be better prepared for their jobs.
Here’s my challenge to the industry: Let us help each other out. I can’t develop programs, if I don’t have underwriters. I can’t build an organization, if I don’t have members. I can’t have members, if there are too few black public relations professionals employed at your companies. I’ve been told that there are limited budgets to support our activities. I’ve been told that there need to be more programs where the agencies can actively identify and recruit talent. I’ve been told that there are other more useful conferences.
Furthermore, a recent study by the Arthur Page Society with Syracuse University and the American Psychological Association offers solid proof that giving access to our type of conference is critically important to the industry, commenting, “providing funding support or time off with compensation for employees to participate in external networking/affinity/resource programs that connect professionals who share an identity or cultural background, so they can share information, see support and get career advice is critical.”
As president of NPBRS, I know there is plenty of room for various organizations to provide programs and services to offer black public relations executive professional development, job opportunities and just plain inspiration and moral support. Too often, there is only one black professional in the senior ranks at many of these companies. That must change. I know there is a huge opportunity for NBPRS and the industry to aggressively improve diversity and inclusion at agencies and companies. The PR Council’s The Business Of Diversity website is a good step. We need more proactive efforts. My board and my members are committed to driving success. Are you with me? If so, let’s talk. More importantly, let’s act!