The Road More Traveled: Why Black PR Professionals are Creating Their Own Agencies

inspirational-quote-by-giantsqurlIt’s no secret that diversity is lacking in public relations, particularly at the executive level of agencies and corporations. Not only have Caucasian women struggled to break into executive positions, but black men and women have also found their challenges in the profession as well. I’ve talked about this issue in a previous blog post and have given my thoughts on what it’ll take to get more men of color interested in PR. In the weeks since this post, however, I was intrigued to find that the Public Relations Society of America has efforts to increase the presence of minorities in the profession through its foundation. It just so happens that my department chair, Dr. Rochelle Ford, APR, happens to be a trustee for this foundation.

Speaking of Dr. Ford, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to work with her as a research assistant. The project we’re currently working on involves creating high-level messages for the National Black Public Relations Society’s upcoming annual conference. While I can’t disclose the exact findings based on their recent survey, there’s one common trend that I’ve found interesting:

More experienced black professionals are opting to start their own agencies rather than climb the corporate ladder into an executive level position.

It’s apparent to me that blacks, as well as other minorities and Caucasian women, are tired of waiting for the doors of the executive level to be opened to them. Instead of waiting for their chance, underrepresented PR professionals are taking their career destiny into their own hands by becoming employers instead of remaining employees.

This trend is in line with my thinking at times as it pertains to pursuing my career goals in PR. Even at the entry-level, I experienced the same frustrations breaking into the PR profession. In the summer of 2009, I was one of thousands of Detroit teenagers and young adults who went through the excruciating process of applying for a job through the city’s summer youth employment program. To make a long story short, I spent what nearly felt like eight hours waiting in lines to go through the bureaucratic process of potential employment only to have never been contacted regarding where to report for my job site. It was this experience that motivated me to create my own opportunities upon graduating from Northwood as I established myself as a freelance consultant two years later.

Just as I didn’t want to wait for a job opportunity in PR to present itself to me, black mid-career professionals aren’t waiting around to move into executive level positions. Life is too short to wait on the things we truly want out of it. There is nothing wrong with creating the life you want, even if it means taking risks and being uncomfortable. Perhaps by more professionals starting their own firms, corporations in need of high-level PR will take notice of the vast array of capable talent out there and begin to diversify their executive offices.

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.

How I Survived Boot Camp: My First Semester of Grad School

Team members from my press conference group project.

This week I wrap up my summer session “boot camp” for my master’s program at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. The program has been everything I’ve hoped for, but also hasn’t been without its surprises and disappointments. Nonetheless, everything I’ve learned so far has reaffirmed my decision to pursue a master’s degree in public relations.

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

  1. A good story is a relatable story – Our biggest assignment our Writing for News and Public Relations course was to put together a media kit for a fictional event based on a partnership between a corporation, a nonprofit and a celebrity spokesperson. Each student then had to pitch their media kit idea to their class, where only two or three would be chosen to conduct a press conference. I noticed a common trend among the projects that were selected: each of their corporations had strong brand recognition. Among the corporations that were chosen were Bank of America, Disney, Build-a-Bear and the Green Bay Packers. Having a strong brand name, along with some genuinely creative event ideas, is what I believe allowed these students to garner enough votes from their classmates to be selected.
  2. Be humble – One of the reasons why I decided to enroll at Syracuse over my other top choices was my confidence in being able to land a coveted graduate or instructional associate position based on my prior work experience. These positions were particularly attractive to me because they offered tuition credits, which would limit the amount of loans I’d need to take out to cover remaining expenses. While I was granted interviews for two positions, it was disappointing to learn that I wasn’t selected for either. The rejections taught me that while I’m great at demonstrating my abilities on paper I still have room for improvement when it comes to sealing the deal in interviews. I’ve also gained a level of respect for the students that I’ll have to compete against for jobs.
  3. Wordmark largeTrust your instincts – In addition to completing my PR course, I also took a graphic design course learning how to use Adobe InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop. My first assignment in the class was to design a wordmark for my resume. My professor hated my first ten drafts, but when I came up with another ten she saw some that we both really liked – even though it was in a typeface that she admittedly wouldn’t approve of for most people. As it’s pertained to completing other projects, I’ve found that I produce my best work when I’m not concerning myself too much with how my professor will judge me. The more I’ve trusted myself, the better my work has turned out to be.

It truly has been a great start to my master’s program here at Syracuse. I’m looking forward to what the fall semester holds, right after enjoying two weeks off!

PR Strategy: It’s Chess, Not Checkers

Last night’s class with professor Bill Jasso reminded me of one of my favorite Denzel Washington films, “Training Day.”  As we talked about the difference between tactics and strategies, I was reminded of one of the movie’s quotables, “…it’s chess, not checkers!”

When done correctly, PR isn’t a tactical race to capture all of your opponent’s pieces, similar to checkers.  It really is a strategic game of chess to capture the most important pieces – in this case, your publics’ attention – to communicate your message.

To carry out a strategy effectively, you need to follow the R.A.C.E. process:

  1. Research – The first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one. When conducting research, we’re trying to define what it is that we want to accomplish by doing our homework on our clients’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as their external opportunities and threats.  While it’s not shown in the movie, Washington’s character, detective Alonzo Harris, already did his “homework” by the time he first appears in the movie.
  2. Action – Once you’ve gathered enough information about your objective, you now have to create a plan for how to reach it. The best plans are usually “smart” – or specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely – as it provides you with a way to stay focused on the task at hand. Harris created his plan with his recruit, Officer Jake Hoyt (played by Ethan Hawke), in mind based on the “homework” he did on a drug dealer whose house he had to raid for money.
  3. Communication – This is where tactics come into play in the overall strategy as communications tacticians make their living by carrying out the steps and procedures put in place. Through constant communication and reassurance, Harris is able to coax Hoyt into his plan to set him up as the trigger man for the drug dealer’s murder. Harris also safeguarded his strategy by convincing Hoyt to smoke marijuana before the shooting, just in case Hoyt decided to turn Harris in for his true intentions.
  4. Evaluation – The only way to know that you achieved what you set out to accomplish is to measure yourself against your objectives. That’s why evaluation is a crucial final step in the process as it determines how successful you really were. One could argue that Harris didn’t properly evaluate his strategy to pay off his debt to the Russians, which is why Hoyt ultimately came back to attack him and take the money Harris was going to use from the murdered drug dealer. Needless to say, Alonzo’s strategy failed as he was gunned down by the group of men he owed money to.

In public relations, effective strategies are needed to achieve a clients’ organizational objectives.  Executing this strategy involves the utilization of carefully planned tactics.  From this perspective, patience in developing strategies is the key to success in PR.  After all, “it’s chess, not checkers.”

PR’s Golden Rules: Traits for Professionals to Live By

Have you ever noticed how everything has rules?  Yes, everything from the United States Constitution to your mom’s household has a defined set of guidelines, principles and procedures that must be met in order to avoid facing consequences.  However, the rules of public relations aren’t exactly set in stone, as I learned in professor Bill Jasso’s class last night. Sure, the Public Relations Society of America has its own “credo” for members to follow; but so does the International Association for Business Communicators and the dozens of other PR-related professional associations around the world.  With each of these conflicting views, it’s no wonder why PR isn’t taken as seriously as a profession worthy of respect.  After all, the scope of PR work is so broadly defined, how could any one be allowed to determine who is and who isn’t a PR professional?

One thing that’s for certain though is that PR professionals are not only defined by the skills that they have, but also by the way they carry themselves within their profession.  Here are three important traits (or “rules”) I think are important for PR professionals to have:

  1. Accountability – PR professionals must own the work that they do for their clients and be held responsible if or when their plan doesn’t go exactly according to plan
  2. Honesty – As much as possible, PR professionals need to be forthcoming when they’re communicating on behalf of their clients in order to earn their publics’ trust
  3. Impartiality – While PR professionals exist to serve as advocates, they must remain fair when dealing with their audience to ensure a two-way communication

When it’s all said and done, PR professionals should keep this quote from John Kultgen in mind throughout their careers:

“If I have done my job well for the right purpose, my life has substance and meaning. If I have done my job poorly or for the wrong purpose, I have squandered my life, however much I have prospered.”

I believe if we all can do this, PR will gain acceptance as a profession worthy of true respect.

Messaging and PR: How Do You Want It?

2pac-6One of 2Pac’s most popular songs as a recording artist came in 1996 when he collaborated with singing duo K-Ci & JoJo to release, “How Do U Want It?”  It’s the same question public relations professionals have to ask when crafting messages to their “publics,” also known as stakeholders.  This was discussed last night in professor Bill Jasso’s weekly PRL600 course, when he provided methods to distinguish publics.

When we as PR professionals plan to communicate with certain publics, they become a priority public, or the focal point for our efforts. However, what may work for one group of priority publics may not work for other. That’s why, Jasso said, we can segment our priority publics through three layers:

  1. Nominative – At this level, publics are segmented based on the titles they hold. For an organization, these segments likely include stockholders, community residents and employees. For 2Pac and his record label, his nominative publics were his producers, label mates and listeners of his music.
  2. Demographics – From the nominative level, publics are then segmented based on traits like race, gender and education. For example, there are immediate differences between a 35-year-old black community resident, and a 65-year-old Caucasian community resident. As an artist, 2Pac intended to make his music for people who shared his same demographic background – black people in the United States of almost all ages with little-to-no education.
  3. Psychographics – This is where PR professionals make their living: in their ability to understand their priority publics’ interests, attitudes, beliefs and behavior. Using the same example, if you now have two age 35 black community residents, you probably wouldn’t communicate the same message to one with a six-figure income as you would to another earning minimum wage. In this case, the communications professional has to be able to come up with messages that speak to both of these community residents. In the case of 2Pac, however, his music impacted listeners because they were able to relate to him on an attitudinal and behavioral level.

In a perfect world, PR professionals would be able to communicate the same message to multiple priority publics and be appreciated for their work like 2Pac was. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and we have to put in the extra work for our message to be understood. It’s a challenge that seems daunting, but can also be rewarding at the same time.

What Will it Take to Diversify Public Relations?

(Randy Glasbergen/
(Randy Glasbergen/

Let’s just state the facts: I’m just another black man who wants to break into a predominantly Caucasian profession. Not only was I reminded of this when I read Chapter 2 of Cutlip and Center’s Effective Public Relations textbook for my PRL600 course, but I was also reminded of it when I attended professor William Jasso’s class last night. While the profession as a whole has been slow to diversify in terms of both gender and race, the overwhelming lack of black men in PR makes me, and my two other black male cohorts, feel like novelties. However, there’s only one thing I think we need to further diversify the profession: that is, education.

Without education, I wouldn’t have even known that PR would be something I’m interested in, since my first teachings of it didn’t come until the spring term of my freshman year at Northwood University. In addition, since PR is still a relatively new profession, it’s not widely discussed in the outdated curriculums of inner-city, poverty-stricken high schools like the one I graduated from. Therefore, where there is a lack of awareness of the profession, there will also be a lack of black men who will become capable enough of introducing it as a career option to other young men who have yet to determine or define their career path.

Through the Better Detroit Youth Movement, I had the opportunity to speak about the "do's and don'ts of social media to ninth graders from Cody High School.
Through the Better Detroit Youth Movement, I had the opportunity to speak about the “do’s and don’ts of social media to ninth graders from Cody High School.

That’s where I, an aspiring professional, hope to fill in the gap; and, to a small extent, I’ve already began doing this. Before I came to Syracuse, I spent time on Monday afternoons at the Don Bosco Community Center in Detroit speaking to ninth graders from Cody High School about the “do’s and don’t’s” of social media. I used “urban” references in order to relate to my audience, who were already exhausted from spending a warm May day in a building lacking consistent air conditioning. While it wasn’t the most professional presentation, I achieved my goal of showing these black youth teenagers how cool this profession can be and created a desire for them to learn more about what it beholds.

I know that there are several black men out there who are successful as PR professionals. If we come together, we can give back to our communities and influence the next generation of black men to break through PR’s glass ceiling of diversity.

PR, Storytelling, and Saturday Night Live

Eddie Murphy in costume for Buckwheat scene on Saturday Night Live. (Screenshot from
Eddie Murphy in costume for Buckwheat scene on Saturday Night Live.

As an improv comic I always knew there was something special drawing me into public relations.  Sure, improv is a great space for me to get a few laughs out of my random moments.  However, last night I was reminded of another similarity between the two when I attended professor Bill Jasso’s Public Relations Principles and Practices course for my master’s program at Syracuse. Both improv actors and PR professionals are judged primarily on one thing: the art of storytelling.

Think about it: When you’re storytelling as a PR professional, you’re advocating for the work your organization does so that it builds a favorable reputation with its audience. Similarly, actors (comedic or not) tell stories on behalf of the characters they portray, using their talents to convince you that they are who they want you to believe they are.

The sweet art of storytelling consist of three components:

  1. Protagonist – One of Eddie Murphy’s most memorable characters from Saturday Night Live is Buckwheat, a singer with an obvious speech impediment and infectious smile. PR professionals have their own Buckwheat (the client) that they’re in charge of finding a unique characteristic to engage their audience with.
  2. Conflict – Naturally, Buckwheat, with his unique speech impediment, has a challenge pronouncing some very common songs. Buckwheat’s challenge would be much more serious, if it weren’t so entertaining. Meanwhile, the challenge PR professionals constantly face is finding ways to keep their client relevant in a world that constantly pulls our attention spans elsewhere.
  3. Resolution – After trying (and failing miserably) to enunciate several songs, the audience is forced to come to the conclusion that Buckwheat just has speech issues; however, the audience is okay with that because Buckwheat offers tremendous entertainment value. On the other hand, PR professionals have a wide array of results they can achieve for their clients. Ultimately though, it’s up to them to define success for the stories they have to tell.

In the end, PR professionals are nothing more than Eddie Murphys, Wayne Bradys and Jim Carreys representing organizations. Each have stories to tell and it’s their responsibility to persuade the audience to believe they, or their client, offers credibility – and hopefully, entertainment value.

How to Define PR (in 12-year-old terms)

The other day I was talking with my players as we were getting ready for a game. Well aware that I wouldn’t be able to stay for the full season this year they asked me a few questions about my future plans. A question about grad school came up and it went something like this:

Player: “So coach, you already have your Bachelors?”
Me: “Yep.”
Player: “So what are you getting your Master’s in?”
Me: “Public relations.”

 *Assistant coach busts out in laughter*

Player: “What is that?”
Me: “I’m basically learning how to make people look good.”
Player: “You mean like makeup?”

Obviously this wasn’t what I wanted my players to think I was leaving them for. So I had to ramble off a few different analogies to better explain myself. Granted, these are 11- and 12-year-olds that I coach from the inner-city, so rattling off textbook definitions wasn’t going to work here. And while I eventually settled on a definition that they could understand, the question really had me thinking on a different topic.

How would you define PR in 12-year-old terms?

Continue reading How to Define PR (in 12-year-old terms)

Shooting for the Moon: How I Made My Decision to Pursue Graduate School


Last Friday afternoon I took a major step towards pursuing a career in public relations by officially sending my security deposit for the Master of Science in Public Relations program at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Getting to this point was a long journey that started around the beginning of September. From researching the top graduate PR programs to actually making a decision between the five schools I was accepted into, the long process has finally played itself out in order for me to come to this decision.

But, how did I get to this point to begin with? That’s an interesting story…

Continue reading Shooting for the Moon: How I Made My Decision to Pursue Graduate School