The Census – What will it tell us about diversity in PR?

In the last fortnight, PR Week and the PRCA launched the results of their joint census of the PR profession. It had an impressive response and is an important stage in the ongoing monitoring of the profession in terms of its make up, specialisms, the wealth it generates and the people it serves.

The first ‘outing’ of the data was in PR Week. In terms of diversity, it revealed some results that may be regarded as a concern. First, the percentage of practitioners from ‘Black Caribbean, African or British’ backgrounds was just 2%. Six percent of respondents allocated themselves to ‘other’ groupings, which suggests that more diversity is present in the field than the 2% figure suggests – and eight percent assigned themselves to ‘Other white’, presumably non-British practitioners. These figures may be largely in line with census population breakdown (e.g. in 2009, the overall percentage of Black / Black British in the population in England and Wales was 2.81%). However, they still prompt questions about the nature of cultural diversity in the profession, not simply in terms of the amount of cultural diversity, but also in terms of the specifics of diverse practitioners’ careers. A more fine-tuned exploration of the data will tell us much more about these groups. Such an exploration should include assessments of who the ‘Other’ categories contain, and where these diverse practitioners are in the industry – their specialisms, seniority and tenure in the profession, for example. This would provide valuable information that our industry bodies must take into account in their discussions of diversity (through the CIPR’s ‘diversity conversations’ and the PRCA’s diversity commission).

The situation is similar when it comes to women in the profession. While PR is dominated by women overall (64%), the narration in the PRWeek article also states that ‘the pendulum swings firmly back in favour of males’ once board director or partner level positions are examined. This, again, is extremely important and needs further clarification. Why does this happen? What is causing such a reversal of fortunes? In which industries, for example, are women more often seen at senior levels and in which are they excluded? What are the reasons for this?

Other aspects of diversity – disability, sexuality or religion, for example – are not mentioned in this brief overview. It is, of course, a starting point that will be followed up with further articles and I look forward to hearing more about these areas as the publication of the results continues. Nonetheless, it is crucial that, if this census is to be a landmark in our understanding of the industry, then important questions need to be asked about the structures of the industry that are suggested by these statistics. I look forward to more information, and more consideration of these questions, as the results of the survey are revealed.


Role models, diversity and widening access to a career in PR

Earlier this week, we hosted ‘Access 2 PR’ in partnership with Elevation Networks and in association with Edelman. The event was aimed at Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students, one of the under-represented groups in the PR industry, keen to learn more about how to access the profession. The Aspiration and Frustration Report, published by Race for Opportunity, highlights the media industry (encompassing PR) is considered by BME groups to be the hardest profession to break into. Here are some of the key findings from the report.

  1. One in three (31%) said it would be difficult to find a job in the media industry.

  2. More than one in three respondents (34%) saw the profession as “cut throat” and more than a fifth used the word “aggressive” to describe the profession.

  3. One fifth of respondents cited the lack of information from the industry for potential applicants wanting to join the profession.

It is worrying to think that such a high number of black and minority ethnic people see our industry as being closed off to them. In addition to this report are the results of the PRCA Census, which draws attention to the woeful lack of ethnic diversity in the industry. There is a collective job to be done on many levels to address these issues. Ignite is currently searching for mentors to help boost the confidence of students through the advancement of soft skills. Furthermore, our Manifesto for Change seeks to address diversity at an organisational level by providing practical guidance for HR teams and heads of agencies.

Encouraging diverse entrants into the profession is something that we are passionate about and many reports, including the aforementioned by Race for Opportunity, recommend the use of role models to achieve this goal. After meeting Elevation Networks, who are doing excellent work to bridge the gap between under-represented groups and a number of industries, we knew that we had a captive audience which, when given access to an esteemed panel of role models, could benefit tremendously from an event dedicated to helping them pursue a career in PR.

With this in mind, we assembled a diverse group of panellists who were open to sharing their back-story. As well as covering general topics like what their typical day involves and how they have managed their careers to date, it was important for each person to share the obstacles and challenges they had faced, as well as lessons learnt. Our panel comprised of Eb Adeyeri, senior digital strategist at Ogilvy; Daljit Bhurji, managing director at Diffusion; April Hogan, account executive at Edelman; Sohaib Ahmed, freelancer at Nelson Bostock; Dianne Lowther, communications director at VisionFund International; and Paula Simmons, head of corporate PR recruitment at The Works.

The boundless enthusisam of the students at the event reconfirmed my view of the need for our industry to reach out to under-represented groups using appropriate role models, in order to inspire and share knowledge. One of the benefits of partnering with Elevation Networks for this event is their experience of targeting the most appropriate students. Prior to gaining a place at the ‘Access 2 PR’ event, each student had to evidence their desire and interest in learning more about the profession via a questionnaire. This meant that every single student at the event was genuinely interested in pursuing a career in PR.

The ‘Access 2 PR’ event was certainly one of the most rewarding events that we have undertaken as an organisation. It was also a perfect fit for us to partner with Edelman, one of our long-term sponsors and an agency that continues to take tangible action to enhance diversity in the industry.

Here’s what others had to say about the event:

“The event was a great platform for students and recent grads to hear first hand about each of the panellists journey into the world of PR, and to see there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to getting on the career ladder. Many young people aspire to enter into PR and yet may not have access to the knowledge and networks needed to make the best decisions and steps into the industry; the ‘Access 2 PR’ event helped to bridge that gap.” Barbara Kasumu, chief executive officer at Elevation Networks.

“At The Works Search and Selection we are keen to do what we can to promote diversity in the PR sector, so it was a real privilege to be part of the ‘Access 2 PR’ event.  It was extremely encouraging to see a room full of young, inspirational people from such a diverse range of cultures hungry to get into the industry.  I hope the tips we provided on how to secure their first role were useful and we really look forward to supporting them in their careers over the coming years.” Paula Simmons from The Works.

“I really enjoyed sharing my experience and was encouraged by the hunger, interest and work ethic of the graduates. My key message to students is not to give up; find ways to enjoy your career journey. It will help your state of mind, approach and the impression you give to others.” Dianne Lowther from VisionFund International.

“Thank you for inviting me to speak at the event, I think there’s brilliant work being done with ‘Access 2 PR’. It was great to see so many students show their desire to learn, with such passion and enthusiasm. I hope to see them in the industry over the coming years.” Sohaib Ahmed from Nelson Bostock.

We look forward to hosting similar events in the future. In the meantime, Paula from The Works has agreed to share her presentation which has useful information about starting out in PR and can be downloaded via the link below. In addition, please take the opportunity to read Eb Adeyeri’s blog about the event.



Ignite's manifesto for change is here

The launch of our manifesto took place yesterday evening at The Red Consultancy.

The manifesto is sponsored by Pearson and offers employers practical advice on improving diversity in their organisations, from getting the recruitment process right and creating an inclusive working environment, through to setting measurable objectives to track progress on this journey.

The results of the PRCA/PR Week Census clearly show that there is a huge gap between the demographic profile of our industry and the audiences we try to reach on behalf of our clients and organisations, both at home and abroad. Through our manifesto, we want to encourage PR leaders to work closely with their HR teams to ensure recruitment and promotion processes, as well as the culture within the organisation, are conducive to welcoming people from diverse backgrounds, which in turn leads to an enhanced PR offering. In addition, we want to turn the focus from talking about diversity to taking tangible action that can make a real and long-lasting difference.

At the launch event, guests were addressed by Sandra Kerr OBE, National Director at Race for Opportunity; Jane Wilson, CEO at the CIPR; and John Lehal, Managing Director at Insight Public Affairs and Chairman of the PRCA Access Commission. We are pleased to include a link to the manifesto, which we encourage you to share far and wide, as well the presentation and speeches delivered at the launch by the aforementioned speakers.

  • Please click here to download our manifesto

  • Please click here to read the welcome speech by Bieneosa Ebite

  • Please click here to download Sandra Kerr’s presentation

  • Please click here to read the speech by Jane Wilson

  • Please click here to read the speech by John Lehal


Ignite Manifesto

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Ignite's manifesto for change

Ignite was established in April 2009 as an inclusive networking group for public relations professionals. Its aim is to drive forward the benefits of cultural diversity in the profession and pursue greater awareness of the contributions diversity can make to a vibrant and successful PR profession in the 21st Century.

Since our first meeting nearly three years ago, Ignite has grown significantly, hosting popular networking events, initiating a mentoring scheme, supporting groundbreaking research, lobbying our industry bodies to take more account of diversity and providing a social networking hub.  An increasing number of professionals from all backgrounds have engaged with the idea of diversity and are beginning to consider what it means for them as PR professionals themselves, and how it might affect or improve practice in their organisations.

On 18th  April 2012, we will launch our manifesto for change: Igniting the case for diversity and inclusion in public relations. This milestone publication, sponsored by Pearson, has been produced by Ignite to act as practical guide to help build a diverse and inclusive workforce within the public relations industry. The launch event will take place at The Red Consultancy.

We have invited key stakeholders to join us at the event to find out more about the manifesto. The keynote address will be delivered by Sandra Kerr OBE, National Director at Race for Opportunity. Guests will also hear from Jane Wilson, Chief Executive Officer at the CIPR, and John Lehal, Managing Director at Insight Public Affairs and Chairman of the PRCA Access Commission.

If you would like to attend the launch event, please click here to register.


What can we learn from Diane Abbott's tweet?

The intense discussion about Diane Abbott’s comments on Twitter yesterday raised a number of important issues about ‘race’ in Britain.  At first sight – in just 140 characters – Abbott dismissed all of the White community in the UK as intentionally acting to fragment the power of non-White communities by dividing their loyalties. Here, it seemed, was an example of Black racism against White people. The subtext of the debate was the possibility that, for 25 years, a racist (anti-White) had infiltrated her way into the heart of the (White) Establishment. What else might she have done, undetected, left to her own devices?! The fear that this might be true prompted both calls for resignation, as well as scrambles to provide evidence that it wasn’t the case – track record, previous support for equality and fairness across society. Today, the debate has died down and it seems Abbott’s record has saved her.

Nonetheless, the discussion has left much for those concerned with ‘race’ and diversity to consider. Certainly, Abbott’s tweet was too all-encompassing to be defensible. She was also responding via a  media that is inherently visible, rather than invisible.  And we all know that when politicians want to express a real opinion (remember Gordon Brown’s gaffe in the election?), invisibility is often preferable. But the difficulty with the point she made – and the discussion of which it was part – is that, in140 characters, it is impossible to reflect the highly complex reality of ‘race’ and racism.

Abbott’s tweet responded to Bim Adewunmi’s wish that the media would pay more attention to the diversity in the ‘Black community’ and finally avoid the stereotypical presence from ‘ex-gang-member-now-reformed’ individuals. Behind this formulaic approach of the media is, of course, a formulaic understanding of news stories. The Stephen Lawrence case is a ‘black’ story and therefore needs a ‘black’ commentator. Who best represents ‘blackness’ today? Apparently, mostly male, reformed gang members. (As an aside, this begs the question of the status of the thousands of other black people in the working and middle-classes for whom gang membership is as foreign as it would be to Ed Milliband or David Cameron. Are they not ‘normal’ black citizens?). Yesterday, we saw a parallel to this ‘black on black’ approach to stories in PR, with Labour’s use of MP Chuka Umunna as the person best equipped to appear on camera for the party. Abbott’s tweet is a story about ‘black’ politics but ‘black’ politics can seem threatening. Umunna is of mixed Nigerian, Irish and English descent, a completely different background to Abbott’s Jamaican heritage, but no matter. As shadow business secretary, in his smart suit and with his British accent, he can be seen by white people as a ‘safe’ black MP. His was the voice of reasonable black politics that align with the Establishment, rather than challenge it, ameliorating the effect of Abbott’s statement and re-establishing the status quo.

Abbott’s tweet also directly referred to an aspect of racism that is frequently ignored in the presentism that marks political environments across the world. Race and racism are socially constructed over time. They are historically variable; in the present, they are informed by and contain the shadow of history. Abbott’s tweet, then, is not completely inaccurate. Read as a statement about all White people in the present, it is clearly unjustified. But read as a reflective consideration of the systems that shape society (of which PR is one), and have emerged over time, the notions of social inequity and perpetuated dominance of Whiteness that underpin it are closer to the truth than we might like to think. Statistics demonstrate over and over again that people from non-white communities are treated less fairly, enjoy fewer privileges, and are more challenged by poverty and discrimination than most white British citizens.

What, then, can we learn from Abbott’s tweet? She reminds us that social media must be handled with care. She (along with Adewunmi) also reminds us that PR is part of a broader system that currently is not fair to everyone who lives in Britain. The institutional work that PR does, consolidating the position of commercial and third sector organisations as well as the explicitly political work undertaken on behalf of government, contributes to the relative positioning of different groups and individuals in society. In arguing for its right to exist as part of a democracy, PR claims a moral and ethical role, as well as a commercial one. In which case, we must ask ourselves how we, as individuals, act to ensure the effects of our work generate greater equity than inequity, realistic  rather than stereotypical representations, and ultimately feed into a more fully-functioning society.


It’s a wrap for 2011

Since 2009, our aim has been to promote the benefits of cultural diversity in the PR industry. As 2011 draws to a close, it is an opportune moment to reflect on our achievements and to share some of our plans for 2012.

Over the past twelve months we have engaged with public relations professionals across a number of sectors by hosting six high-quality events, covering a wide range of topics and issues, and always including an element about diversity.  We have been able to host our events at excellent venues thanks to generous sponsors who support our aims and objectives: Pearson, Edelman, Hill & Knowlton, Waggener Edstrom, Linstock Communications and the London Communications Agency.

In addition to our sponsors, we have attracted a fantastic line-up of speakers who have dedicated their time, free of charge, to share their expertise. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our speakers, once again, for their support: Sarah Stimson, Course Director at The Taylor Bennett Foundation;  Jorgen Sundberg, Founder of Link Humans; Peter Bingle, Chairman at Bell Pottinger Public Affairs; Merlene Emerson, Liberal Democrat Candidate for the London Assembly 2012; Sunny Hundal, editor of Liberal Conspiracy; Tony Travers, Director of LSE London; Simon Woolley, Director of Operation Black Vote; Stephen Webb, Communications Director at NHS London; Caroline Bernard-Moxey, Research and Policy Manager at National Skills Academy for Social Care; Priya Shah,  Interim Head of Media Affairs at Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health; Belinda Lawson, Director at Lawson Dodd; and Jon Bennett, Director at Linstock Communications.

I am delighted that our network has grown by almost 40% over the past 12 months which, in part, has been due to word of mouth recommendations. As well as welcoming new people to our events, there is a core group of people who are ‘Ignite regulars’. I would like to take this opportunity to thank these individuals for their continued support and loyalty, and for recommending Ignite to their respective networks.

Inclusivity, like diversity, is one of Ignite’s core principles and, as such, we have been able to attract both PR students and professionals from diverse cultural backgrounds. This is extremely important for us an organisation as we view diversity as an issue that is relevant to the whole industry, rather than a select few. We need to work together at all levels to address the diversity gaps highlighted in both the PRCA’s Census and the CIPR’s State of the Profession Report. It has been great to see representatives from recruitment agencies at our events, which I hope is a positive sign that steps are being taken to widen the talent pool and to look beyond existing networks for candidates.

As a PR based organisation, it is only fitting that we should do our own PR to relay the message about the benefits of diversity to a wider audience. To this end, we have featured in a range of PR publications during the year, had a stint on CIPR TV and participated in the Guardian’s live online question and answer session: Getting into – and on in – PR.

Recognising the important role that our industry bodies play in helping to shape the diversity agenda, Ignite trustees sat on both the PRCA’s Access Commission and the CIPR’s Diversity Working Group. We are looking forward to seeing the recommendations from both organisations and seeing how this translates into action that will enable our industry to better reflect society.

An organisation that is already acting to address the lack of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) graduates gaining access into PR is the Taylor Bennett Foundation. Earlier this year, Ignite trustees supported the organisation via a group mentoring session with students, which was a rewarding experience for all parties. It is pleasing to see the Foundation going from strength-to-strength by increasing the number of PR agency partners involved and also increasing the number of paid internship places available to aspiring BME talent.

Looking ahead

As we look forward to the year ahead, I am excited about the projects in the pipeline, which we hope will build upon the achievements of 2011.

During the spring, we will work in partnership with a university to get our much anticipated mentoring programme up and running. This will be a fantastic opportunity to support up-and-coming BME graduates and we are looking forward to involving some our members in this initiative.

One of the findings of the Aspiration and Frustration Report published by Business in the Community highlighted that media (which includes PR) is perceived to be opaque in terms of gaining access into the profession. To address this area of concern we will host an Access to PR event in partnership with a youth employment charity which aims to bridge the gap between under-represented groups and industries.

We will publish new insight for the industry in keeping with our remit to help establish best practice benchmarks in relation to diversity.

Of course, the year would not be complete without our networking events and we have a host of interesting topics and issues that we will be covering, starting with a follow up to our event earlier this year on the London Mayoral elections. The event will take place at Pearson on 26th January 2012 so look out for promotional materials which will be issued early in the New Year. If you have not done so already, please join our mailing list to get access to priority booking for our events by sending your details to press@ignitepr.org.uk.

If 2011 was the year that the PR industry woke up to the issue of diversity, I’m hoping that 2012 will be the year the industry stays awake, and starts implementing recommendations to be, as Gandhi said, the change you [and we] wish to see.


Five top tips for setting up your own PR agency

We are extremely excited about our very popular, November Networking Evening, which will take place on Thursday, 17 November! Our keynote speakers, Belinda Lawson, Co-founder of Lawson Dodd, and Jon Bennett, Co-founder of Linstock Communications, will be discussing the topic of Setting Up Your Own PR Agency.

As a little teaser to the event, Belinda and Jon have sent us their pearls of wisdom, with Five Top Tips for Setting Up Your Own Agency:

Enjoy and hope to see you on the 17th!



~by Belinda Lawson, Co-founder of Lawson Dodd, and Jon Bennett, Co-founder of Linstock Communications

  1. It’s tough, so be optimistically realistic about the potential. Make sure you know exactly why you’re doing it; and only do it if you can’t achieve your goals in some other way. It’s a means to an end, not an end in itself.
  2. Don’t be eponymous because it’s hard for others to shine; and don’t work with people who don’t make you feel good – it never works.
  3. Don’t be afraid to pay good people for their advice – you expect people to pay for yours.
  4. Be tough on yourself; but also be kind and generous to yourself. Laugh at your mistakes and learn from them; and celebrate all successes.
  5. Be careful with cash and know exactly when it will run out. Cash-flow is king; and ‘Judgement Day’ focuses the mind.

Telling stories about diversity?

Last week, I and my colleague, Dr Caroline Hodges (Bournemouth University) delivered a keynote speech to the Public Relations Professionals Association of Puerto Rico (see www.relacionistas.com). The topic was ‘The meaning and value of storytelling in public relations’, and we had been invited to speak following the publication of our edited book, ‘Public relations, society and culture: Theoretical and empirical explorations’ (Routledge, 2011) .

Chatting with the conference delegates, I explained a bit about my background, including the fact that I work with Ignite in order to promote cultural diversity in PR. The need for such an organisation met with some astonishment from our Puerto Rican colleagues. Historically a melting pot, Puerto Rico is incredibly diverse, with people of African, Spanish, Southern American and US origin making up the population. There may well be social tensions that arise as a result of these different origins; but for the PR professionals we met, the notion that diversity within the profession needed a specific focus was simply nonsensical. The profession simply was diverse; being Puerto Rican, how could it be otherwise?

In this sense, the historical story of Puerto Rico has become part of the story of the public relations profession on the island.  What, then, is the story of UK Public Relations? How does our history shape the way our professional narrative?

Jacquie L’Etang has written an extensive history of PR, and illustrates the ways in which the profession has its roots in Empire and the public sector. Elsewhere, I have extended the analysis to consider how PR, in serving these organisations, inevitably shaped – and was shaped by – the social fabric of the time, including racial discrimination.

Does this history still form part of our story today? I would argue that it does. The PRCA / PRWEEK census earlier this year demonstrated that the profession is still overwhelmingly white, and that people of Black African/Caribbean/ British background make up a paltry 2% of the overall professional body. Clearly, we lag behind the national norm (88% of the national workforce is white) – but when we consider that over half the industry is located in London, the figure of 92% white (and 2% black) becomes much, much worse.  In London, 36% of the working age population is from a BAME group and, as at 2004, the percentage of these populations with a degree (who would therefore be employable in PR) ranged from 15% (Bangladeshi) to 44% (Chinese) (see Londoners Qualifications).  Compare this to 8% of PR professionals across the country who are non-white, and we begin to realise the extent of the problem that PR faces.

We can create all sorts of stories to explain the fact that PR is unacceptably white. However, on the final slide of our presentation last week we pointed out that stories which are not based on reality simply don’t succeed. It is to be hoped that the Diversity Commission being led by the PRCA, and the Diversity Working Group being hosted by the CIPR, are going to do more than simply tell stories about diversity in PR, and instead follow the positive lead of some independent agencies in actually doing something about this appalling situation.


How to get yourself noticed and make progress in PR

Whether you are at the beginning, middle or towards the end of your career, working in PR means working on your personal reputation and recognition, in order to progress. In order for this to happen you to adopt srategies to make sure you get where you want to be, stay visible and demonstrate the quality and value of what you do.

Yesterday, we hosted an event in association with Edelman to address how to get yourself noticed and make progress in PR. Jorgen Sundberg, Founder of Link Humans, discussed personal branding from a recruitment and marketing perspective and how to position yourself for success in the workplace. Sarah Stimson, Course Director of the Taylor Bennett Foundation, reflected on the specific dynamics of the recruitment processes, and how these kinds of techniques can help people, including those from culturally diverse backgrounds, to develop their careers.

If you attended the event, please take a few minutes to provide us with your valuable feedback by completing a short survey.

Here are Sarah and Jorgen’s presentations from the event and an accompanying podcast kindly recorded by Edelman.

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