Diversity in the PR field: Some progress, though challenges persist

To mark Black History Month, the chair of the Public Relations Society of America’s Diversity Committee examines the past, present, and future of diversity in PR.

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Black practitioners have been performing PR duties for nonprofits, social movements, corporations, and other institutions for decades. Like every group, African-Americans practiced public relations before anyone even bothered to call what we do “public relations.” For example, anti-slavery associations used emotional appeals and testimonials to convince audiences about the evils of slavery.

In the 20th century, there were several pioneering practitioners who dared to find their own space in the profession by starting their own firms, landing prominent clients eager to build relationships with non-majority audiences, becoming well-regarded counselors, and challenging the derogatory images of African-Americans that were prevalent at one time in our nation’s history.

African-American practitioners are still in the public relations trenches. It may appear that present-day practitioners have little in common with those who preceded us. We have a president who claims his African-American heritage; black men and women are CEOs of global companies. Although this is true, there remains a layer of invisibility for black PR pros and other practitioners of color.

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