If living through the challenges of 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the importance of speaking your truth and taking action. When Scott Allison, Andy Hardie Brown and I started Allison+Partners 20 years ago, our goal was to create a positive and entrepreneurial environment where talented people could do great work, thrive and be free from the bureaucracy that often kills creativity. We hired for culture and put into place a strict “no a-hole rule,” which means we have taken our time to find professionals who can deliver, support their colleagues and like to collaborate.
Centering our agency around an amazing work culture has allowed us to be recognized by both PRWeek and PRovoke as one of the “Best Places to Work.” But in building this amazing agency culture, one critical component was missing – a focused effort on DE&I.
The communications industry has a diversity issue and needs to make an intentional effort to improve its DE&I representation. 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows employees in the advertising, public relations and related services industry are 85.4% white. African Americans comprise 6.6% of the industry, while Hispanics make up 7.9%.
To address this within our own agency, we have committed to increasing diversity and ensuring everyone in the agency feels comfortable bringing their whole self to work. As such, we have created an immediate action plan to ensure our practices make our agency a welcoming place for all, which includes our goals to:
- Build a more inclusive and welcoming workplace
- Attract outstanding diverse talent at all levels
- Retain current diverse talent
- Make a positive impact on society
Mentoring students from different ethnicities and backgrounds about potential careers in their fields of study is one step that businesses can do to help create new leaders within the profession and build a diverse talent pipeline. For years, it’s been my pleasure to work with universities and organizations across the country through partnerships with the Public Relations Student Society of America and the LAGRANT Foundation, where we have hosted numerous workshops and programs to educate students about careers in public relations and marketing.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to participate in student webinars with San Diego State University (SDSU), Arizona State University and Bucknell University as part of an effort to reach more diverse audiences. Yet, that was not enough. We reached out to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and I was referred to Felicia Blow, associate vice president for development and campaign director at Hampton University, an HBCU in Virginia. She also serves on PRSA’s executive leadership team. We hit it off immediately. And when I explained our educational and DE&I outreach goals, she introduced us to DàVida Plummer, dean of the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications and assistant vice president of marketing/media for the school.
What started off as an incredible conversation has led to a long-term partnership that has launched several programs we believe will help increase African-American students’ awareness and participation in the public relations industry. Programs include introductions to professional mentors, new national clients for its student-run Brand757 public relations and brand agency that will provide real-world experiences that inspire life-long careers in our industry.
Allison+Partners’ goal is to continue to step up our efforts on representation, create a long-term pipeline of diverse talent that our clients and team members will benefit from, and maintain professional relationships that provide strong mentoring and educational opportunities for students of different ethnicities and backgrounds. Through our partnership with Hampton University, we hope to create opportunities for these students to make an impact in the world outside of their classrooms.
I had a similar opportunity when one of my SDSU classes got to work with San Diego’s Waste Management Department. This led to an internship, and that experience led to meeting Scott Allison, a supervisor at The Gable Group. While working with Scott, the school project and experience I had with the city helped us win our first piece of new business together with the city and County of San Diego Household Hazardous Materials Program.
I believe my experiences in the classroom led to a full-time career, and I know we can create the same types of opportunities that can inspire the next generation of professionals.
Scott Pansky is a co-founder of the agency and leads Allison+Partners’ Social Impact group. He supports the agency’s education, culture, volunteer and mentorship initiatives.