We join with the African-American community and all Americans today in honoring Martin Luther King, the pioneer civil rights leader.

However, there’s no question that African-Americans have a low profile in the PR industry.

Image via The King Center
We put some of the blame on the black PR community itself because we rarely hear from any of its organizations.

There is plenty of notice on this website of doings of the PR Society, IABC, Arthur W. Page Society, Publicity Club of New York, (PR) Seminar, Institute for PR, New York Women in Communications, Council of PR Firms, National Investor Relations Institute and others.

They send us a constant drumbeat about their programs, award dinners, elections, national conferences and PR initiatives of one sort or another.

But it’s a blank from the National Black PR Society www.nbprs.org or even its New York affiliate. We receive nothing about new officers, conferences, speeches, position papers, etc.

More than 1,000 members are in BPRS while the National Assn. of Black Journalists, Adelphi, Md., has 4,000 members of whom 700 are PR pros.

Mike Millis of MX2 Design Force announced in November that he is reviving BPRS/NY after three years of “inactivity.” A meeting was held Nov. 30 at Burson-Marsteller.

Paul Advises BPRS/NY

Mike Paul of MGP & Assocs., New York, who set up offices for BPRS/NY when he was at B-M in 1992, said he was glad to hear the group will again be active.

He said that in the past its meetings have been mostly concerned with entertainment, sports and political PR and he urged the new leadership to hold sessions that build financial, marketing, planning and writing skills—the entire gamut of abilities needed by today’s PR pros.

Paul, who has appeared hundreds of times on network and cable TV shows on a variety of topics, said he is still disappointed that none of the top 20 PR firms nor any of the major units of global PR firms is headed by a person of color. He said there is no shortage of qualified candidates and called on the firms to redouble their efforts to find them. He called the situation “a travesty.”

Redmond Heads National BPRS

President of NBPRS is Wynona Redmond, director of PA and government relations, Dominick’s Finer Foods of Safeway, who served on the PR Society board in 2010 as senior counsel with Ofield Dukes. Gold Anvil winner Dukes, who died last year, lost his bid to be an at-large board member of the PR Society in 2010 to Barbara Whitman of Honolulu.

Gary McCormick, 2010 chair, had promised to appoint blacks and journalists to his strategic planning committee but was over-ruled by the board.

Regina Lewis, http://www.odwyerpr.com/blog/index.php?/archives/998-African-American-Seeks-PRSA-Nod.html chief communications officer, the Potter’s House of Dallas and a 25-year PR veteran, failed in her bid to join the 2011 board as an at-large director. She lost to Susan Walton, associate teaching professor, Brigham Young University.

Only two blacks have served on the Society’s board in 65 years—1997 president Debra Miller and 2006 chair Cheryl Procter-Rogers. Ron Owens, the sole black male appointed to the board, quit in 2006 after serving five months of a three-year term.

Stealth Closing of Multicultural Section

Lewis, Paul, Dukes
Regina Lewis, Mike Paul and the late Ofield Dukes
Minority members of the Society were outraged when COO Bill Murray on Dec. 22, 2009 announced dissolution of the Multicultural section after 26 years.

Section members said they weren’t even consulted.

Murray said the definition of “diversity” was being expanded to include not only racial, ethnic and cultural diversity but the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transsexual community and those with physical disabilities.”

Kerri Allen, of the New York Hispanic brand PR firm Revolucion, asked: “On the eve of 2010, what organization would scrap their multicultural initiatives?” Section members said there was no mention of closing the section at the section council meeting at the national conference in San Diego.

A 2008 membership survey found that members give “a very low priority” to diversity issues, said Lynn Appelbaum, national board liaison to the diversity committee.

She said the 73 section members paying an annual fee of $60 was “far below the 200 minimum” required for a section and that a committee, rather than a section, would be “more effective at reaching Society members on multicultural topics.”

PR Prof. Richard Waters of North Carolina State University said that “taking voting away (section chairs have Assembly votes while committees do not) from minority/multicultural members sounds just like the 1800s.” VP-PR Arthur Yann tweeted: “Sounds like the most irresponsible, ignorant comment I’ve heard today.”

Other Twitter posts said the section had no chance to defend itself. The decision was presented as a fait accompli just as h.q. staff was shutting down completely for 11 days to Jan. 4, 2010.

Vallbona Saw Little Diversity in PRS

Marisa Vallbona, running for the board in 2010, called on the Society to “embrace diverse members and cultures” in her position statement.

She said that since joining in 1993 she had noticed that PRS was “primarily dominated by a specific type of member. I’m Hispanic and can count on two hands the number of Hispanic members I’ve met over the past two decades. The same goes for other ethnic groups.”

The black PR societies in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta typically have dues that are under $100. BPRS/NY dues are $50 and $25 for students.
The new national dues rate of $255 of PRS will increase the financial barrier to membership for blacks.

Where Is Madison Ave. Project?

Angela Ciccolo, interim general counsel of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, and Cyrus Mehri, of the D.C. law firm of Mehri & Skalet, published a 100-page report in January 2009 called the “Madison Ave. Project” that said only 5.3% of ad agency managers and professionals were black. The poor economy was worsening the problem, they said.

Mehri said the few blacks with ad jobs only earn 80 cents on the dollar compared to their white counterparts.

Mehri’s law firm had obtained large settlements from companies including Coca-Cola, Morgan Stanley and Texaco on charges of racial discrimination. Coke paid $193 million to settle its suit.

Mehri said he preferred “collaboration” to a lawsuit as a means of obtaining fairer treatment of minorities. There was to be a major push to get clients of ad agencies to demand greater integration at the agencies.

The Madison Ave. Project complained of “decades of systemic and pervasive bias against agency employees and would-be employees who are black, which makes the ad business far more unfair than most other major American industries.”