I started at the bottom and worked my way up in the agency business. After graduating from the Newhouse School at Syracuse, my first job was as a PR agency receptionist, answering the phones and getting lunch for people. It speaks to who I am – I was willing to do whatever it took to build my career and I’m still willing to pitch in and do whatever it takes to create success.
I stayed at that agency for eight years, through two mergers, and became the general manager. Having worked my way through the ranks, I can honestly say I have worked at every position that exists at my agency today.
After several years on the client side at Neiman Marcus in Texas, I came back to Boston to open my own agency, which had been my dream. Twenty years later, I remain hopeful and optimistic both for my agency and for PR as an industry. Today’s young talent is eager to learn and to make the world a better place. That’s great for the future of this business but we have an urgent need for more diversity in the industry. We are all looking for smart, talented, motivated candidates, and the competition is fierce. Increasing our diversity is the answer.
Diversity in expertise
PR is changing; we all seem to agree on that. The evolution of specialized roles is one example, and students graduating and joining the workforce see themselves as having special skills and passions, which they want to see utilized in the workplace. This creates some good problems, and some opportunities for growth and change. Traditionally, the PR industry has seen itself as a place where you get to be yourself, and that needs to be true for everyone. At the same time, PR is about servicing clients and giving them what they need.
Our young associates are excited about integration, digital and social, and other cutting-edge capabilities, but many clients still want the traditional media relations they have gotten from their agencies in the past. Delivering on these sometimes-conflicting desires can be tricky.
Earned media is still at the core of what we do and we have to help the newest employees in our agencies sharpen their placement skills. We have to teach them to get out of their comfort zones and be intellectually curious in order to craft media-worthy stories about their clients.
Gender diversity flips
Gender diversity has been an issue in the industry for some time. We see females dominate numerically at the university level, and through mid-level management at the agencies. But then at the C-suite level, we see it flip right back to a largely white, male-dominated group.
We have to do a better job recruiting young men to the discipline and getting them to stay. And we have to do a better job of retaining women and making the C-level appealing to them. Too many women look at the demands and the work-life balance and say “no thank you” to the most senior-level jobs in our industry.
D&I requires numbers
Diversity and inclusion continues to be a huge challenge to the PR industry. To attract and retain diverse talent, we need to be inclusive. This means welcoming people of different cultures and ethnicities into the field and beginning to learn from them. As part of the solution, I am working with the Newhouse School to recruit students from a variety of backgrounds. When universities are more aware of these issues, we have a more diverse pool from which to recruit bright, young talent.
As we work on building a more diverse candidate pool, we cannot lose sight of the importance of being inclusive within our agencies. For our talent to be authentically true to themselves and be happy at our agencies, all employees need to be able to look around and see people like them and people who are welcoming and supportive. I hold on to the hope that everyone will soon be able to look around their workplaces and have that feeling.
This post is part of the Agencies of the Future podcast. To hear the recorded version, click here.