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Bryan R Adams Talks Diversity in PR

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Public Relations diversity conversation with Bryan R Adams of FAB Communications in The Network Journal

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Bryan R Adams Talks Diversity in PR

  1. 1. W hen Terrie Williams closed her public relations firm in September, the industry lost one of the most successful Black-owned agencies and a seminal professional. Founded in New York in 1988, The Terrie Williams Agency boasted a clien- tele of some of the biggest names in entertainment, sports, business and pol- itics. Williams, who now plans to focus on personal wellness, family, travel and the next chapter of her life, was the first person of color honored with the Vernon C. Schranz Distinguished Lectureship in Public Relations at Ball State University in Indiana, considered one of the industry’s most preeminent honors. She was the recipient of The New York Women in Communications Matrix Award in Public Relations, the first and only woman of color to be so honored in the award’s 30-year history. The closure of her agency comes as the public relations industry remains mired in a human resources conundrum, by its own admission hiring and retain- ing far too few people of color, notably in high-ranking positions. “I’m concerned that the PR profes- sion and [the Public Relations Society of America] aren’t advancing fast enough … At our National Assembly in October, there was one Black person in a room of perhaps 250 delegates — Andrew McCaskill — and far too few others representing racial and ethnic minorities,” Anthony D’Angelo, PRSA’s national chair, complained in a February post on the organization’s website. Brad MacAfee, CEO of Porter Novelli, echoed those sentiments in a report on diversity in the profession authored by Angela Chitkara, PR track director in the Branding + Integrated Communications program at The City College of New York “One of the biggest challenges we have,” he says, “are in terms of the recruitment of minorities, diversity, and ethnicity at more senior levels.” Porter Novelli ranks 17th on The Holmes Report’s 2017 list of the world’s Top 250 PR agencies. According to the federal govern- ment’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, African-Americans accounted for just 8.3 percent of the country’s PR industry as of January this year, with whites accounting for 87.9 percent, H i s p a n i c - Americans 5.7 per- cent, and Asian-Americans 2.6 percent. Add related services like advertising, marketing and communications, Blacks were 5.8 percent of the combined sector, with 84.6 percent of it white. These per- centages persist as the United States continues its shift to a “minority white” nation. Ear-lier this year, the U.S. Census Bureau projected that Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, Native Americans and multiracial indi- viduals will comprise 50.2 percent of the population in 2045. Not there yet In a mini-documentary released by PRWeek during Black History Month this year, McCaskill, senior vice presi- dent for global communications and multicultural marketing at Nielsen, shared the frustration of being Black at senior levels in PR. “There were so many times when I was the first or the only [Black] in the room. The only or the first in the room in 2017 is a tough pill to swallow,” he said. Efforts do exist on the part of agen- cies, corporations and industry groups to make things more palatable. (See “Diversity A- List” on page 22.) PRSA, for example, has made diversity and inclusion a priority within its three-year strategic plan. Its f o u n d a t i o n , whose core mis- sion is advancing D&I, funds scholarships to attract and pro- mote candidates of diverse back- grounds. Diversity advo- cates contend that current efforts are not enough. “If the goal of the PR industry is to authentically reflect the profoundly diverse ‘general market,’ we have quite a way to go. As an industry, we are com- ing into a stark and deeply humbling realization of how much work will be required to assemble and enable a ‘bal- anced’ collection of equally valued per- spectives,” says Matthew Neale, CEO of PublicRelations Its internal war over senior diverse talent By Rosalind McLymont INDUSTRY FOCUS 10 The Network Journal • Fall 2018 • www.tnj.com “It’s not a numbers game. It’s a culture game.” — Tracey Wood Mendelsohn, founder and president of the Black Public Relations Society New York. Source: National Black Public Relations Society, www.nbpr.org
  2. 2. Golin, one of the world’s Top 10 PR agencies. “If we want increased and sus- tained diversity for our industry, the focus has to shift to the consistent appli- cation of inclusive and equitable values, policies and business practices across key corporate and industry systems. At this point, it is safe to say that, collec- tively, we aren’t there yet.” Neale explains why in his lengthy email to The Network Journal: “The industry has a complex set of ecosys- tems. One of those ecosystems is the agency personnel and career progres- sion model. Many PR professionals have dedicated their entire careers to a single agency, waiting in line with the hope and expectation of being awarded the top spot. This tradition makes some sense, given the industry’s long business cycles and dependence on deep, long- term client/agency relationships. However, a crippling side effect of this industry tradition is that it exacerbates the historical biases and social norms that have kept entire groups, people of color, low-income, LGBTQ-plus, underrepresented in public relations.” Tracey Wood Mendelsohn, founder and president of the Black Public Relations Society New York, finds fault with agencies and corporations alike. “There are cultural deficits on the agency side,” she said in an interview with TNJ. “There’s limited investment, lack of space being made for people to be able to be promoted, salary limita- tions and that kind of thing that leads a good number of people to leave — if they can get in the door in the first place. That’s true of the corporations, too, in terms of their communications departments.” Too much emphasis is placed on demonstrating diversity with numbers, some argue. “When you scratch the sur- face of those figures and ask what roles they have, what turns up are interns, assistants who are not even PR people. They’re counting assistants to the direc- tors,” says Claudine Moore, a British- born and -raised global PR and commu- nications expert who established C. Moore Media, in New York. The firm’s client roster spans the United States, Britain, Africa and the Caribbean. “It’s not a numbers game. It’s a cul- ture game,” Wood Mendelsohn insists. “If you’re talking about a lack of diver- sity, to me that’s bias, conscious or unconscious. At the other end of the spectrum is indifference or discrimina- tion. It’s incumbent on the agencies to reevaluate their cultures and really make room and overcome their own biases. Statements like ‘Black people don’t write well’ and ‘the Latinos don’t speak English well enough’ are not true. People are talented, educated and skilled. It’s time for the conversation to move past what we need to do to demonstrate. There needs to be equity in opportunity.” The Three Percent Movement, which seeks to raise the number of creative directors in advertising who are female and people of color to 50 percent from 3 percent seven years ago, reports that 55 percent of agencies offer diversity/unconscious bias training, but many of these trainings occur only a few times a year and there is little or no other programming to support diversity. Where is “there?” In her study “#PRDiversity: The Struggle is Real. Meeting Business Objectives With A 2020 Mindset,” Chitkara found no consensus on the meaning of diversity and inclusion among the 18 CEOs of global PR firms she interviewed. “Their thinking about hiring is far from uniform. Some go so far as to say that they do give prefer- ences to underrepresented groups. Some say that they would find this risky to do for more senior positions. Some acknowledge that numerical goals are a baseline; others find numerical goals to be unhelpful; and others find them Bryan R. Adams, founder/director of publicity, FAB Communications Inc. Tracey Wood Mendelsohn (second from left), president and CEO, Black Public Relations Society- New York (BPRS-NY), with board members, l. to r., Nicholas Charles, veteran journalist, digital media expert; Clarissa Moses, executive, National Urban League; Marcus Braham, senior media relations strategist, M Booth. www.tnj.com • Fall 2018 • The Network Journal 11
  3. 3. INDUSTRY FOCUS 12 The Network Journal • Fall 2018 • www.tnj.com insufficient to ensuring an inclusive environment,” she summarized. In a true racially diverse PR industry, “Black PR professionals could repre- sent white clients and Asian clients and Asian clients could represent Black clients or white clients. There’s no color barrier in terms of being able to have your clientele. That’s first and foremost when it comes to diversity — the ability to represent all colors of the spectrum, all types as women, the disabled, and vice versa,” Bryan R. Adams, co- founder of publicity and media strategy specialists of FAB Communications Inc., told TNJ. Adams, who is Black and whose company was founded in 1996, counts Blacks and whites among his clients. “There never has been an issue for me when it comes to Black and white clients,” he says. “It depends on who the PR person is really targeting. If I don’t target Asian people, then I can’t com- plain if they don’t hire me. But if I tar- get them and they don’t hire me because of my skin color, then that’s a diversity problem. I know there are challenges when you’re a business person of color trying to mainstream it. I have found, especially with the types of clients I’ve been dealing with over the last dozen years, if I network to the market I want, I have a great shot at landing clients I have never had before, who don’t look like me.” For Moore, the ideal racially diverse PR industry means “more people of color and women in leadership posi- tions. That’s what it would look like.” Although she once held a senior posi- tion at a top PR agency, Moore, who also is Black, questions the industry’s commitment to diversity. “I’ve been in PR in America since the early 2000s and it hasn’t changed. I genuinely think they are not dedicated to diversity on the agency side,” she states. “You can have all the experience they need and more; you can have fifteen on a scale of one to ten in terms of qualification, then you see the person they’re hiring and they don’t even have two on that scale. It’s like they will try every excuse not to hire a senior person of color.” Golin’s Neale sees inclusion and equity as necessary components of a truly diverse industry. “At Golin, diver- sity refers to a balanced collection of equally valued perspectives and inclu- sion refers to intentionally seeking out and enabling those perspectives for impact on our business,” he explains. “Inclusion and equity are required to fully activate diversity. Without the other two, diversity becomes muted and not sustainable. The combination of all three brings a potency and authenticity to public relations.” On the advertising side, says Wood Mendelsohn, there would be people of color in decision-making roles to pre- vent gaffes like Pepsi’s 2017 commercial in which white reality TV star Kendall Jenner joins a Black Lives Matter march and defuses tension by handing a Pepsi to a white police officer. “Not only was it patronizing, but it also exploited an iconic photograph of the social justice movement,” she asserts. Pressing change Changing ethnic and age demo- graphics are exerting tremendous pres- sure on the PR industry to become more racially diverse in numbers, culture and equity of opportunity that yields higher retention rates. The pushback that Black talent cannot be found, for example, is hogwash, experts say. “The young professionals I encounter in the agencies are super- knowledgeable, superfocused, and ready to make the most of it them- selves. Millennials are very determined and don’t really accept the notion of barriers. But when they hit those walls they are prepared to walk,” Wood Mendelsohn says. Clients are squeezing their agencies hard. A case in point involves Hewlett Packard and Edelman, the world’s fore- most public relations firm, which han- dles HP’s $14 million product and communications work. As widely reported, last September, after HP con- ducted a one-year media audit of its agency partners, then-CEO Antonio Lucio publicly admonished Edelman for lacking racial diversity and inclu- sion. The following month, Edelman appointed a Black woman — industry, White House and government veteran Lisa Osborne Ross — president of its Washington, D.C., office. “I’m pleased that clients are making the agency side really step up,” Moore says. Chitkara writes that most of the CEOs she interviewed agree diversity and inclusion is a business impera- tive tied to meeting client expecta- tions for more diversity on their accounts in order to reflect the changing demographics of their mul- ticultural market and to fuel creativi- ty and diversity of thought in their campaigns. Golin’s actions affirm that finding. “To better meet the needs of its clients, Golin is focused on assem- bling and retaining a team “that Claudine Moore, founder, C. Moore Media
  4. 4. authentically reflects the profoundly diverse marketplace of the coming decades,” Neale reveals. Reaching true racial diversity in pub- lic relations requires dismantling a stub- born, age-old human resources ecosys- tem. The industry won’t get there with- out agencywide resolve. “Until agencies hold their managers accountable for diversity, you’re never going to get that issue solved,” McCaskill says. TNJ Matthew Neale, CEO, Golin Clients. “Get to know your client or clients. Build a relationship with them because you represent that client’s image, and you need to know how best you can share their story. Each client is different; each event requires different skills. You might not share the same political views or values as the client, but remember: you are doing a service for this company or this person. It is important to make connections with local writers, artists, busi- nesses, and your local area politicians (if some of your client bases involve people involved in politics or policy).” — Barfield “You have to work a lot faster. You always have to have a preparedness strategy ready — not just ready for a crisis, but also for a multitude of scenarios, even for some- thing happening in your industry. You have to respond to quickly. Your strategy has to be in place more than ever before.” — Moore Competition. “There are a lot of practitioners out there, so there’s definitely that kind of competition. The media land- scape shifts a lot, so try to stay not only on top of the technol- ogy but also on top of what media outlets will be more impor- tant for your client year to year…You have to position yourself as “I am the one who can do it for you rather than the others you are interviewing.’” — Adams Networking. “As business people we have to know how to network, to get uncomfortable where everybody doesn’t look like you. Charm them; if you’ve got the talent and skills and you meet the right people, you will get the opportunity. Some places will be harder than others; there are some industries that are not going to like what you look like because that’s how it is.” — Adams Relationships. “The most significant aspect of what we do in, our industry, is building relationships between people and communicating with each other. The next generation of PR representatives should always remember the “Relations” in Public Relations. This isn’t a virtual relationship alone, it needs to be a true connecting with the client, it is that “thank you” note, it’s the acknowledgment that we are people, not just an algorithm.” — Barfield Technology/Social media. “You’re always doing a crash course on what the new social media tools are, what the tradi- tional outlets are doing as they change.” — Adams “Use technology responsibly, but don’t rely solely on it for facts. It’s important to be able to send a press release to Facebook or get “likes” on Instagram, but the old school fol- low-up by telephone and in person, meetings can never be replaced. Some of the traditional ways of communicating with each other shouldn’t be taken for granted.” — Barfield “We are living in a world of hyper connectivity. Now you’re working in a 24-hour news cycle. You have to use technology to help keep you informed — beyond Google Alert — of what’s happening in your industry. Hyperconnectivity becomes part of communications as well.” — Moore — Rosalind McLymont Succeeding in PR Bryan R. Adams, FAB Communications Inc.; Pauline Barfield, Barfield Public Relations Inc.; and Claudine Moore, C. Moore Media, offer the following tips to help PR entrepreneurs succeed in the current industry environment. www.tnj.com • Fall 2018 • The Network Journal 13