Diversity Distinction in PR Awards 2012: Inclusive effort

The Council of PR Firms and PRWeek present the winners of the second annual awards program recognizing best efforts to promote diversity within the industry's ranks.

To see winners and judges discuss the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards 2012, click here.


The Council of PR Firms and PRWeek present the winners of the second annual awards program recognizing best efforts to promote diversity within the industry's ranks.

Diversity and inclusion “are playing an increasingly important role in the vibrancy of the PR business,” says Kathy Cripps, president of the Council of Public Relations Firms. “We created the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards in partnership with PRWeek to honor excellence in leadership and to promote ethnic diversity within the PR sector. In just its second year, the awards are shining a light on the best practices taking place in our industry.”

The Council and PRWeek are committed to these awards and the cause. As the program evolves annually, judges will look for the type of excellent work highlighted here, but will also cast a strong eye on firms and in-house arms that not only get involved with diverse groups, but who parlay those relationships into greater representation among their own employee base.

Campaign quality will remain paramount, of course, but how those efforts directly impact the organizations' diversity objectives will also be top of mind. Going forward, the hope is that the work with existing community programs will lead to even more customized efforts that are specific, original, and sustainable.

Entries were accepted from late April to late June in five categories, up from three in 2011: Best PR Firm Diversity Initiative (more than $10 million in revenue); Best PR Firm Diversity Initiative (less than $10 million in revenue); Best Community Initiative – PR Firms; Best Community Initiative – In-House; and Diversity Champion.

Winners were chosen by the esteemed judging panel of (clockwise from top left) Alvaro Cabal, multicultural comms manager, Ford; Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates PR; Jaya Bohlmann, founder, chief consultant at Designing Communication and former VP of PR at Sodexo; Rochelle Ford, associate dean, research and academic affairs at Howard University; Mike Fernandez, corporate VP, corporate affairs, Cargill; and Latraviette Smith, former VP, global diversity and inclusion, American Express.


Best PR Firm Diversity Initiative: More than $10m in revenue

Weber Shandwick

“Diversity is not just a priority, but part of the culture,” said one judge of Weber Shandwick's intensified efforts, which earned top marks in this category that honors programs to improve ethnic diversity so it permeates the entire agency.

The firm delivers live, customized diversity and inclusion training in multiple US offices. It also taps one high-potential candidate a year to attend “Strengthening the Pipeline,” the flagship, five-day program offered by The Executive Leadership Council, a premier group of senior black Fortune 500 executives.

Weber's Minneapolis office cofounded Twin Cities MERGE (Multicultural Employee Resource Groups for Excellence) with sister IPG shops Carmichael Lynch Spong and Campbell Mithun. MERGE is a collection of business resource groups for staffers who identify with specific affinity communities. Its Detroit office partnered with the Ron Brown Scholar Program, a nonprofit that offers scholarships and opportunities to young black students of outstanding promise.

The tangible results of Weber's efforts also impressed the judges. In 2011, the firm nearly quadrupled the number of diverse senior-level hires over 2010.

“Leadership genuinely understands what it takes to have true ‘diversity and inclusion,'” asserted one judge.

Commendation: Judges lauded Porter Novelli and Fleishman-Hillard. “Porter displays a great vision for diversity and inclusion, driven by its own council,” says one judge. Of Fleishman, another says, “Its pioneering diversity efforts deserve acknowledgment.”


Best PR Firm Diversity Initiative: Less than $10m in revenue

Widmeyer Communications

In summer 2010, Widmeyer Communications extended its agency-wide commitment to increase minority participation. The results of that effort impressed judges to the point where the Washington, DC-based firm was awarded this honor.

“Its long-term intent to keep integrating diverse new hires – at all levels – demonstrates how serious Widmeyer is about this,” notes one judge.

Under the direction of chairman and CEO Scott Widmeyer (pictured center), a key part of the program is working with universities on various levels. For example, in 2011 and 2012 the firm took part in job fairs at Howard University, a historically black college. Many viable candidates were developed for Widmeyer's fellowship program.

In addition, the agency got involved in community outreach programs such as Prime Movers in Washington, DC, which allows local high school students interested in a PR career to spend time shadowing Widmeyer staffers. Three students – including two minorities – were hosted in the DC office on May 4.

At the end of the day, though, results must match intent. In this regard, Widmeyer stood out. The firm hired three black students. Several minority employees were also promoted from the rank of Fellow. At the more senior level, two of its eight VPs or SVPs are black, while another was recently hired as a senior digital producer and project manager. Overall, out of the 17 newest employees, 10 are minorities.

“Impressive and broad outreach along with executive commitment produce a winning combination,” said one judge. “Hiring 10 minority pros out of 17 says it all.”


Diversity Champion

Harold Burson

In a storied career marked by many accolades, Harold Burson's contributions to the diversity cause haven't necessarily jumped to the forefront. This year's judges did their part to change that by naming the industry icon Diversity Champion, which honors an exceptional PR pro whose actions amplify and advance the cause.

“When others were paying lip service to diversity,” said one judge, “he was mentoring and hiring some of the top diverse talent in the industry.”

Upon founding his firm in 1953, Burson emphasized the hiring of both women and minorities.

His commitment to the cause continues. In April 2011, Burson donated $50,000 to The Lagrant Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to foster ethnic diversity in the PR sector. His contribution facilitated the creation of the “Harold Burson Fellowship Program,” with a mission of developing grad students into PR's future leaders.

Danielle Chase (pictured right), the first Harold Burson Fellow, cites the legend's mentorship and guidance as the greatest contributing factors to her success. Perhaps the finest testaments to Burson's legacy are the myriad senior-level pros he has mentored. Among them are Nelson Fernandez, MD of APCO Worldwide's New York office, and Eileen Lim, who began in an entry-level role at Burson's Hong Kong office and is now SVP of communications at Swiss Re in the US.

Commendation: “She has taken an issue where many have been ineffective and secured C-suite buy-in,” notes one judge of Judith Harrison, SVP, staffing, diversity, and inclusion at Constituency Management Group. Of Sonia Sroka, SVP, director of Hispanic marketing at Porter Novelli, one judge says, “She is behind programs that will increase diversity in PR for years to come.”


Best Community Initiative: PR firms

Weber Shandwick, “Mentoring with The Social Circle”

This award celebrates leadership or support of a community service project or group that promotes diversity, fights discrimination, or empowers a specific demographic. Top marks go to Weber Shandwick for its high school mentoring program The Social Circle.

Weber teamed with Big Brothers Big Sisters Detroit to teach social media skills to 15 students at Southfield High School, which has a highly diverse student body. The goal was to present PR as a potential career path.

The Social Circle was run by the youths under Weber staffers' direction. With Big Brothers Big Sisters as the client, various projects included the creation of a video to encourage adults to become a “Big.”

The program was bolstered by employee buy-in, as 70% of Weber's Detroit office played a part. And as an ongoing initiative, it has also set up a pipeline for future internships and possible staff posts at the firm.

“I hope to work with people like that someday,” said participating student Loren Coleman. “I learned a lot.”

“The Social Circle is innovative and original,” noted one judge. “It has incredible potential.”

Commendation: Edelman's work with Howard University's Adopt-a-Team effort is “a fine example of outreach to a diverse student population,” said one judge. “It creates a long-term pipeline.” Edelman's Junior Achievement of the Year initiative reached 122 students – 94% of them Hispanic, black, or Asian – for a four-year mentorship program. It was lauded by one judge for “showing true commitment to diversity.”


Best Community Initiative: In-house

The American Cancer Society, Eastern Division “Amate a Ti Misma/Love Yourself” 

For its efforts to educate the Hispanic community on the need for mammograms and drive action, the American Cancer Society earned the judges' highest marks for its Amate a Ti Misma/Love Yourself campaign.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Hispanic women. The problem is exacerbated because Latinas wait longer to receive care for reasons ranging from cultural barriers to financial limitations. Teaming with Univision, the US' leading Spanish-language network, the Society created a program to provide free mammograms to the uninsured. Spanish-language PSAs prompted women to get screened at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center on Valentine's Day. Univision produced two pro-bono PSAs featuring on-air talent to aid the effort.

The PSAs were designed to appeal to each woman as her family's caregiver. The message was clear: a mother cannot take care of her family unless she takes care of herself first – by getting a mammogram.

Outreach was bolstered by a broad social media strategy, while Univision aired news segments featuring breast cancer survivors discussing mammograms.

In February alone, PSAs reached 4.6 million Hispanics. So many calls for screenings were received, the program was extended through May. By campaign's end, 4,600 calls were registered, up from 3,337 during a similar effort last year.

“The bilingual effort led to an impressive increase in both calls and mammogram appointments,” one judge pointed out.

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