The business case for social mobility in PR

Encouraging social mobility and diversity are challenges for many sectors and PR  is no exception. Comms pros and diversity experts from Ketchum, Forster, Burson-Marsteller, Taylor Bennett Foundation and Media Diversified tell us why there is a business case for building a more socially mobile and diverse PR industry.

The Social Mobility Commission has revealed that professional people from working class backgrounds are paid an average of £6,800 less than their colleagues from more affluent backgrounds in its latest report. Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said: “This unprecedented research provides powerful new evidence that Britain remains a deeply elitist society.”

Media and other professions the report cites, including medicine, law and academia, remain dominated by people from “more privileged” backgrounds. This was reflected in the PRCA’s 2016 Census, launched last June, and showed that diversity remains a problem in PR. Statistics in ethnicity and class have remained relatively unchanged since 2011.

Gorkana has spoken to comms pros and diversity experts who believe, alongside fairness and social justice, there is also a clear business case for diversity in the profession.

PR must be diverse if media output is to be diverse

Maurice Mcleod, director of campaign group and online publisher Media Diversified, says PR can aid journalism in becoming more diverse as reporters begin to heavily rely on the relationship for fast-paced and accurate news.

“As journalists are required to produce more and more copy to ever tightening deadlines, the power of the well-resourced PR industry continues to grow. PR teams often get to choose what images are used and what stories are told, as many journalists no longer have time to scrutinise the information they are given or in some cases even to rewrite press releases,” he says.

He adds: “Having PR resources delivered from diverse agencies gives journalists options to highlight new stories and challenge perceptions. Journalists – who are over 94% white – rarely have time to develop meaningful links with communities other than their own and so in many cases they rely on the content suppliers, the PR companies, to provide diversity.”

PR is about connecting people and telling authentic stories

Jo-ann Robertson, deputy CEO at Ketchum London, says that the research from the Social Mobility Commission reflects her own experience: PR agencies tend to be more homogeneous in the make-up of their workforce. She argues more diversity would improve the profession.

“Beyond a sense of fairness and social justice, there is a robust business case for diversity.  As a profession, PR is about connecting to people by telling authentic and creative stories. Having a workforce that is representative of our society enables us to connect in a truly authentic way. If we don’t embrace diversity, we risk missing out on talent within our workforce. And without diversity of thinking, we risk omitting – if not alienating – a very significant market for us and our clients.

“I genuinely believe that a diverse workforce leads to more innovative thinking and increased revenue.  That view is borne out by research from various sources (e.g. from McKinsey & Company and the University of Illinois).”

Peter Gilheany, PR director at Forster, adds: “The profession is missing out on the talent, perspectives, insights and experiences of a really diverse workforce. The PR industry often strives for authenticity and needs to be able to communicate the experiences and reality of all the different audiences it seeks to engage.”

Reaching all sectors of society

Sarah Stimson, chief executive at Taylor Bennett Foundation – a body that promotes equal opportunities at work, says that if communications practitioners are trying to reach all sectors of society then it stands to reason that they have a better of chance of achieving that if they are reflective of that society’s demographics.

She continues: “PR firms say they want to hire the most creative and innovative staff but by continually recruiting from the same pool of people they are missing out on talent with different insights and experiences. There’s a strong business case for diversity, the 2015 McKinsey report found that more diverse teams outperform their competitors but more than that, opening up access to the industry to people from all walks of life is just the right thing to do.”

This view is reflected by Stephen Day, chief operating officer at Burson Marsteller UK, who says: “It’s vital that PR companies employ people from a wide variety of backgrounds simply because it makes good business sense.  If you are trying to help clients understand an increasingly diverse and globally minded range of consumers you had better make sure that you have great people who are well placed to do that.  They are more likely to be able to do that if they themselves have a wide array of views, backgrounds and life experiences.

“One of the issues with social media, particularly in political communications, is its ability to provoke group-think – with people imposing filters so they only hear from those they agree with.  By only listening to those who share your outlook you only see half the picture which is damaging to campaigns and leads to badly based decision making.  Therefore having diverse teams of people and views is more important than ever.”

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