Barfield PR would not be the company it is today without my training in the 1980s at one of New York City’s largest PR agencies.  For nearly three decades, my company has led a fine team of PR professionals of color, providing clients with superb services, which helped ensure they remained clients, in most instances, for years. I wish for all PR pros of color the same — but,  too rare — opportunity I have enjoyed:  The chance to hone skills and shape a career in the PR agency world.

Happily, I see signs of change in our industry, signs that my 1980s’ opportunity may soon no longer represent the exception rather than the rule.  The PR Council of Firms recently announced its 2014 Multicultural Fellowship Program:

The Council of Public Relations Firms and its Boston-area members are launching an internship program aimed at attracting more ethnically diverse professionals into the public relations profession. Students from all backgrounds, specifically students of color, have a unique opportunity to contribute to the dynamic and growing field of public relations. At a time when the U.S. population is becoming increasingly diverse, and PR firms and clients are seeking to connect with these audiences and build meaningful and productive relationships, the need to build a diverse talent pipeline has never been greater. http://prfirms.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/CouncilofPRFirms-Brochure.pdf

Despite a few, limited changes such as this 2014 internship,  we can all agree that more needs to be done to recruit, attract, and retain PR pros of color.  I, therefore, invite PR agency leaders as well as PR pros of color to imagine something – and someone – new in our profession.

Let’s imagine beyond “Looks Like Me” hiring. And, yes, let’s even imagine beyond “Suppose I Don’t Look Like You?” Instead, let’s build something new in our industry that is first and foremost based on excellence. Let excellence guide us in hiring – and in carving out a career in PR.

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The Value of PR Pros of Color

As PR professionals, we must stay focused and on the front line so as to better promote our community’s voice. When you work on the agency side of the fence or in Corporate America, be cognizant of your role.

Here are 6 tips to stay focused:

  • Deliver the message to our community in a dignified and respectful manner
  • Be factual about who we are as a people
  • Beware of stereotypes in messaging
  • Contribute to the client’s financial bottom line by enhancing the company’s profile with the consumer
  • Always let your client and/or agency know when their message conflicts with the community’s beliefs and/or when their message may generate conflict with the community

What I hope to convey with such ideas is that 30 years after I began my career in the PR agency world — although we have gained progress — our profession is  still hiring people who usually don’t look like me.  I still see, even now in the 21st century, that “microinequities”  [see, “Reflections,” blog 2] and many things remain the same.  People who look like me are not invited in, and when we are, we’re not seen or heard.

To you PR professionals of color, I hope my “Reflections” and tips will inspire you to help change our industry. Be prepared to carry this work that we love to the next level. And, to PR agency executives:  Call on me and others who’ve paved the way to guide you. Most of all, know that you are armed. Now is your time to go forth, together!

In my next “Reflections,” I’ll look back at past PR agency experiences and then I’ll look ahead, envisioning a new world in our profession. How would “Doesn’t Look Like Me” hiring in PR agencies lead to a new level of excellence? Join me for my next “Reflections:  PR Is My Business” and share on Facebook and Twitter.