Nearly three months ago, public relations agencies received criticism following their responses, spawned by Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd’s death. Four Black women in the industry, seeking to add accountability, announced Hold The PRess an initiative demanding transparency of diversity data and action plans of 100 agencies by July 31st.
The group says to-date, 38 PR agencies have responded and sent data to the group. However, of the 38 that responded, only 28 shared both their diversity data and action plans.
Hold The PRess began posting agency responses on their Instagram page and intends to continue releasing plans as they are received and finalized. Responses include BerlinRosen; DKC; Edelman; Finn Partners; M Booth; RF Binder; Taylor; W2O Group; and Zeno Group.
In many cases, Hold The PRess says, too many agencies did not respond and some agency leaders criticized their requests for data and action plans.
“There are some PRWeek Award agency winners whose HR, CEO, and leaders aren’t so nice and friendly behind the computer screen,” said Sade Ayodele, one of the initiative’s co-founders. She declined to name specific agencies and names of the leaders she mentioned.
Several of the industry’s biggest holding companies, including Dentsu, Publicis, WPP and Omnicom, released their agency-wide data, combining data from all of their PR, creative, and advertising agencies together.
Large PR agencies have then been able to defer to data provided by their holding companies without disclosing the individual agency’s diversity breakdown. For the initiative’s co-founders, this move does not meet their demand for transparency and action.
“There are dozens of agencies we plan to call out that are hiding behind their holding companies,” said Ayodele. “We’re asking for equity, we’re asking for equality and I will never apologize for that.”
While the co-founders acknowledge that the five big holding companies releasing their numbers for the first time is monumental, Ayodele adds, “So, yes, while your holding company may have four percent Black, your actual agency may only have one percent or two percent.”
Standing firmly on accountability, the group points to a lack of progress and transparency over the years to make Black voices a more representative part of the PR industry.
Ayodele tells Marcom Weekly, “We have seen even less progress in ensuring equitable representation of Black professionals in senior and leadership positions. And because this industry does not release or track diversity numbers, it is impossible to tell what, if any, progress has been made. Simply put, you cannot measure what you do not track. These public diversity numbers and action plans will allow us to hold these PR agencies accountable.”
In addition to requesting an individual agency’s diversity data, Hold The PRess urges agency leaders to address how they will take care of their Black employees and ensure they are not overlooked for promotions and raise reviews.
“How are agencies pushing [Black employees] throughout their career, or are agencies holding them back?” asks Ayodele. “We see a lot of people that look like us exit around the director level because that’s usually where we top-off. You don’t see a lot of us reach V.P. or S.V.P., and we definitely don’t make it to the c-suite.”
Looking toward the future, Hold The PRess is implementing a three-phased approach which includes continuing to collect and release data they’ve gathered, sharing the stories and lived experiences of Black professionals in public relations and reviewing progress agencies make in implementing their proposed action plans.
“We do not want this to be a moment, but a movement. We plan to continue to track this data and are currently exploring data partners that we could partner with to track this information for the long term,” says Ayodele. “Additionally, we are interested in sourcing stories from black individuals that work or have worked at these agencies so that we can elevate their experiences and truly showcase the harmful impact of microaggressions, racism, and inequality at work.”
Marcom Weekly will continue to provide updates as the story further develops.
Carla is a correspondent covering people and news features and digital content.