Soon Mee Kim, chief, diversity, equity and inclusion officer of Omnicom Public Relations Group (OPRG), never planned to pursue a career in advocacy, but creating opportunities for others is a skill she cultivated young.
After her parents immigrated to the American South after the Korean War, Kim and her entire family would learn to be integrators and pioneers all at once.
“My father was a professor at various historically Black colleges and universities and our early years included lots of gospel music. Meanwhile, my sisters attended schools named after confederate generals,” says Kim, “and on the weekends, we were building the first Korean churches in the US.”
These experiences taught Kim to acknowledge and celebrate various cultures but “the tensions and the beauty of race and ethnicity were ever-present,” she said, “I just thought that was what it meant to be American.”
Looking back, Kim does not question if her upbringing influenced her current work in diversity and inclusion. “It instilled in me the importance of community, belonging and empathy and it gave me a perspective that can only be cultivated from the margins and by examining multiple cultures.”
Kim, who sees her work more as ministry and activism within the context of diversity, equity and inclusion has been considered a trailblazer for the progress made within the PR industry. With more than 25 years of communications experience, she has received numerous awards for her work towards equity and inclusion.
In February, Kim was awarded the Innovation Achievement SABRE Award. Last year, PR Week named her to the Hall of Femme, and in 2019 PROVOKE recognized Kim as a top 25 innovator for the Americas. She was the PR Council’s Agency Diversity Champion in 2018, while her work as executive vice president and Global Diversity and Inclusion leader for Porter Novelli earned recognition for having the best PR FIRM Diversity Initiatives in representation and culture in 2018 and 2019.
Before the pandemic and nationwide George Floyd protests forced the industry to take a look at its diversity, equity and inclusion practices, Kim initiated an industry-wide diversity pledge that started in 2018.
“I’m in the role I am today because I’ve felt that same frustration. I was always a F.O.D, first only different,” Kim says. “I think it’s important to recognize the places and spaces where we have agency, and identify how to use what power and influence we have.”
In the fall of 2020, OPRG, a global collective of three of the top global public relations agencies worldwide and specialist agencies in areas including public affairs, marketing to women, global health strategy and corporate social responsibility, appointed Kim to chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer — a role that Kim is excited to step into.
“I hope to accomplish quite a lot, where diversity, equity and inclusion is a part of everything we do,” Kim tells Marcom Weekly. “We’re focused on diversity as a moral imperative and a business imperative. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s good for business.”
Kim’s role involves working with 13 agencies and 17 brands to drive systematic equity. In order to do that Kim and her team are committed to making OPRG an anti-racist group of entities. “That means acting with intention and urgency to be more equitable and inclusive of underrepresented communities to better serve our clients, support our colleagues, and create a more just society.”
In the past, Omnicom has been criticized for internal microaggressions and for lacking diversity, equity and inclusion, but Kim is excited about the way OPRG will measure their efforts going forward.
“I think we can all agree that across our industry, our society and our culture, we can and must do better, said Kim. As a whole, I’m really proud of the efforts we are making at Omnicom and OPRG in support of our OPEN (Omnicom People Engagement Network) 2.0 action plan for diversity, equity and inclusion.”
The multifaceted plan includes leadership, talent, representation, recruitment, advocacy and advancement, client communications, supplier diversity, partnerships, learning and development, and accountability initiatives measured by specific KPIs set across each area.
Kim knows that the industry will be looking to see how she addresses diversity, equity and inclusion at OPRG, but she is more than confident about her team and the work they are doing to make the company culturally current.
“It’s an exciting time to be at Omnicom and OPRG. I have the privilege of working with many of the smartest, most creative, innovative people in the industry, and also the most caring and purpose-driven folks. The collaboration amongst our DEI leaders and the resulting innovation and thoughtfulness is unmatched, she said. Progress doesn’t occur overnight, but I certainly believe we are on the right path.”
Rae Onwumelu is a correspondent for Marcom Weekly. Onwumelu's writing and reporting have appeared in The Huffington Post, Blavity and CityBeat. She previously served as a feature writer for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and content specialist for The Educational Theatre Association.