PR Week US shared an important documentary on YouTube recently featuring the experiences of Black PR practitioners and professionals in the US and what it is like to be Black in PR. So many aspects of it resonated with me and the experiences I have heard of from fellow PR pros in the UK. In fact I was surprised that our US counterparts were still going through so many of the same issues with such prevalence. Of course I knew they existed there but I have to some extent held the US PR industry to a higher esteem purely because of their honesty and openness when it comes to diversity and inclusion. They at least have a willingness to have bold and open conversations about race, which the UK is only now starting to catch up with albeit very slowly. My circumstances are slightly different from some of my counterparts in the industry as I have my own business but there are still quite a few challenges that I face which resonated with my own experience.
I have been wanting to write about my own personal experiences of being a Black woman in PR for some time:
One day I’m going to write about the joys and very real woes of being a black PR pro in the UK.
Not today but one day…
— Ronke Lawal (@ronkelawal) April 5, 2017
This documentary actually covers many of my own experiences so I don’t necessarily have to labour my point but here are a few additional points:
Respect – This might sound like quite a subjective point and I understand that one cannot measure it but after many years in the industry I know how to spot certain micro and macro aggressive tendencies that show that my presence is not respected or even valued. Experiences in which I have not been approached in a professional manner or given enough information to enable me to work effectively even with persistent contact, highlight in my view a, lack of respect.
Value – I have had experiences in which I have been asked to reduce my rate quite substantially or only handle certain “soft” aspects of campaigns. Not because I do not have the ability but because a more “experienced” public facing agency or publicist has been assigned who has taken the bulk of the budget. I have stood my ground and even turned down work because it was clear that my work would be undervalued and unappreciated. I understand that this is an issue that all business owners might face but it is certainly something that Black PR professionals face quite frequently and is reflected in the hiring process by not promoting and thus not paying Black Publicists and PR & Comms pros beyond a certain level, usually middle management.
Multiculturalism – Whilst I am pretty plugged in to multicultural issues, the assumption that I can only offer guidance and support on multicultural issues or issues related to Black communities is tiresome because the onus is on me to educate when that shouldn’t be my role. A good PR professional should be aware of the multicultural society that they live in otherwise hiring a Black PR is purely tokenism and short-lived (which leads me onto my next point).
Tokenism – This is covered in the documentary, being invited to events to discuss diversity but not my actual expertise. I actually don’t mind speaking up about diversity but true inclusion is when a person is considered capable of speaking on a subject matter in which they are an expert in.
Relationship with the media – Media relations is an important part of PR and what I have found is that it can be challenging to engage with a media industry in the UK that doesn’t reflect the diversity of its population. There are not as many Black media outlets in the UK as there are in the US to overlook this, if for example my client wants to focus specifically on Black communities. It can sometimes be challenging getting a diverse range of client stories into mainstream media outlets full stop as newsrooms are not as diverse or inclusive as the could and should be.
Loneliness – There are not many of us in the UK which is why I am so intentional about connecting with other Black PR and Comms professionals across a broad spectrum of industries because it can often be very lonely being the only one. There’s nothing noble about it to be honest particularly when you’re faced with everything I’ve mentioned above. So I am committed to networking and being surrounded by other Black PR pros because there is power in our unity.
Watch the video on this subject and please do share your thoughts below:
This video was originally published on PR Week US: https://www.prweek.com/article/1456118/its-black-pr