Reflecting on PR’s Diverse Past
Links to podcast:
The Future of PR Looks Like Us campaign
This blog is part of a series called The Future of PR Looks Like Us, a meaningful campaign led by a team of Centennial College public relations and corporate communications postgraduate students in partnership with the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms (CCPRF). We intend to highlight the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the public relations (PR) industry.
This blog complements a podcast series exploring diverse voices that influenced the industry and featuring work done by PR students from Centennial College. Learn about diverse figures of PR’s past that have shaped the industry for BIPOC professionals today. Listen in to uncover misconceptions and gain a sense of the opportunities the industry holds. The series closes by emphasizing the bright future PR professionals and students see for the growing diversity within the industry.
It is a significant year to reflect on the diverse people who have shaped the PR industry as we know it today. The death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, sparked protests against systemic racism and support for the Black Lives Matter movement (#BLM) worldwide. Organizations and individuals in PR, like many others, were compelled to speak out in support of change and racial justice for Black, Indigenous and other people of colour (BIPOC) (Ghane, 2020).
In honour of Black history month, let’s bring attention to three Black PR pioneers that paved the way for BIPOC PR professionals. When listening to today’s episode and reading these reflections, it is important to appreciate challenges that were overcome, while understanding that the work is far from over.
Joseph V. Baker
On today’s episode, we first hear about the work done by Joseph V. Baker. He convinced companies to have Black representation in advertising and hire Black workers to create brand loyalty. Baker introduced the notion of representation and the importance of representing the diversity we can see in society. He taught us to use our voices to support those who cannot help themselves. It takes one brave voice to spark meaningful change for generations to come. As Jerome Kitenge says, “Without his courage and groundbreaking ideas, we wouldn’t have the Nike and H&M ads that prominently feature POC.” Our voices have the strength and opportunity to make a difference.
Moss Kendrix identified the Black consumer market that had previously gone unnoticed by companies like Coca-Cola. The successes of his campaigns helped the company grow in advertising, job opportunities for Black Americans and other business opportunities. As Mikhail Grishin said in his profile of Kendrix, even when it was not considered appropriate to speak about minorities, Moss knew there was a place in society for Black people to be represented and appreciated.
Inez Kaiser highlights the importance of making demands and recommendations that are rightfully deserved. She shows the value in knowing our worth, skill and knowledge. Because of their determination, all women have to thank Black women like Inez Kaiser for the progress we’ve made. Their tenacity and perseverance helped pave the way for the strong women in PR today.
Powerful Black voices impacted the industry with their great advocacy work, however, as we continuously grow, we learn the responsibility no longer falls on BIPOC practitioners alone. It is the responsibility of all folks to use their voices in advocacy and allyship to continue the work of pioneers like Joseph Baker, Moss Kendrix and Inez Kaiser. These Black communicators, respected for their candor and inclusive vision, solidified the importance of honesty and integrity in their work.
Key learnings from a student perspective
There’s a reason that society progresses. Behind that progression are the persistent voices pushing advocacy work. We should create an environment where this advocacy and activism can be supported and cultivated. Collaboration and listening will foster continuous growth, understanding and empathy when it comes to DE&I at work.
Calling for representation in workplaces and media engages employees and allows new consumer markets to feel seen, leading to business advantages. “Businesses with culturally diverse executive teams are 33 per cent more likely to see above-average profits” (Lam, 2020). Diversity in all forms means that unique individuals and groups are less likely to be disregarded. “Diversity is vital to the effectiveness and credibility of PR. It’s crucial to encourage more people of all races to pursue careers … and to create spaces where diverse practitioners feel safe, included and empowered to do their jobs effectively” (Carrington, 2020). If people feel represented, this boosts trust in our communicators and messages, improving the effectiveness of the work we do.
After unpacking today’s episode, we invite you to reflect on your position and perspective, the power of your voice and the changes you can make to push DE&I in your life and community. For more information on today’s episode, check out the resources below.
Sarah Heiman: Before I started at Centennial College, I graduated from Western University with an honours degree in media in the public interest. I tailored my education to focus heavily on activism, learning about marginalized communities and anti-racism work. This passion led to my experience at non-profits organizations writing blog posts, assisting with fundraising events and social media.
Daisy Johanna Uy: I worked with diverse teams and have cultural acumen from my 10 years of corporate experience in Asia, North America, Europe, the Middle East and Oceania. I hold a B.Sc. in chemical engineering from the University of San Carlos, Philippines, and I completed my anti-racism and bias training with Brownicity, an American grassroots initiative.
Charmaine Blair: With years of corporate, business and hospitality management, I have worked and volunteered with not-for-profit organizations throughout my life, committed to supporting diversity and inclusion. A recent graduate of the special event planning program at Centennial College, I returned to complete my studies in public relations. I now bring this combined experience to the part of my career I am most passionate about.
Rebecca Moe: I hold a bachelor of social science from the University of Ottawa. My background in outdoor recreation has allowed me to apply my passion for using policy, curated experiences and relationship management for building inclusive and safe spaces for people to experience growth.
Heinrich, L. L. Black PR pioneers. The Museum of Public Relations. https://www.prmuseum.org/black-pr-pioneers
Carrington, S. (2020, September 13). Does PR have a diversity problem? Canadian Public Relations Society Toronto. https://cprstoronto.com/2020/09/13/does-pr-have-a-diversity-problem/
Colston, C. E. (2012). An Exploration into the Reality of Media Perceptions: The Depictions of Women Public Relations Practitioners in Reality Television. McNair Scholars Research Journal, 5(1), 33-50.
Ghane, A. (2020, June 9). #BlackLivesMatter: An overview of the PR response. Generation PR. https://generationpr.ca/black-lives-matter-public-relations/
Hagerty, J. R. (2016, August 12). Inez Kaiser Broke Down Barriers for Minorities in Public Relations. The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/inez-kaiser-broke-down-barriers-for-minorities-in-public-relations-1471028313
Lam, L. (2020, November 7). The time-of-the-century opportunity that diversity and inclusion present to Canadian business. Focus Communications. https://focuscomms.com/insights/the-time-of-the-century-opportunity-that-diversity-and-inclusion-present-to-canadian-business/
Meade, J. (2020, June 05). Remembering The First Black Woman to Own a PR Firm. PR News. https://www.prnewsonline.com/Kaiser-PR-owner-black-woman
Pioneer spotlight: Moss Hyles Kendrix. The Museum of Public Relations. https://www.prmuseum.org/pioneer-moss-kendrix
Schmitt, W. (2016, August 4). Inez Y. Kaiser, first black woman to own a national PR firm, dies at 98. The Kansas City Star. https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article93759187.html
Nestle, M. (2015, October 5). Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning). Oxford University Press. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/soda-politics-9780190263430
Taylor, M. (2011, February 19). A Salute to Public Relations’ African-American Pioneers https://apps.prsa.org/Intelligence/Tactics/Articles/view/9086/1026/A_Salute_to_Public_Relations_African_American_Pion#.X6CKQC_b00o