Diversity promotes supportive campaigns, brings understanding

By JoAnna LeFlore | Published in Maverick Solutions, December 2010

Among the most popular topics of conference discussions and panel debates lies the issue of diversity between politics and the state of the economy.

At this year’s PRSSA conference in strategies for approaching diversity issues were presented by Jocelyn K. Allen, vice preside of public affairs & corporate communications of General Motors OnStar and Rochelle Ford, Ph.D, associate dean of research and academic affairs at John H. Johnson School of Communications at Howard University. They discussed proposed plans for meeting issues of diversity with tactful and tasteful communicative methods.

In the nation’s capital, the majority of its population reflects people from various ethnic backgrounds and consequentially, the student body aims to emulate this diversity in the future of the public relations industry. But before there can be a balanced representation of diversity, the students must first understand how it influences public relations and how to operate within it.

General Motors has a strategic way to get to know its audience by first acknowledging and seeking the counsel of diverse members of the employees. They do so by creating “infinity groups,” which they consult when trying to market to a specific audience who may match the experiences of these employees. Some of the groups include women (who influence 80 percent of car sales), Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT), Latino Americans and African Americans.

Allen then explains how GM approaches these groups with a few ideas: A great idea for appreciating diversity within the workplace is to find a way to reward your employers with a fun activity. For example, host a mixer type of event where the client or employee meets the company at an offsite public location to test out the product they either designed or use. Invite the media if prominent people are being invited and/or recognized or giveaways are being distributed. Highlight the importance of having a sincere relationship with your audience or employee and create opportunities to get to know them better.

Allen presents four rules for handling diversity:
#1: Know your target audience

When connecting with the LGBT infinity group, they consider real life experiences.
“The importance is that all these diversity factors come together,” Allen says.
She adds that journalists shouldn’t approach individuals asking them to speak for a specific segment just because they seem to be a part of that group. A journalist should take their perspectives seriously.
“This person is talking about something they live and breathe every day, and that’s what makes this credible to this audience,” Allen says. “You’ve got to make sure that you know your audience and also that you’re getting credible spokespeople.”

#2: Build your influencer base

Focus here on building relationships. The majority of the time, PR practitioners are calling out to various journalists.
“As journalists, we support a lot of journalist organizations, many of which are diverse,” Allen says. “We show up to support these groups. We don’t just give our money. That’s important, but we show up to these organization events, we’re there speaking and, in some cases, we are on the board, offer support and that becomes critical and important.”

#3: Be present

“Show that you’re concerned about their issues,” Allen says. “You need to know what their issues are and that you’re willing to do something about them.”
In closing, the professionals left some personal tips for navigating through the public relations field:
“PR is a contact sport. You are always on,” Allen says. “You are always representing yourself or you’re representing the company that you work for.” This business is about people.

• Raise your hands for assignments.
• Find a mentor.
• Learn something new every day.
• Know your professional limits and then find friendly situations to push beyond them.
• Come early, stay late. It gets noticed.
• Network; don’t just collect cards to collect cards. Follow up with people, reach out to them.
• Accentuate the positive. Be known for something that you are good at.
• Take a public speaking course. You need to know how to effectively communicate your thoughts & ideas to others.
• Your bad days are for you only. (Don’t expect your co-workers to care about your problems)

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