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Public Relations Needs More Diverse Voices | Diversity Dimensions


March 1, 2011

As many Americans look to honor and celebrate Black History Month, diversity will get a little more attention than it typically enjoys. Employers will tout the diversity of their work force, or highlight their support of minorities and/or minority issues. And while the advances many organizations have made in minority hiring should be applauded, there is one internal function that could benefit from the addition of some different voices: communications.

I’m resigned to the fact that, for the foreseeable future, public relations will probably produce and be populated by a majority of female practitioners.

However, I refuse to support the notion that there are not enough qualified African-American talent in the market to fill key positions. I’ve seen these professionals networking through organizations like the Black Public Relations Society, attending workshops and events sponsored by PRSA or marketing themselves on Twitter. There’s impressive PR talent out there and these professionals are eager for opportunities or new challenges.

Finding African-Americans working in public relations is not a foreign concept. One of the early PR innovators was an African-American named Moss H. Kendrix. Since the heyday of Kendrix, African-Americans have been engaged in public relations every step of the way. Even today, many colleges and universities are cranking out minority graduates with degrees in communications.

Tapping into new perspectives

So, why does it seem that only a select few actually earn spots on the corporate communications teams of today’s organizations?

Sure, public relations is an intensely competitive field, and that can partially account for the low number of African-American new hires. But I also believe that some employers may be reluctant to diverge from that which is familiar, or are slow to embrace diversity as it pertains to this high-profile organizational function. That lack of daring may contribute to holding the number of practicing African-American PR pros at modest levels.

Incorporating different types of voices to tell an organization’s story can only enrich the communications capabilities while adding to the creative mix. Diversity in communications also can mean building bridges to new audiences or tapping into new ideas. There’s something to be said about getting out of one’s racial comfort zone and making a hiring decision based on experience, passion and drive — even if it means professionally committing to someone who may be different.

It’s imperative for up-and-coming minority PR professionals to see people who resemble themselves in leadership communications positions. Not only does it give them something to strive for, but it also helps soften the perception that such feats are within the realm of possibility.

Public relations has come too far in its evolution, and needs to be a profession that shows off more diversity. Besides, a good PR professional is a good PR professional regardless of what he or she looks like.

Larry Jones is director of communications for the Consumer Specialty Products Association. Contact him on Twitter: @OffThe_Record.



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