Why Is PR So White?

White at Bospar

It is 2019: the era of #BlackLivesMatter and #NoBanNoWall. And yet there is an undeniable lack of racial and ethnic diversity within the field of public relations. It seems that many young African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinxs do not see themselves in a public relations career.

I first noticed this lack of diversity in my classes as a business marketing and communication studies undergraduate at San Francisco State University. I continued to notice it as I began my career. For example, I had the opportunity to join Bospar principals Tom Carpenter and Curtis Sparrer at the 2019 U.S. PR Week Awards. And while there were many black suits and gowns, there were far fewer black people.

While it’s true that many white women and members of the LGBTQ community have risen to senior-level positions at some of the biggest and most prestigious advertising, marketing and PR agencies in the business – which is great, and certainly a kind of progress – the lack of racial and ethnic diversity at all levels of the communications industry continues to be our profession’s dirty little secret.

This hasn’t escaped the notice of potential clients and employees, especially Millennials. In a 2016 study conducted by the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) and Weber Shandwick, 47% of Millennials said diversity and inclusion is an important factor when searching for jobs because diversity makes for a better place to work, increases opportunities for all employees, and improves employee morale.

So, what’s going wrong here, and how can we fix it? Let’s take a look.

The Big Picture

Our industry is failing to keep pace with the country’s changing demographics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2020, more than a third – 36.5% – of the U.S. population will be non-white. As of 2015, 1 in 7 U.S. infants (14%) were multiracial or multiethnic – nearly triple the share in 1980. By 2055, the U.S. will not even have a single racial or ethnic majority. And according to Pew Research Center, in the coming five decades, the majority of U.S. population growth will be linked to Asian and Latin American immigration.

It is unlikely that we will continue to successfully reach this growing “minority” without more representation in our firms.

The Challenges

According to a report released last year by the City College of New York and The Holmes Report, one of the fundamental challenges is the lack of a singular definition of diversity and inclusion that would serve as a measurable standard across the industry.

Some CEOs say a barrier we’re facing is that our industry does not hold the “competitive financial or professional attraction that other industries, such as law or business, might have for diverse students.”

Time and energy can also be cited as barriers to improving diversity. But is that an acceptable excuse?

We’re all going to need to take a hand in fixing this problem – and it’s in all of our best interests to do it.

PR firms can and should take a leadership role in making our industry more inclusive and diverse. We must recruit, develop and retain talent that will reflect both our clients’ demographics and those of their customers. Consumers want to give their money to a business that cares about social change, yes. But more importantly, they want to give their money to a business that understands their own unique cultural perspective – whichever perspective that is.

Brands should also demand that their agencies adopt diversity and inclusion policies. Or they will simply choose to work with agencies which have already made the investment.

The Rewards

A mounting body of research shows that more diverse companiesincluding public relations firms – are more successful. According to McKinsey, they are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation; they also enjoy higher levels of productivity and employee satisfaction.

For PR firms and hiring managers, the ability to attract people of color, members of the LGBT community and other non-white heterosexual male job candidates will require commitment from the top of the organizations, stick-to-itiveness and, perhaps most crucially, imagination.

But the bottom line is that diversity is simply good business, and a more diverse team is better able to speak to an increasingly diverse audience.

Learn From the Pros and Build Your Company Like a Super Bowl-Winning Football Team

Football at Bospar

When I was a child, my dad sat me down at our dining room table with a yellow legal pad and a pen. He drew a line of Xs and a line of Os and said, “This is where the game is won. Watch the line, and you’ll see which team is going to dominate the scoreboard.”

We hear this over and over. In the hit movie The Blind Side, Sandra Bullock famously referenced linebacker Lawrence Taylor’s career-ending hit on opposing quarterback Joe Theismann, saying, “What you probably don’t know is that more often than not the second highest paid player [in the NFL] is, thanks to Lawrence Taylor, a left tackle…The left tackle’s job is to protect the quarterback from what he can’t see coming. To protect his blind side.”

Allow me a few minutes to compare a football team to a business and argue that your company’s PR team is essentially your left tackle. A quarterback, even Tom Brady, doesn’t score on his own: his running backs share the load and create diversions, his receivers run routes and catch passes, and his offensive line protects him, as does every other member of the team and organization. In a business, your CEO (your Tom Brady, in effect) might have the clout to get on the cover of Forbes, but it’s the PR team that works behind the scenes to put him or her there.

So, in the spirit of the football season, I’ve created for you a cheat sheet, a Fantasy Public Relations Draft Guide, if you will. Similar to how you might study your flex player’s stat sheet, here’s what you should look for when “drafting” your agency of record.

Grab your guacamole and a whiteboard and get ready to draft your winning team.

Content

“Content comes first,” as our Chief Content Officer Tricia Heinrich boldly (and rightly) affirmed. “If you don’t have a good story and the means to tell that story, you go nowhere.”

Some agencies have a designated content team that specializes in PR writing. The content team typically:

  • Works with clients to finalize press releases, blog posts and contributed articles
  • Creates “news of the day” pitches based on breaking news
  • Positions clients as “go-to” sources for expert commentary in their industries

The media needs stories, and your PR team better be ready to tell yours, and tell them well.

Results

If an offensive lineman or, more specifically, a left tackle protects the quarterback, how does your prospective agency “protect” or back up their claims? Do they have experience in your industry? Do they have a history of success? Ask to see how they measure success and how many media placements they have secured for clients in a similar industry. Look for specific examples of a variety of placements and methods of communication: bylined articles, surveys and earned coverage, to name a few.

Media contacts

Who does your agency call on for media coverage? Do they have a portfolio of reporter “friendlies” covering niche stories or top-tier journalists who come through with a big hit? If coverage in, for example, the Wall Street Journal is your Super Bowl, the first question you have to ask is, “How do I get there?” You don’t simply pick up the phone and say, “Hi there, senior WSJ reporter, please write about me.” You need the support and strategic foresight of a public relations team with solid and reliable media contacts. You need the big guy on the line to open the lane and shepherd your way there.

Social media

I spoke with our Vice President of Social Media Ruben Ramirez, who explained to me: “Think of social media as the audience that’s watching the game at home. They want to feel every bit as much a part of the action. Your social media coordinator should help you disseminate your messaging in a concise, yet effective, manner.”

There’s more to it than hashtags and memes (although those are important), and the right social media team knows that a successful social media campaign can help to bring the company’s message to a wider audience–an audience that, as Ramirez notes, “may not have seen the great feature piece in Fortune or the great infographic that was created internally or the wonderful byline placement that the team secured. The social team should be able to look at every piece of content generated and think creatively about how it can be used to attract eyes on social media while at the same time reinforcing the company’s message.”

And, finally…

Your account team

These are the guys who do the heavy lifting. Find out who’s doing the nitty-gritty and who will be your “boots on the ground.” The people calling journalists and advising on strategy are the guardians of your QB—or, rather, your company story and reputation.

Most NFL fans can name the quarterback on each team. The left tackle? Only the biggest fanatics know those nameless heroes. Similarly, your PR team is your insurance policy, the protector of your blind side. We anticipate what’s coming, we know your competitors, and we know the industry trends and threats. We see what you may not, we find the holes, and we open the lanes and provide you with opportunities. We guide you from startup to IPO and beyond. And that’s the only way to win the game.

What The Real Housewives Can Teach Us About Public Relations

I’ve been a fan of The Real Housewives franchise since the series first premiered with “The Real Housewives of Orange County” in 2006. Having watched nearly every franchise and every season, I’ve learned that the wives can teach us a lot about public relations. From Orange County to New York, New Jersey, Atlanta and Beverly Hills, the ladies of Bravo overcome a lot of hardships. Whether it be new businesses, financial struggles or failed relationships, these women always push through and are an ongoing source of entertainment and inspiration.

Like clients, I’ve seen the ladies come and go. I’ve seen their successes and their failures, and I’ve been invested every step of the way.

Here’s what The Real Housewives can teach us about public relations:

Have an interesting storyline

All public relations professionals know that in order to land a great feature for clients, they need to have an interesting story to tell. Similarly, the wives know they need to have an interesting storyline in order to stay on for another season. Whether it be the love of your life faking cancer or a stint in federal prison, we can always count on the housewives to keep the viewers invested.

Use your platform

The housewives can teach us all a master class in social media best practices. From the Bravo blogs to Instagram and Twitter, the housewives keep us all up to date on their newest business ventures, love lives and ongoing drama with castmates. This inevitably becomes fodder for the show, continues the drama and keeps the viewers interested in the lives of the wives.

The housewives of Dallas make a point to personally respond to each fan who leaves a comment for them on Twitter or Instagram. This small gesture builds loyalty between fans and castmates.

The blogs also give the housewives a chance to promote their own businesses. Whether it be wine, handbags, makeup, life insurance or bacon-flavored vodka, the wives are always promoting their products.

We recommend that our clients keep their company blogs updated with commentary on industry trends, product updates and company insights. This can continue on social channels, where we address concerns and start conversations that will build brand awareness and position the company as an expert on customer experience and service.

Put your name behind something that matters

It’s more important than ever for brands to invest in a robust corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. Today’s consumers have growing expectations for companies to act responsibly – supporting a social, economic or environmental initiative that will have a positive impact on society. 

A lifelong animal lover, Lisa Vanderpump, the star of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” (RHOBH) and the spinoff featuring her Hollywood restaurant SUR, founded Vanderpump Dog Foundation to create a better world for dogs globally. Using her name and brand recognition, Lisa has organized protests and spoken out against the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China. In the most recent season of RHOBH, we see a House of Representatives resolution calling for an end to the dog and cat meat industry pass on the House floor.

Featured in the cast of “The Real Housewives of New York” (RHONY), Bethenny Frankel used her star power to found bstrong, a disaster relief initiative that provides real-time emergency assistance to individuals and their families in crisis. Bethenny has used her platform to raise and distribute millions of dollars to victims of natural disasters around the world. In previous seasons of RHONY, we see Bethenny travel to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria to distribute aid and money to those in need.

Lessons from The Real Housewives

What may have started as a show about a bunch of rich women has quickly turned into a show about life and career lessons. Whether they’re taking a stance on an issue that matters to them, reigniting old drama or promoting a business venture, the wives are their own best publicists. The Real Housewives are true PR pros when it comes to reinventing themselves, their businesses and their relationships, and many of these experiences can be translated into our everyday client work.