18 Powerful Quotes from Diverse Voices


Recently, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Foundation announced its latest effort in its mission to promote diversity among PR professionals and companies. In its new book, Diverse Voices: Profiles in Leadership, the PRSA Foundation offers a collection of perspectives from 40 senior PR leaders representing diversity across gender, racial/ethnic, and orientation backgrounds. The PRSA Foundation plans to use the book to facilitate discussion events at colleges nationwide throughout the year.

I finished Diverse Voices for myself a couple of weeks ago and was enlightened to read about the problems PR faces in becoming a more diverse profession. However, I also came across some powerful advice that could be beneficial for any professional’s career development.

I’ve picked out 18 of my favorite quotes from the leaders profiled in Diverse Voices that best capture the essence of what it means to be a diverse professional—although I could easily include several more:

1. “When I was trying to break into the profession, there seemed to be a lot of opportunities that were of the “minority fellowship” variety. I rejected those opportunities because I didn’t want to be known as the minority candidate in the office. I wanted to be seen as a qualified individual. Organizations need to find a way to unearth those candidates without labeling them to check off that box.”

—Brenden Lee, Sports Partnership Communications, Twitter

2. “…just a few years ago, I received a phone call from the CEO of a top PR firm. ‘Hey, Mike, I just thought of something great, and I wanted you to know about it right away,’ he said. ‘We’re going to give a thousand-dollar scholarship to one of the HBCUs!’ A thousand dollars! They thought a thousand dollars was going to solve the whole diversity problem. I told him that won’t even pay for a meal plan for one semester… I even talked to some of the kids who received those scholarships. Many of them don’t even work in the profession anymore. They felt abandoned. They believed the rhetoric. And few people even followed up with them after they received the check. It was all about the person who wrote the laughably small check. Sadly, donations like these are not about the students. It was spin, a four-letter word for a reason.’

—Mike Paul, Reputation Doctor, LLC

3. “Diverse students tend to start out at a disadvantage immediately out of the gate. They don’t have the resources to spend their summers working at big city agencies and renting apartments in places like New York or Chicago. So instead of graduating with three or four agency internships under their belts, they’ll have three to four summers working at a fast-food restaurant or coffee shop—just to help pay their school tuition and living expenses. Even before they get started in their professional careers, the diverse kids have to struggle to catch up. They don’t get the advantages of having the real-world experience of an agency, and also miss out on the chance to make connections and begin building their professional networks.”

—Neil Foote, President and Chief Executive Officer, Foote Communications, LLC
Principal Lecturer, University of North Texas Mayborn School of Journalism

4. “As a professor, I often take my classes on field trips to agencies. We went to one large agency…(whose) people kept trying to engage with the one African-American student in the group. They seemed interested in talking to him about a job there. He pulled me aside during the tour and said, ‘…I would never work in a place like this. There’s nobody that looks like me here.’ And he didn’t want to be that sort of poster child, which was how they were making him feel.”

—Pallavi Kumar, Assistant Professor, American University School of Communication

5. “At every corporate or agency job I’ve had, I’ve always been the only one… So that ‘only’ aspect of it is a thing. When people interact with you as an ‘only,’ you can’t help but observe that being an ‘only’ makes you very noticeable. However, there’s another way of looking at the many times I was the ‘only.’ I also was the ‘first.’ If there’s a first, there can be a second and a third until we don’t need to count. But the ‘only’ aspect may be one of the reasons we have a retention issue. Also, having to be twice as good to get to the same place as a non-minority can be tiring.”

—Denise Hill, Assistant Professor of Communications, Elon University School of Communications

6. “When I first started the agency, I found that a lot of the organizations we were approaching, particularly in certain geographic areas, were not open to working with us. It was very challenging to convince people that we could offer something of value… During this period, there were a number of times when I strongly considered not making it known that I was the owner of the agency. I often wondered what would happen if, while I was out on a sales call, I represented myself working for the company versus being the owner. Would the conversations have gone differently?”

—Vanessa Wakeman, Founder an Chief Executive Officer, The Wakeman Agency

7. “More and more companies are mandating diverse representation on their account teams. And increasingly, request for proposals (RFPs) are requiring that information. It’s a business driven by billable hours, and sometimes the diversity piece, the multicultural piece of the RFP, is not the lion’s share of the assignment…and when it’s not…they bring out the ‘multicultural person.’ But then when it comes time to doing the assignment and having the hours assigned to that person, they don’t get it. It behooves clients to hold agencies responsible for that.”

—Helen Shelton, Senior Partner, Finn Partners

8. If you’re a Caucasian person, and want to understand what it feels like to be the only white person, show up at a Black church one day. Go to a soul food restaurant in a part of town you would normally never travel to. See how people look at you and see how you feel to be the only white person. And just try to authentically be yourself. And see if some of the things that happen to minorities end up happening to you.”

—Rochelle Ford, Dean, Elon University School of Communications

9. “Early in my career, I made sure I didn’t get stereotyped and pigeonholed into things that are just about diversity. I had to establish credibility on everyone else’s terms.”

—Michael Sneed, Executive Vice President – Global Corporate Affairs and Chief Communications Officer, Johnson & Johnson

10. “When people find out that you’re good at something, sometimes projects will find you. But you have to be able to articulate what it is that you bring to the table, and then seek to match that up. But don’t use labels like, ‘Well, I only do this or I do that,’ rather than, ‘Here are the skills I have. How can I apply those skills to different challenges that businesses or organizations might have?'”

—Damon Jones, Global Communications Executive and Reputation Strategist, P&G

11. “I’ve long believed that every hiring decision is a leap of faith. It doesn’t matter how many interviews you conduct or how much due diligence you put in or how many references you rely on. At the end of the day there is a gut call you’re making on an individual, diverse or otherwise. And you’re saying, ‘You know what? I’m going to go with this person because somehow I think it’s going to work.’ And sometimes that decision will work out fabulously well; sometimes maybe not so much. But there’s no getting around that.”

—Oscar Suris III, Former Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications, Wells Fargo

12. “Sometimes I remind myself of this parable when I’m dealing with my own employees: A mouse and an elephant are in the same room, and the mouse quickly learns that it has to understand how the elephant eats, when it eats, what it eats, when it sleeps, what happens to it when it gets upset. Does it move around? Does it stay still? The mouse needs to know everything about the elephant just to survive. On the other hand, the elephant is completely unaware—blithely unaware—that the mouse is even there, that the mouse is under all this pressure to survive or what is even important to the mouse and its survival in the room they share.”

—Andrew McCaskill, Senior Vice President of Global Communications, Nielsen

13. “…we need to be strategic, creative and intentional about nurturing mid-level and senior diverse talent. We must be vigilant about preventing vaguely defined notions of ‘cultural fit,’ unaligned with business goals, to impede embracing and developing multicultural professionals. We need to create equitable, inclusive environments that encourage people to bring their full selves to work and support the sense of belonging critical to retaining this essential cohort.”

—Judith Harrison, Senior Vice President, Diversity & Inclusion, Weber Shandwick

14. “… you create an environment, a culture, that brings out there best, not only from women and minorities, but from the quiet people, the loud people, the people who work and think and express themselves differently. This is the difference between representation and inclusion, and that’s another mountain we have yet to scale. But if you want to win, you have to be relentless about it, all of it.”

—Jon Iwata, Executive-in-Residence, Yale School of Management
Senior Advisor and Former Chief Brand Officer, IBM

15. “The moment that you feel like you’re welcome, contributing and creating value, that’s when the magic starts. That’s when we feel like we can make a career out of our job or a specific company. When we bring our whole self to work it benefits shareholders, leaders, colleagues and ourselves. It’s a win-win for everyone…”

—Lisa Chen, Head of Internal Communications, Distribution and Go-to-Market, Google Cloud, Google

16. “So I think if you’re a person of color and you’re trying to remain purely professional on the job, that is not a good strategy. We have to bring our whole selves into the workplace and be known for all of that richness and strength. That is our superpower!”

—Patrice Tanaka, Founder and Chief Joy Officer, Joyful Planet

17. “…when it comes to young diverse talent, we need them to be the owners of their career and not the victims. We need them to find mentors, not wait for someone in HR to assign one. And we need them to become masters of their craft. After that it comes back to my grandfather: Keep learning and never forget who you are and where you came from.”

—Mike Fernandez, Chief Executive Officer, Llorente y Cuence
Professor, Boston University

18. “If I could go back and tell my younger self what to say to the woman who implied I was more desirable on paper, I would answer, ‘That’s nothing compared to how much better I am in person!'”

—Sheryl Battles, Vice President, Communications and Diversity Strategy, Pitney Bowes

Diverse Voices is available through its website in paperback or digital form. You can also purchase it through Amazon in all formats. I’m looking forward to seeing how this book and the PRSA Foundation move the needle in creating a more diverse and inclusive profession.

From Detroit Publicist to DC Professional: A Young Pro’s Journey to the APR

DISCLAIMER: This blog first appeared as a Pulse article on my LinkedIn page at the request of the APR Committee of PRSA’s national headquarters. You can read it here for your reference.

In September 2014, I found myself out of full-time work again for the fourth time since earning my bachelor’s degree in marketing and management. In my short career, I was one of the fortunate graduates to have held jobs related to my degree.

There was just one problem: even I didn’t want a job related to my degree. I wanted to do public relations.

And I didn’t just want to do public relations. I wanted to master it.

With that, I started my APR journey in July 2015 by enrolling on campus as a master’s degree student in public relations at the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. There, I would meet my first APR: my program chair, Dr. Rochelle Ford. She would offer a few of us in my cohort the unique opportunity to earn our degrees by dually working towards completing our APR.

The coursework I would complete as part of my master’s program would serve me well in taking the first steps towards earning my APR.  They delved deeper into the introductory knowledge of PR I already had from my undergraduate and freelance experience, and the material from my APR study guide would help me advance even further.

I started seriously preparing for the APR in late 2016, and worked closely with a professional assigned by Suzanne Lundin Ross, the APR chair of the PRSA National Capital Chapter. For the Readiness Review, I presented a campaign from my brief time with McKinney & Associates, my first job in DC. Even though I didn’t develop this program, I did the best I could to tie my portfolio and candidate questionnaire answers back to the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that I would be evaluated on. All in all, my presentation lasted close to an hour, with 20 minutes of discussing the program and 40 minutes of questions and answers from my panelists. The moment after I left the room to let the panelists deliberate on their decision came the longest four weeks of my life: waiting on my results.

They would arrive in the mail in late July 2017. I didn’t advance.

Admittedly, I took the news pretty hard, but still I knew I needed to request feedback addressing where I went wrong. I only missed passing by two points, mostly because I didn’t have enough management experience.

More determined than ever, I worked with an additional coach to make revisions to my questionnaire and presentation. Going into my second attempt, I demonstrated my management skills by approaching it as if I were presenting two programs: the first based on what actually happened; and the second based on how I would do things as the creator of the program. My aim was to control the narrative by bringing my program full circle. Whereas the Q&A portion of my first presentation felt excruciatingly long, the second time it felt like a breezy 10 minutes. I had a much better feeling leaving the room this time.

I received my advancement letter in December 2017. The final hurdle would be the computer-based exam. To prepare for it, I re-read chapters from Cutlip & Center’s Effective Public Relations, 11th Edition – a book I was required to get for one of my first courses at Newhouse – during my work commutes. The entire process took me three months to complete, with a few days of vacation in LA in between!

And on a Friday in early April, I did it.

Earning my accreditation gave me the deeper knowledge of public relations that I was looking for almost four years ago. Back then, I thought my endgame was to land media placements and increase social media followers. Now, I know that true public relations professionals are consistently monitoring the environment for opportunities and threats, and encouraging their organizations to proactively adapt to these changes. I’m looking forward to the ways I can influence behavior change for meaningful missions.

What a different four years makes!

Find out more about #TheAPRDifference at http://www.praccreditation.org/

Ten PR Lessons from Confessions of an Advertising Man

Most public relations professionals would tell you that differentiating themselves from their peers in marketing and advertising has become a part of the daily duties. So why then would a PR professional ever be interested in reading a book titled, Confessions of an Advertising Man?

I recently read David Ogilvy’s book for my PR Management course at Newhouse. Believe it or not, Confessions of an Advertising Man draws many interesting parallels for PR professionals to consider in their own line of work. Here are my ten favorite quotes and their relation to PR:

  1. IMG_20160218_103802“You don’t have to be a Christian to behave like a gentleman” – One of the more humorous quotes, PR professionals (or all reasonable professionals) should conduct their work ethically and as if the entire organization depends on it. (See Arthur W. Page Society principles)
  1. “Imitation may be the ‘sincerest form of plagiarism,’ but it is also the mark of an inferior person” – Being authentic goes a long way in PR.
  1. “It is easy to be beguiled by acres of desks, departments, and other big agency appaurtenances. What counts is the real motive power of the agency, the creative potency” – Bigger isn’t always better when you’re trying to find the perfect agency to work with or work at. Remember: quality over quantity.
  1. “A habit of graceful surrender on trivial issues will make you difficult to resist on those rare occasions when you must stand and fight on a major issue” – Not every disagreement with a client is worth being right over. PR professionals must often pick and choose their battles.
  1. “When you sit down to write your body copy, pretend that you are talking to the woman on your right at a dinner party. She has asked you, ‘I am thinking of buying a new car. Which would you recommend?’ Write your copy as if you were answering that question” – In other words, most PR writing should be factually-based with limited “fluff.”
  1. “I never tell one client that I cannot attend his sales convention because I have a previous engagement with another client; successful polygamy depends upon pretending to each spouse that she is the only pebble on your beach” – The best leaders in PR are able to deliver personalized solutions for their clients’ needs.
  1. “…I praise my staff as rarely as Pitard praised his chefs, in the hope that they too will appreciate it more than a steady gush of appreciation” – Maybe not everyone will agree with this one, but it’s something to think about when trying to avoid becoming complacent.
  1. “…I see red when anybody at Ogilvy, Benson & Mather tells a client that we cannot produce an advertisement or a television commercial on the day we have promised it. In the best establishments, promises are always kept, whatever it may cost in agony and overtime” – For PR professionals, time management and teamwork are key to avoiding such situations.
  1. “I have never wanted to get an account so big that I could not afford to lose it. The day you do that, you commit yourself to living with fear. Freightened agencies lose their courage to give candid advice; once you lose that you become a lackey” – Whether you’re just starting out your career or an established firm owner, PR professionals should never put all of their eggs into one basket.
  1. “I admire people who work with gusto. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, I beg you to find another job. Remember the Scottish proverb, ‘be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead” – Sounds easy enough, right?

As a fairly quick read, it’s no wonder Confessions of an Advertising Man is considered a classic for business professionals. I highly recommend it for professionals at all levels.

My Road Map to a Successful Career in PR

This week is my first of two weeks off from my master’s program at Syracuse University. While I don’t have a blog post that’s due for a class, I figured that I’d maintain a habit of blogging every week as I’ll be doing the same starting fall semester for my advanced writing class.

Anyway, to pick up where I left off with my last blog post, I’m definitely pleased so far with my decision to pursue a master’s degree in public relations. Perhaps what I’ve been most thankful for is my ability to use my course projects for my portfolio to share with prospective employers. Now that the summer session is over I’m turning my attention to finding internship and job opportunities, preferably with nonprofit organizations.

tumblr_l4zu1eCcMv1qa9gi9o1_400It’s really no secret why I have a special interest in nonprofits. As you know, I’ve been telling the stories of organizations in Detroit for four years prior to enrolling at Syracuse. What hasn’t always been clear though were my ultimate career goals. However, as I’ve had time to prepare and embrace what I want from my program I’ve determined four career paths which I wish to pursue:

  1. Nonprofit PR for youth-serving organizations – The work that I’ve done with organizations in Detroit the past few years have been some of my greatest accomplishments as a professional. After I’d see an organization get published for their work in the Detroit News or Detroit Free Press I’d always say to myself, “Man, I can’t wait to make a career out of this!” After all, there are few things better than showcasing youth in a positive light.
  2. Community relations for professional sports teams – This one is kind of a new interest for me. My interest in this as a career choice became clearer as I’ve thought of ways to combine my love of community and sports. Specifically, I love the work that Sam Abrams does with the Detroit Tigers as he’s constantly informing local baseball coaches of ways to get their youth involved with the team’s programs.
  3. Running my own small communications firm – With the way the economy sometimes works, it’s no wonder why people are taking control of their own futures by working for themselves. Sure, the idea of finding and maintaining clients is scary as they are your primary source of income, but it’s also just as rewarding to be your own boss and have more control over your schedule.
  4. Teaching at the college/university level – I’m really intrigued by the idea of being able educate and train the next generation of communications professionals. With time, I think it’d be cool to develop a PR program from scratch and turn it into one of prestige. Pursuing this as a career path may require some additional years of school, but at least Ph.D.’s get paid for by the university, and not the other way around!

As the fall semester starts it’ll be interesting to see where my grad school experiences lead me. One thing I’m confident of though is that now that I have an idea where I want to go I can use my connections at Syracuse to create a plan for getting there.