Monday, September 8, 2014

The PR issue we're not ready to talk about

(c) DKassnoff, 2008
Next week (Sept. 18-19), hundreds of public relations pros will visit Rochester for the Public Relations Society of America's northeast regional conference. They'll talk about social media, SEO, media relations, and many other hot PR topics.

They'll drink coffee. They'll multitask. They'll swap and lose business cards.

But they won't talk about communicating with diverse audiences, or hiring diverse account executives.

A colleague invited six diversity PR experts (including me) for a panel discussion. But it isn't taking place. Just one attendee registered for the panel, so it's been cancelled.

That's disheartening for PRSA's Rochester chapter, which has had a very active diversity committee for about five years. A committee that has earned national recognition for a pioneering "Diversity Apprentice" initiative introducing high school students to public relations.

That just one PR practitioner signs up for a discussion about diversity communications is a disgrace. It says that our PR profession doesn't understand segmentation, or speaking to different audiences in ways that respect their needs and cultures. It says we don't need to reach out to African Americans, Latinos, Asian, Native Americans, LGBTQ and other segments any differently. That one message works for everyone.

That's just dumb. And for a profession that just a few years ago was branded a "pink-collar ghetto," it's incomprehensible. 

Ours is a profession that's supposed to engage untapped and under-represented audiences. Cultivate those audiences who are growing faster than the majority population. Not ignore them.

Yet in Rochester -- a town with a handful of minority-owned agencies, a number of women-owned marcom shops, growing ethnic and LGBTQ populations, plus simmering racial problems -- we're just going to say: "Skip it."

That's a PR fail far worse than any corporate blunder I can write about. And it sucks.