ColorComm: Driving the Diversity Footprint in PR and Beyond

“No one can be you as well as you can be you.” That’s what Carla Harris, vice chairman of global wealth management at Morgan Stanley, said at the ColorComm Conference last month as she spoke about strategies to success.  

I was honored to have been selected as one of the fellows for ColorComm’s first-ever C2 Fellowship Program—a professional development program catered to young, minority women in the communications field ranging between ages 21-26.  To say I am grateful is an understatement. As one of the fellows, we were tasked to deliver big ideas on where ColorComm would be in its 10th year in 2021, and then presenting them in front of Whoopi Goldberg and a congregation of more than 400 people! (P.S. You can watch the recorded Facebook Live of my team’s presentation here).  

There were also a variety of panel discussions about the communications industry. From workshops on “Mid-level Management to C-Suite” to “How to Market your Value” or even “Communicating in the Age of Trump”, I listened to everyone’s personal stories, insights and best practices. I left feeling ready to take on the world, but also came back to BRG Communications with this experience reaffirming my passion for the industry and that I am where I belong.  

As I look back on a common theme from the ColorComm Conference, one in particular was the need for diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the ever-evolving field of communications. Like Carla Harris said, I believe that it’s essential to embrace your uniqueness—factors that shape your value and diverse representation in the workplace. But as they say, this is much easier said than done. In order for organizations and the PR industry to be more innovative and forward thinking, we must be more collaborative and intersectional than ever.  
At the conference, new research conducted by City College of New York's Branding and Integrated Communications (BIC) Program in partnership with The Holmes Report was shared to us all sharing interviews from CEOs representing the top PR agencies in the field, including Edelman, Ketchum, Ogilvy and Fleishman Hillard. 
According to the Public Relations Society of America, “diversity” is not only about race and ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation, etc. It includes one’s skillsets, mindsets and cultures at all levels of the organization, which tends to be contributed to the lack of inclusion in PR. To give a little background, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the ethnic makeup of the PR industry, which is 10.3% African American, 5.4% Asian-American and 3.3% Hispanic-American. In addition, 70% of those employed in the public relations industry are women, while only 30% of agency C-suite executives are female. 
In an ideal world as PR professionals, we constantly adapt to change and growth. So why is it still a challenge for the PR industry to be more diverse and inclusive? Through these three best practices, I want to share how we as PR agencies can collectively drive diversity and inclusion in the workplace: 

  1. Make it a part of the strategic plan: In the presented study, four of the CEOs interviewed cited D&I as a “strategic initiative,” which required a program in of itself with regular monitoring, measuring success and numbers, and reporting on progress annually. What is your agency doing to foster diversity from top down? PR agencies should commit to mentorship and leadership development for something young PR practitioners can grow and build upon. Let’s cultivate our young, diverse leaders and advance them into more senior positions.   
  2. Create affinity groups: Many companies for example like Ogilvy Public Relations and Burson-Marsteller have launched affinity groups to address concerns and issues on topics that affect their communities and best interests. These groups not only provide a safe haven to disclose matters close to them, but raise awareness, versatility and solutions to nurture better experiences, business relationships and community. For instance, your agency can support affinity groups supporting a cause. 
  3. Hiring a diverse pool of talent: When it comes to hiring, agencies are changing their recruitment strategies and making it a priority to actively develop a diverse pool of employees before college graduates hit the job hunt. For instance, broaden your scope and think outside the hiring box. You may find that your next PR rockstar may have an educational background from an arts school instead of an advertising school. Your agency’s DNA represents the work and clientele’s representation. Are your recruits a reflection to your agency's mission and values, better yet your client’s?  

It’s important that diversity and inclusion is needed to fully give agencies that competitive edge and a more multi-disciplinary and cultural understanding of our audiences. How much do D&I initiatives tie into your agency’s business objectives and overall strategy? 

EventsCatherine Llamido