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Feb. 4, 2009


"It is ironic that we have a black president, Barack Obama, the leader of the free world, and the PR Society board has no executives of color," said Mike Paul, president and senior counselor of MGP and Associates PR, New York.

He noted that the ad industry, including PR as well as media buyers and suppliers, is under attack by the Madison Avenue Project which charges it with "pervasive racial discrimination."

Update: PRS VP-PR Arthur Yann contacted Paul Feb. 4 via e-mail, saying that Paul is a "very responsible counselor," and asking Paul whether the story quoted him accurately. Paul said he responded that he would like to answer that question face-to-face in an "official meeting with Yann and Cherenson as soon as possible." As of 3:10 p.m. today, there has been no response from Yann.

Update 2: Yann responded to Paul’s request late this afternoon with an e-mail statement that said "Should Mr. Paul demonstrate that he is serious about furthering the cause of diversity within the PR industry and gain an informed position about the Society’s own diversity efforts, we will be happy to meet with him." Paul responded to this by saying: "I think a meeting will happen with Society leadership and myself soon. I have confidence it will. I have had an excellent relationship with past Society leadership and expect that to continue."

Update 3: Yann e-mailed Feb. 5 a.m. that a meeting of Cherenson and Paul will take place next week.

Cyrus Mehri, civil rights lawyer who helped win landmark discrimination cases against Coca-Cola ($193 million) and Texaco ($176M), unveiled a study last month showing that few minorities are hired, they are segregated, and paid 80 cents for every dollar that comparable white employees make.

Mike Paul
Mike Paul

The study found that African Americans are only 3.2% of the ad/PR industry's upper management when the average is 7.2% in similar professions.

Paul decried the fact that there are no persons of color running a global PR operation and none that are the head of a top ten PR firm.

He said that there aren't even people of color running any of the dozens of divisions of global firms.

Mike Cherenson, chair of PRS, did not comment when the subject was raised to him in an e-mail yesterday. Only he and VP-PR Arthur Yann are allowed to speak in behalf of PRS or about PRS.

The 2009 board members at their first meeting Jan. 23-24 were "required" to sign three oaths of confidentiality, including one that bars them from speaking for the Society. PRS will not reveal the wording of the three oaths.

Suitable Candidates Available

"The excuse that ‘We can't find suitable minority candidates' is no longer acceptable," Paul said. "If any firm needs help in finding candidates I will do that ," he added.

Civil rights lawyer Cyrus Mehri said that African Americans are only 3.2% of the ad/PR industry's upper management.

He called on PRS board members to have the "humility" to accept that they are causing "embarrassment" to the PR industry and to take quick steps to rectify the situation by appointing "senior counsels" to the board.

There were two such senior counsels on the 2008 board — Dave Rickey of Montgomery, Ala., and Mary Beth West of Maryville, Tenn.

"I will sit down with the board and go over the names of suitable candidates," said Paul. "This is a crisis situation," he added.

New board members work for such companies as Travelers (Gail Liebl); Scripps (Gary McCormick), and Mayo Clinic (Kathy Barbour). Lynn Appelbaum is with CCNY, Steve Grant with the National Education Assn. and Deborah Silverman with Buffalo State College. Don Kirchoffner, an independent counselor, was with the U.S. Army.

All such organizations have strict anti-discrimination and pro-active minority hiring programs.

Ad/PR Industry Under Attack

Paul, along with Fraser Seitel, author and O'Dwyer columnist, are the two PR pros who most appear on national TV and radio interview and news shows.

Paul made about 300 such appearances in 2008. He said blacks have made little progress in entering the executive ranks of PR firms since he started his career in 1992.

He credited Harold Burson with being his mentor and said people of color should not hesitate to seek help from white executives since there are so few minority executives in the industry. "Be humble and seek help," advised Paul.

It is important that people of color be in high positions to serve as role models for minorities, he said.

'Pervasive Racial Discrimination'

The Madison Avenue Project this year released a study that found "pervasive racial discrimination" not only in avoiding minority hires but paying such hires less than other workers.

The study said ad agencies under-hire and segregate African-Americans and pay them only 80 cents for every dollar it pays comparable white employees.

Mehri, who is with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Mehri & Skalet, said that current integration efforts are doing little more than "blaming the victims."

The study is called "Research Perspectives on Race and Employment in the Advertising Industry."

African-Americans 'Robbed'

The ad industry, "for decades has robbed the African-American community of equal opportunity, equal positions, and most important, equal dignity," said Mehri at a press conference in New York in early January also attended by representatives of the National Assn. of Colored People, activist Sanford Moore and economists Marc Bendick and Mary Lou Egan.

The New York City Commission on Human Rights, after a four year investigation, last year won signed agreements from 16 major agencies to fight discrimination.

Paul Cites Work by Hunter

Paul said Los Angeles PR counselor Kim Hunter has worked hard to improve career opportunities for people of color.

Kim Hunter
Kim Hunter

Hunter, president of Lagrant Communications, Los Angeles, wrote in PR Week/U.S. Dec. 22, 2008, that clients are asking their PR firms about the lack of ethnic minorities among their staffs and that the firms should "take action now" instead of waiting for "a lawsuit."

He said "two large, general market PR firms" recently asked him why they could not recruit African Americans.

Big Firms Lack Minority Execs

He pointed out that the firms had no African Americans running consumer or corporate practices, none who were SVPs or EVPs, none who were on the boards of directors, and none who were on the operating committees.

"That begs the question," he told them. "Why would African Americans want to work for you?"

The Lagrant Foundation, set up by Hunter, provides scholarships for minorities. It has contributed $1 million for that purpose in the past ten years.

Both he and Paul are members of Seminar (formerly PR Seminar) and the Arthur W. Page Society.

Comment on this story
Commentaries on subject matter are welcome. Personal attacks are not allowed. O'Dwyer's reserves the right to cover any story it deems newsworthy.


Stuart Z. Goldstein, Managing Director, Corporate Communications, Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (2/06):
The fact that PRS does not have any minority representation on the national board is not only appalling, it is further evidence of the need for substantial reform of this trade group.

PRS is not a group of architects or engineers, it’s suppose to be the “best & brightest” of the communications profession, people who are meant to be advocates for issues that threaten or undermine reputational risk.

But sadly, PRS has yet to put its house in order. It is also the reason Corporate Communications professionals in industry are also not well represented on the PRS board and why they increasingly shun PRS as less relevant to the profession.

PRS is increasingly a trade group that neither advocates for the Communications profession nor do they exemplify the high standards and commitment to openness, inclusion and diversity.

There’s terrific communications talent and innovation on the PR agency side of the profession, but a trade group that allows itself to be majority controlled by small agency/owners is doomed.

PRS lacks the standing, without equal representation from the corporate side of the profession on its board and across its leadership structure, to tell young professionals it speaks for the industry.

The lack of minority representation on the PRS board is not only a black eye for the trade group, it adds to the litany of practices of secrecy and suppressing dissent that are anathema to the core beliefs of the Communications profession.

If the Board and Chapter heads of PRS to not take immediate and decisive action to enact major reform, to fling open the door, to publish all activities of the Board, to recruit and ensure both racial and gender balance-- PR agency and corporate officer balance, rid itself of the trade barriers they’ve enacted and which they wrongly promote to college majors in communications as critical to entry/success (i.e., APR), the Chapter leaders should resign and form a new charter—and a new trade group. We can find a new name. And while PRS will assert that only the Chairman or President can speak for the profession, I respectfully disagree.

I will share this letter with my counterparts in the industry and ask them to renounce PRS and signal their intentions to not engage is PRS programs until a detailed reform agenda is put forward—and this includes addressing diversity.

Washington agency vet (2/05):
A PRS board without one single member of color would be ridiculous in any era, but at a time when diversity is taught as a professional must by PRS and urged by a new president of our nation, it is downright stupid, ridiculous and untenable.

Joe Honick, GMA International Ltd (2/05):
Washington Agency Vet has summed up in fine succinct fashion much that Jack O' has been writing about.

Fed up with PRS (2/05):
Who IS this Yann person? How dare he question Mike Paul's credibility? How credible is Yann, given that he initially posted on Twitter without giving his PRS connection? He only admitted he worked for PRS when someone called him on it and said "why do you say 'we' when you refer to PRS?" He violated the PRS Code of Ethics and should have been fired.

Veep (2/05):
The board is reflective of the industry as a whole and P.R. is very, very white. It's unfortunate, but the society and other goups have worked to improve the diversity in the industry. I can't see forcing an African American member upon the board considering the reality of the situation.

Joe Honick, GMA International Ltd (2/05):
E-mail, e-mail and on and on. Don't any of these characters at the PRS have a telephone and understand the elegance of direct conversation? It sounds like the old Hollywood BS of "Have your people call my people."

Worse, the language of the messages reported here sounds like the nonsensical preconditioned stuff before two nations with mutual problems can get together. it is sad, immature and almost comical.

Former society member (2/05):
Diversity too often is mandatory, but not everyone is more qualified for certain positions simply because he or she is a person of color. On the reverse side of the coin, of course, is the fact that not everyone is qualified simply because he or she is white. From my past membership in PRS, I would say that the latter has too often been the case.

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