By: Courtney Fogle (@courtnxyfogle)
Ashley René Lee, Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, speaks about the oh-so important need for diversity in the field of PR, but also in all aspects of business AND life. To listen to this episode of PR Hangover, click here.
Ashley says “it’s smart business” to have representation of your publics both internally and externally. PR professionals need to be intentional about showing their audience what their values are. Target audiences should be able to see themselves represented in your brand and be represented correctly. Otherwise, like Ashley has in the past, they’ll choose to give their time and money elsewhere.
Many times, consumers question who was “at the table” when making a big decision for an advertisement, slogan, or entire campaign. Whether avoiding a crisis or identifying an opportunity, having a diverse team can help bring positive representation into advertising and public relations. Ashley gives the examples of H&M, Dove, and other brands notoriously known for poorly representing their publics. Crisis situations can be prevented with proper diversity at the table.
A Diverse Network is Key
Your network typically looks like you, but it shouldn’t. When asked why the higher-ups in the public relations field is predominately white male, Ashley says leaders need to be cautious of how their social circles intersect. Professionals in every industry need to maintain relationships with individuals of all backgrounds, be intentional with their hiring practices, and make sure they have diversity and inclusion in their values.
Asset framing is thinking about the language we use to talk about and to our audiences, taking the negative connotations that come with certain phrases and flipping them into something that’s more empowering. Ashley says it’s a huge trend in diversity and inclusion, and one she and her team use often at Grand Rapids Community Foundation. She says that some of the phrases that were once acceptable are now down-right offensive. Now, they’re trying to give their audiences the microphone and let them use their voice. One example of this process that Ashley gave was taking “at-risk youth” and changing it to “youth with a bright future, overcoming challenges.” As you can see, this change is powerful.
Intentionality with Hiring Practices
If diversity, inclusion, and equity are a strong value for a brand, they need to be made clear during the hiring process. When hiring employees at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation or contracting collaborators for projects, Ashley and her team make an intentional effort to ensure their partners promote racial, social, and economic justice by meeting personally with everyone they’re working on a project with and asking them the tough questions.
She’ll make sure the positioning, writing, lighting, etc. is right for people that are being pictured in a video or photo, so that they’re not accidentally promoting something that will make a negative impact. For some people it’s a different way of work, a different standard to be held to, and a change to be intentional with their thinking and planning for creative projects. She sees growth between agencies and the creative vendors she works with connecting to make a diverse team.
Quick Tips for Diversity & Inclusion in PR
- See Something, say Something. If you see something on a campaign that doesn’t feel right – say it. Your voice is your biggest asset. If you don’t say something, someone else on your team might not catch the same problem.
- Know what you know & know what you don’t know. You’ll never know everything about diversity. Do your research, talk to people, and always be learning – especially when you’re connecting with different target audiences.
To learn more about Ashley, click here.
Courtney Fogle is a junior studying Advertising and Public Relations. She is currently the Podcast Director for PRSSA and an account associate at GrandPR. Courtney is a singer-songwriter, with hopes to combine her love of music and PR so that she can work in the music industry managing artists and their brands. In her free time, you can find her listening to music or taking pictures of her cat, Oliver.