Diversity Is More than Good PR

This article was written for PR News, and published in the July 31, 2006 edition.

According the most recent US Census statistics, Hispanics represent 14% of population and African Americans account for 12%, followed by foreign-born citizens (11%) and Asian Americans (4%). The growth in the Hispanic and foreign-born population is expected to continue. Population projections suggest the racial groups classified as minorities will collectively become the majority in the United States. The bottom line? The racial, ethnic and cultural landscape of the United States is changing and diversity is here to stay. Many companies and organizations recognize these changes and have implemented diversity programs designed to recruit diverse talent and increase general awareness of the varied backgrounds of employees. However, this is not enough. Organizations seeking to maintain a competitive edge in this highly diverse, global economy must create an organizational climate that supports diversity at all levels. For the past six years DiversityInc. Magazine has recognized 50 companies that have made diversity a business priority. For example, in 2000 FleetBoston Financial , now Bank of America , was recognized for moving its commitment to diversity beyond mere awareness (a progressive notion at the time). The company had seven diversity resource groups that allowed employees of similar backgrounds to come together to support one another. In addition to support, the company’s groups raised money to provide grants to community organizations that aligned with their missions. The grants were administered through FleetBoston’s philanthropic arm, FleetBoston Financial Foundation . Diversity was, as one executive said at that time, “a business priority for the company.” Since that time, DiversityInc. has improved its selection methodology and this year more emphasis was placed on companies with strong commitments from their CEO. Verizon Communications/Wireless , WellPoint , and Toyota North America were among this year’s top 50 companies for diversity. These companies, and the other 47 named to the list, know that they must manage diversity as they manage other sectors of their operations.

GETTING SERIOUS

Diversity has to be more than just a policy; it has to be a part of the corporation’s culture. Creating a culture that supports diversity requires more from organizations than developing awareness. It requires senior management, human resources and public relations staff to manage diversity with a focus on employee development. It requires employees to commit to the organizations core diversity values and principles. It requires everyone to demonstrate a commitment through action.

To achieve this, organizations must consider the following:

  • Create an environment where employees feel that diverse perspectives are valued. Companies must integrate diversity into the daily environment where differences become noticed, appreciated and sought after.
  • Create an environment where employees feel safe in acknowledging their differences and where others see the value in them. The benefit? Employees feel valued and appreciated, which translates into demonstrated commitment from employees.
  • Implement diversity management training for senior and middle managers. Many diversity programs begin – and end – with a statement of commitment from top-level management. With this approach, diversity is never fully integrated into the daily work of management or line staff. Organizations seeking to make diversity more than just a program should provide senior and middle managers with processes for incorporating diversity into their daily work. Additionally, managers should receive training that helps them strategically create workgroups that benefit fromemployee’s varied heritages.
  • Put diversity to work. Most companies do a great job of recruiting diverse talent, but they fail to make diversity work for them. Having a diverse workforce goes beyond representation. It includes incorporating the varied cultures and traditions of employees in the strategic planning, decision-making, and implementation processes. Doing so will increase the quality of products, services and communications. In the end, employees will recognize the sincere commitment of the company to diversity and make a personal commitment as well. When employees make a commitment to diversity it translates into better products and services. It also shows a sincere commitment to diversity, which enhances relationships with customers.

On My Soapbox

As I type the Institute for Public Relations is accepting comments on what defines a profession and if public relations qualifies as a professional discipline. According to the website a published paper by Betteke van Ruler of University of Amsterdam ("Are PR Pros From Venus and Scholars From Mars?" ) questions which of the four models defines the public relations profession – knowledge, competition, personality and status models. Each model presents divergent views on the profession in the industry (and arguably beyond). My take: I agree with Cindy Small, a respondent on the site, who said, “Public relations cannot be pigeon holed into one model.”

I agree with academics who believe that education should be a requirement for employment. I agree with practitioners that argue that expert service, commitment, creativity and enthusiasm have to be a part of the public relations profession. I also agree with those that believe Accreditation is a trademark of professionalism.

While I agree with a component of each model, I would volunteer that the best model is one that requires a formal education in public relations. This education would teach practitioners in several key areas, including writing, research, media relations, communications theory, and business. It would also require practitioners to become Accredited.

Why? During my career I have met people that profess to do public relations. Each person had a different perspective on the profession that I am passionate about, and it usually had nothing to do with public relations. Many of them confused publicity, which is the oldest form of public relations (PT Barnum), as public relations. I have even been told: “Anyone can do public relations…I read a book and learned how to write a press release. It isn’t rocket science.” The only truth in that statement is that it isn’t rocket science…but it is a science.

A true public relations professional understands the importance of strategy, business, research, metrics, ethics, writing, and theory to the discipline…and they work hard to maintain the integrity of each area. They understand that creativity is only a part of the total equation. They understand that you don’t do public relations.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done to bring respect to the profession. The first step is making sure that we stop allowing people that claim to do public relations to associate themselves with our beloved profession.

The lesson. Every public relations practitioner has a responsibility to educate others about our profession. We must challenge the notion that anyone can do public relations. We must work hard to distinguish the role that public relations plays in the business environment. We must advance our profession. Each day ask yourself, “What have I done today to advance my profession?” If we do that, then in time we will receive the respect we deserve.

In Praise of the Human Touch

This article was written for PR News and published in the May 15, 2006 issue.

Technology is often viewed as a solution to problems. However, this solution has also created problems. The digital technology boom of present is causing problems in the public relations industry. Industry professionals are quickly trading face time for sleeker technologies like e-mail, blogs, wikis, and podcasts – for obvious reasons. The newer technologies allow public relations professionals to send targeted messages on behalf of their organizations to millions with the click of a button. Face-to-face communication will never offer professionals that level of service, and it can be labor intensive and expensive. But it is well worth the effort in certain situations where the human element is needed to get the message across. This includes the following:

When immediate feedback and true understanding are necessary. The immediacy of face-to-face conversations gives organizations an opportunity to receive and provide direct feedback, allowing for true understanding between the organization and its audiences. During conversations, it is possible to gain a greater comprehension of the values, likes, and dislikes of those engaged in the discussion. This unfiltered information is helpful when developing relationships, products and services that meet audience needs.

When messages contain conflict, emotion or priority. Always deliver your bad news in person – nothing is more impersonal (and perhaps insensitive) than sending bad news via e-mail. Other advantages of communicating face-to-face include increased trust and credibility between organizations and their audiences.

When showing emotions adds value. Studies show the ability to use more than one of your senses when communicating greatly increases message impact. During face-to-face encounters, you have the benefit of witnessing audience body language, and you can send quiet messages like sincerity, empathy and humility using non-verbal communication (i.e. facial and hand movements, body position, etc.). Understanding the benefits of face-to-face communication can greatly improve your business and personal relationships.

The old-fashioned meeting. Passé, you say? No way! Research shows that employees

like to receive information in person and from their direct supervisors. Meetings provide

a venue for this interaction, which can help strengthen relationships between senior management, middle management and frontline employees.

The speakers bureau. Engage your audience at their location by sending a representative from your company to discuss issues with them one-on-one by forming a speakers bureau. Speakers bureaus can serve both internal and external audiences and they give organizations an opportunity to create networks that carry intimate, interactive, human messages to key audiences. Through bureau dialogue organizations are able to connect with opinion leaders, who then spread organizational messages to target audiences. Speakers bureaus not only help increase external communication effectiveness; they are also excellent tools to help educate employees on organizational issues. Employees who participate in speakers bureaus understand organizational issues and how each employee contributes to the organization better than those who do not participate.

Hosting public meetings and other public events targeted to your audience. Extend an invitation to your audiences to visit you. Use the time to catch up on the latest in their world and to show off your space, products, or services. Make the presentation engaging, have fun, but most of all use the time to develop and maintain relationships. So, before you post the next message on your blog, record your next podcast or contribute to the wiki of choice, consider the value of face-to-face communication and put it in your communication mix.