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PR’s biggest weakness is that it does not culturally or socially reflect the Britain it claims to understand says Colin Byrne

23rd June 2017


For all the great advances in growth and influence our industry has made over the past decade, our biggest weakness remains that we don't culturally or socially reflect the Britain we claim to understand. We are particularly weak on the consulting side of the business. My own agency is a case in point. The most senior Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) staff on my management team are in HR and finance.

There's the rub perhaps. HR and finance are both professions. People say "I am an accountant" or "I am a lawyer". We say "I work in PR". A job, not quite a profession. Do we in PR subconsciously lack the confidence that PR IS a profession? Aspirant black and Asian families desire for their kids to have a "serious" profession. Just a thought.

At Weber Shandwick we are focused on diversity. We have set ourselves the Creative Industries Federation target of 11% BAME consulting staff (18% in London) as part of a manager's objectives. We are currently at 13% and are introducing some new measures I wanted to share. Others may want to share theirs.

Important are partnerships. We are members of The Media Trust, which does a great job supporting BAME and less socially advantaged kids into media jobs, and have introduced a new internship in partnership with the Trust. We have also become a supporter of The Taylor Bennett Foundation.

Last month I had Elizabeth Bananuka, who founded bmeprstars.co.uk, come in and host a session with our BAME staff on what more we might do as a firm and individuals to help drive not just racial, but cultural and social diversity.

Ideas included speaking on PR careers at more schools in BAME communities, not just at universities; developing BAME role models and mentors; going out and proactively seek out kids creating great content on their phones who don't connect that creative skill with what we do in PR; and showcasing rising star BAME talent in our recruitment material.

A couple of years ago we changed our graduate recruitment programme to be an apprenticeship and outreached to local schools and colleges as well as unIversities. We scrapped the reliance on a written CV and shortlist now from short films the applicants make about their story before we ever look at which university they went to.

As active members of the PRCA we support director general Francis Ingham's leadership on the diversity issue.

I know from my discussions with other agency heads that many are now looking at practical actions to boost diversity. We should share these ideas and success stories more widely. Given the shift from looking at candidates media or political connections to looking at their creative, innovative thinking, we can now draw from a much wider pool of talent. That wider scope needs to cover cultural and social background as well as skill sets.

Then we really will understand Britain better and be a better, more meritocratic and creative industry for it.

Article written by Colin Byrne, UK and EMEA CEO of PR firm Weber Shandwick



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