Hidden Figures in Public Relations: Putting a Long-Overdue Spotlight on African-American PR Pioneers

 

Who comes to mind when you think of the pioneers of the public relations profession? Our textbooks taught us the pioneers of our profession—Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays—but this webinar shines a light on those the textbooks missed, the “Hidden Figures in PR,” and provides deeper insight and understanding of the history of our profession.

Led by industry professionals: Denise Hill, Elon University, and Alicia Thompson, now at Edible Arrangments. Introduced by Jada Culver, Public Relations Student Society of America past-president, The University of Alabama.

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Alicia Thompson: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Plank Center webinar Hidden Figures in PR: Putting a Long Overdue Spotlight on African American PR Pioneers. I’m Alicia Thompson, managing director of Porter Novelli Atlanta. And I am joined today by Denise Hill, assistant professor at Elon University, and Jada Culver, PRSFA president at the University of Alabama.

The Plank Center is the leading international resource for practitioners, educators, and students who are passionate about advancing their careers in the public relations profession. Our mission is to help develop and recognize outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models, and mentors who advance ethical public relations in an evolving global society. Today’s webinar topic falls squarely in that mission. Our textbooks taught us the pioneers of our profession, Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays, but this webinar shines a light on those the textbooks missed, the hidden figures. At this time I’d like to introduce Dr. Denise Hill to give us some context for our conversation.

Dr. Denise Hill has more than 30 years of corporate communications and public relations agency experience. Before joining Elon University, she was vice president of corporate communications and public relations at Delhaize America. She previously held the vice president of communications roles at Cigna, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, and Quest Diagnostics. She also served as senior vice president of communications at a division of Wyndham Worldwide. In addition, she has taught strategic communications at New York University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Hill holds a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in communications from Temple University and a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a member of the prestigious Arthur W. Page Society, the American Journalism Historians Association, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America. With that, I will turn it over to Dr. Hill.

Denise Hill: Thank you very much, Alicia. I am delighted to participate in this webinar. So, let’s get started. And Alicia, you mentioned textbooks. Let’s talk about textbooks and some things that we may learn in textbooks. And sometimes the issue is not that the information is inaccurate. In some instances it is. But in other instances, it’s how that information is interpreted. So let’s take a look first about some information that we may have learned in textbooks about history and geography related to an explorer. So let’s look at Christopher Columbus, for example.

One of the things that we learned in textbooks is that Christopher Columbus discovered America. And when I learned this in textbooks and in school, the concept of America was very broad, so by implication, I thought he discovered, and that thought was not corrected, that he discovered the landmass North America, what became the United States. What has changed since then is the way that that information is clarified. So it’s not that Christopher Columbus did not indeed sail the ocean blue in 1492. Yes, he did. However, he did not discover America. So what we now know, and the way we interpret it is that he actually discovered Central America, he didn’t discover it, there were actually people already living there. So Christopher Columbus’s reputation has taken a little bit of a hit. Again, not because the information was inaccurate, that he indeed did not sail across the ocean and go to a new land, but he did not necessarily discover it, and it certainly was not what we now know as America, because the concept of America, we have North America, Central America, and South America. The information about Christopher Columbus has since been clarified. But that was then. That was then.

Let us take a look at another example, a more recent example, that occurred two years ago. So there was a 15-year-old high school student in Texas. And again, the issue is with geography. So he was looking in his geography class textbook, and there was a map of the United States, and there was a section called “Patterns of Immigration.” And what that textbook showed was that the Atlantic slave trade was considered, according to this textbook, immigration. So it conveyed that slaves had immigrated to the United States. However, what immigration means, as we know, and especially now, but immigration means to come to a country and live there. And it also sort of implies that, okay, there were Africans in Africa who said, “You know what? We think we are going to move to the United States in search of better jobs on these plantations.” So this textbook was conveying the slave trade as a matter of immigration, which as we all know is incorrect. So the publisher, the publisher, has apologized, and there’s public relations person who has issued a media statement, they are pulling these textbooks, they are correcting these textbooks.

Okay, we’ve looked at two examples involving geography. What about our very own public relations textbooks? Would that happen in our public relations textbooks? So, our public relations textbooks, and there are many of them, [inaudible 00:05:54] these textbooks focuses primarily on public relations definitions and public relations planning and audiences and strategies and tactics and research, as it should. However, in the beginning of these textbooks, there’s often a brief section on the history of the public relations profession in the United States, as there should be, because having that foundation is very, very important. These textbooks draw primarily from two other textbooks that were written by Scott Cutlip.

So, these two textbooks, The Unseen Power, and Public Relations, a History from the 17th Century to the 20th Century. And the first book that Scott Cutlip wrote was The Unseen Power, written in 1994, and as you can see, this is a heavy textbook with a lot of pages, 776 pages. And when Scott Cutlip was figuring out how to write a history of public relations in the United States, he decided to structure it on people who he identified as the founders of public relations. And he focused primarily on PR agencies and their founders. And in doing so, he identified 17 pioneers. So in 776 pages, there are 17 pioneers. And among these 17 pioneers, there are no minorities. And, there are only two women out of the 17, and those two women are presented in relation to the men with whom they worked.

Okay, so let’s take a look briefly at the other textbook that Mr. Cutlip wrote. And he actually wrote this textbook after the first textbook, however, it covers the period before the first textbook. So what he wanted to do, instead of looking at pioneers or looking at individuals, he looked at things that happened in the United States, so important events and important milestones such as The Revolutionary War, the westward expansion, he looked at various presidential campaigns. There isn’t a particular focus to what he has chosen. For example, he chose to focus on the public relations around the founding of the American Red Cross, but he did not include the extensive public relations around the women’s suffrage movement. So the fact that women have the right to vote in the United States happened because there was extensive public relations in support of that. The modern civil rights movement in the United States, there is no mention about that, which would not have occurred without the support of public relations. He only briefly mentions the abolitionist movement, which also would not have happened without public relations. And he mentions one abolitionist.

Okay, so let’s back to the other textbook in which there are no minorities and two women. So among these 17 pioneers, these are the names of some of them. I have not included all of them here. These are just the names of some of them. These are some names that you may have heard. For example, Edward Bernays, Carl Byoir, Arthur Page, Ivy Lee. The numbers next to their names are the years these men were born. Because when I was looking at this textbook and why he chose these particular pioneers and not others, I thought maybe he was focusing on men who were born in the late-1800s and early-1900s. So remember these years, and I’ll refer to them again, the late-1800s, early-1900s, 1901, maybe 1902, 1910 or so. I thought maybe he’s focusing on those. However, the fact remains that there are no minorities and no women.

So, one thing that Cutlip does say, he does recognize, and in the prologue to his book, he says that critics may comment on the fact that there are no black public relations counselors and that there are no women. However, he wants to make it clear that it’s not his choice, that it was not his choice that there were no minorities included in his book, no minorities or no women. He said it wasn’t his choice, it’s a fact of history.

So, let’s take a look and explore a little [inaudible 00:10:46], “A fact of history, not a choice of mine.” And what that means, the fact of history was a part, means that there weren’t any. So had there been some, because he said not a choice of mine, had there been some, he would’ve included them, but history has presented itself in a way, so there are no minorities, there are no African American, there are no female PR practitioners that were considered pioneers. So let’s take a look at that and see if that’s actually the case.

So let’s look at Ida B. Wells-Barnett. So you may know Ida B. Wells-Barnett as an activist and a suffragist. She began her career and continued as a journalist. So she started out as a journalist. So she was not considered a public relations practitioner, she did not have public relations in her title. But look at when she was born, 1862, so that’s the late 1800s. She launched, and this is how you may know her, she launched an anti-lynching campaign, extensive anti-lynching campaign, that had significant, significant public relations elements to it. Some of the strategies that she employed were later used by others in the civil rights movement. So she was among the first to launch some of these strategies. For example, taking the message overseas and shining a light on atrocities that were happening in the United States, shining a light on those globally to draw attention to what was happening overseas. So that’s one thing that she did. But you know what? She was not considered a public relations person. So we’ll let that one pass. She could’ve been included.

But let’s look at Henry Lee Moon. Let’s look at Henry Lee Moon. Okay, so Henry Lee Moon was born in 1901, certainly falls within the period of time in which Scott Cutlip had his practitioners, so he was profiling men that were born in the late-1800s, early-1900s. So Henry Lee Moon was the director of public relations for the NAACP for 26 years. He has degrees in journalism, so he started out as a journalist, and then moved to become a press agent for the Tuskegee Institute, and after that, he worked for the NAACP as you can see for many, many, many years. So he was indeed a public relations practitioner. And if we look at some of the public relations strategies and tactics and plans that Henry Lee Moon worked on, he, during his tenure with the NAACP, there were a number of milestones that occurred during his tenure.

So during his tenure with the NAACP, for example, the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education, the March on Washington.  The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education, the 1963 March on Washington. As you can see, there are a number of milestones that occurred within the modern civil rights movement in which the NAACP was involved. The NAACP was not solely involved, there were a number of other organizations involved. But if you look at these important milestones that were part of the history of the United States, Henry Lee Moon handled public relations for these. However, he is not considered a pioneer by Scott Cutlip, and he is not currently part of the history of public relations in the United States.

Okay, let’s move on to Joseph V. Baker. So Joseph Baker was born in 1908, again early-1900s. He started his career as a journalist and has a degree in journalism, reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune. His career was in Philadelphia. However, he moved from journalism, as many practitioners do, including some of Mr. Cutlip’s pioneers, he moved to public relations. And he later founded a public relations firm, Joseph V. Baker, that had a number of named clients, such as Procter and Gamble, and the Chrysler Corporation. So a very, very extensive career in public relations. And, based on his work, he could also be considered a pioneer. And one thing I’d like to mention about his work. I briefly touched on some initiatives that occurred in the civil rights movement that Henry Lee Moon worked on. Any of these practitioners that I am mentioning today could have their own presentation solely devoted to their public relations work. That’s how significant their accomplishments are in public relations. But for purposes of today’s presentation, we’re just going to give a brief overview of these pioneers. So again, Joseph V. Baker, a pioneer in the US public relations industry.

Denise Hill:                  Let’s move on to Moss Kendrix. Moss Kendrix was born in 1917. And he also worked in public relations. So we have somebody who has devoted his career to public relations. And Moss Kendrix today is known for his work with Coca-Cola Corporation. So he can be considered a pioneer in a couple of ways that I’m going to talk about in a minute. So he founded his own agency, and he is known… So what he did in the 1940s is he recognized that the Coca-Cola Corporation was not targeting the African American market. So African Americans at the time were not drinking Coca-Cola when they were drinking sodas, they were drinking other types of soda. So he recognized that there was a significant opportunity. He developed a proposal, he presented it to the Coca-Cola Corporation, which the company accepted, and he, for more than 20 years, handled marketing communications for Coca-Cola. And what he did, his program was public relations, advertising, what he did can now be considered what we call an integrated marketing communications program. So he can be considered a pioneer, not only in public relations, a pioneer in integrated marketing communications, and also a pioneer in what we now call multicultural communications. However, Moss Kendrix is not included in that book among the pioneers.

Okay, so let’s move on to Inez Kaiser. So Inez Kaiser was born in 1918, okay, a little bit later than some of the other pioneers, but still in the early-1900s. She founded her own agency. And as you can see from this slide, look at all of these firsts, all of these firsts. And if we were to spend an entire webinar on Inez Kaiser, which we certainly could, we would see that her public relations accomplishments are significant. So we have an African-American woman who is a pioneer in the United States public relations industry. But again, not included, and not recognized in the broader history, not recognized in our textbooks.

All right, so let’s move on to one more. Let’s move on to Ofield Dukes. So he was born a little bit later in 1932. However, based on his accomplishments, he should also be considered a pioneer. And he is often… In some documents and in some articles, he is considered a father of public relations as well based on his many, many accomplishments. So he also started out in journalism, worked in radio, worked for a newspaper, and worked in government public affairs for Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, then founded his own public relations agency and had a number of significant named clients including Motown Records, Sony, Nabisco, and the Congressional Black Caucus. And he also worked on presidential campaigns throughout his career, handling public relations for those campaigns.

So, those are some, those are some, of the pioneers, the African-American pioneers, who have been excluded, they have been excluded from what we now have as the history of public relations in the United States. So, is it a fact of history? Is it a fact of history? Or is it a choice of mine? Was it a choice of Scott Cutlip’s? So what we have seen briefly by looking at these pioneers and briefly looking at their backgrounds, their education, some of the things that they have accomplished, and their accomplishments, again, are significant, no, it is not a fact of history.

o let’s look at some models of public relations, and I’ll tell you why we’re going to look at these models for just a minute. So the other thing that public relations textbooks do when they present public relations history. So there were some models of public relations developed that fit that post that public relations evolved from early press agentry and it became more sophisticated. So initially we had one-way communication, and then we have moved, over the course of time, to two-way communication. So it takes these models and embeds them within history. For example, this model suggests that the press agentry publicity model was prevalent in the United States in the 1900s, 1920, and then in the 1920s we started with the public information model, so on and so forth. And then in the 1970s we moved to two-way symmetrical communications, which is considered the more advanced and sophisticated public relations that we practice today.

So, if we look at some of the public relations programs developed by our pioneers, and I’ve had an opportunity to actually look at their work and the public relations plans and programs that they had developed, so I thought, “Is it possible that they weren’t included because somebody might consider they were practicing a ‘less advanced’ model of public relations? Were they only practicing one-way communication?” And they were not. So in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s, when these pioneers were practicing public relations, they were practicing two-way symmetrical communications. So back then, they were practicing this more advanced form of communication that we are practicing today. And much of the work that our pioneers developed, we could look at what they did in the 1930s and ’40s and ’50s and ’60s and learn from that today. So once again, it is not a fact of history.

And it’s important that our textbooks include these black pioneers. And our textbooks right now do not include them. Therefore, our students today are not aware of them, as you can see from this particular example. There was a student who once she had heard about Inez Kaiser was surprised because she said, “I didn’t learn about this in school. I had to do my own research to find somebody that looks like me.” And she should not have to do her own research. This information should be included in our textbooks.

So, in the current history of public relations, our founding fathers are white males. So if you walk down the halls of fame, and in many institutions, you look around and you see photographs or rather paintings of founding fathers. And these founding fathers are white males. And that is what we have in the history of public relations in the United States. So Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee and Arthur Page and all of the others are considered founding fathers and let me stress that they should be, that they should be. Their accomplishments are significant. I’ve also had the opportunity to look in-depth at some of the public relations plans and strategies and tactics that these men developed. And yes, they are pioneers. They should be included and recognized as pioneers. However, however, so should the African-American pioneers. They too should be recognized as pioneers. So what our history should look like, it shouldn’t just look like the white pioneers, nor should our history only look like the African-American pioneers. Instead, our history should look like this. This is what our history is. This is a fact of history. And this is what should be included in our textbooks. And it’s very important that we have a foundation of those who came before us, and a foundation that accurately reflects all of the pioneers of public relations. Thank you.

Alicia Thompson: Thank you, Dr. Hill. Now Jada Culver has joined us as well. And I think it would be really helpful if you could provide a student’s perspective on your own current PR curriculum and training, especially as it relates to the unknown figures in PR history that we’ve heard about today.

Jada Culver: Absolutely. So thank you Dr. Hill. That was very informative. And [inaudible 00:25:39] I would definitely check in to how he said that it was the best, most informative webinar to date that I’ve been able to experience and be a part of. So just thank you for presenting that information. Definitely, for myself, I think that being a University of Alabama student, we are very aware of the incredible freedom that we have in the public relations department. And we are very aware of the teachers that provide accurate, up-to-date, and very efficient education for us to know where we come from in our degree and know where our industry has come from and who were the founding fathers. And we take our Comm 100, and it’s a class that we learn the foundation of communication, where it all began. And that is where I heard first about Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays. And you hear about Arthur Page. And so when I first saw those names, those are the names that I recognized. And I thought I knew information about them already.

But [inaudible 00:26:30] we can talk about Ida B. Wells and Henry Lee Moon and Inez Kaiser and Ofield Dukes, people that… [inaudible 00:26:38] Ofield Dukes because of my involvement with the Plank Center. And I’d heard about Ida B. Wells because she was a suffragist. But besides those and others, I had no idea they were connected to the PR world, an industry that I’m [inaudible 00:26:49]. Obviously, I’m obtaining a degree in. And so for me, it was, as student [inaudible 00:26:55] kind of thing, it is something where I take upon a stance where I’m excited to know that my history of the industry that I’m going into has a lot, that it’s so informative I need to know more about.

And it makes me excited that you have the information readily available and that we can now know about who are our actual founding fathers, and I guess you could say mothers as well, and that there are people that weren’t showcased when I was back in my prerequisite class, and that I should be more aware of those people so that when we are going back and looking through examples, or knowing who should I be pointing towards to give credit for this, and who should I be looking to go back and say, “I came from an industry that had these people who were pioneers and they were innovators and they were doing things. And they’re not all white males. They’re people that do look like me. And they’re people that in their time and age they decided to pursue a degree that was something that they knew was a challenge.”

And so I think for me as a student, I take several different takeaways, but definitely I think something that I kind of wrote down to myself, and I think yesterday I think Dr. Hill, you brought this up, but how it is a disservice to students for us not to know this history. And that we do need to know this history because history and knowledge of history evidently is powerful, and it’s something that compels us to know more about the industry we come from before we take it to greater heights as we continue on and build upon that. And so for me as a student, again, thank you for sharing this information and just thank you for letting me know that this information… I’m a part of that history, and that the history doesn’t look like what I was taught in the book, and that we should as students kind of challenge that information. And I think it’s interesting, I think this topic is talked about today in a time where we are facing kind of a distrust of information and news, and you brought up the example of the textbook in Texas where it showed wrongful information about something that we all as a nation knew that that wasn’t immigration, that was slavery.

And so I think that it’s good that we are being challenged at this time to look at the news that we get, look at information, and really challenge ourselves to go, “Is this the truth? Is this accurate? Is this the whole full background of everything that’s occurring and going on?” So that we can understand that and know that we, especially as PR professionals and students and educators, that we can take away from this webinar with that knowledge that it is more than meets the eye, and that when we look at this kind of stuff, we can know that more information about this leads us to a better understanding and I think ultimately takes us to new heights. And as all of us on the webinar being more educated upon this situation and knowing that we have a vast… there are women that were of color and there were men of color, but there were also white males that were all important, everyo ne, every single person is important. And that we should acknowledge that, and never single it out to just look like it’s one way. And so I’m just extremely grateful for that and to leave this webinar with that. And I hope that many other attendees, whether you’re educators, students like myself, or professionals, can take away that same just exciting news but also challenge as we move forward.

Alicia Thompson: Thank you, Jada. So I’ll give a little bit of the professional perspective. And I must say that this was a very interesting topic for me. I knew of some of these pioneers. I was not familiar with all. So again, education for all of us. I think the interesting thing is that African-Americans have always been a part of the industry, as Dr. Hill has outlined. However, as practitioners, we are well aware that there is, and continues to be, an ongoing diversity discussion in our industry. If you look at it across the board, at senior levels our industry still remains overwhelmingly male and white. And at junior levels, if you look across the classrooms on our college campuses, it is overwhelmingly female and white. So, although in the 21st century we’ve seen women and members of the LGBTQ community excel in PR and reach levels of senior leadership, and even though African-Americans have been a part of the history, we still are not yet represented at levels that respond and correspond with the broader marketplace. There are still many firsts in our industry. And, just as we saw with some of the information Dr. Hill shared with us, we’ll continue to have many firsts until we start to make a dent in that diversity question in the industry.

Because we know intuitively that diversity matters. First, we know as practitioners and students, a more diverse PR workforce will produce work that is richer and more resonant with a wider range of targets because it has a wider perspective. Those various viewpoints in the diverse communities that we live in today are critical. And, we know diversity matters because it’s increasingly clear that it makes sense in purely business terms. There is tons of data in the marketplace that shows the more diverse our organization, the more diverse your board, the better economic performance your company has. So we don’t need to prove it to ourselves anymore. I think we just need to work to continue to build a pipeline of African-Americans into the profession. We need to do a better job of retaining African-American practitioners and promoting African-American practitioners to senior-level positions within corporations and agencies. That then will continue to help diversify the industry itself.

So I actually leave with two questions. One, how do we continue to begin to pay homage to the historical relevance of these and many other hidden African-American PR pioneers? And secondly, how do we continue to ensure a diverse PR workforce, a workforce that starts to continue to reflect the communities in which we live and serve, and thus produce the best possible product for our clients?

And with that, I would like to open it up for Q&A. You have a box on your screen that will allow you to type in questions. And I see one here. What are strategic moves organizations are making to increase diversity in the workplace? I can speak to that, and then Dr. Hill or anyone else on the phone weigh in. I think a lot of organizations and companies have diversity and inclusion officers. They have specific recruitment efforts where they go onto historically black colleges and universities to recruit talent. Some companies are even starting to introduce public relations even at the high school level to start building the pipeline into colleges. So I think there’s work being done. I don’t think that it’s consistent. I don’t think it is a tremendous amount. And I think there’s a significant opportunity to do more. Dr. Hill, any thoughts?

Denise Hill: Yep, I agree with that because the diversity conversation has been happening for a long time, the diversity conversation in organizations. So organizations have recognized for quite a while about the need to increase diversity in the workplace. However, at some point, the focus on conversation needs to stop and the focus needs to be on actual action. And we haven’t reached that point yet. I think we’re still in the conversation stage. However, there are some organizations, and those organizations should actually be looked at as a somewhat best practice because they’re not completely there yet, but they have moved beyond the talking stage and are actually trying to make things happen. So I think if some of those organizations were looked at, I think the others could learn from that because there are so many others that are still just in the talking stage. Which is why there’s still an issue, and which is why, after all these years, when you look at the top of the organization, when you look at the top of the organization, there are very few minorities, and even some of the new talent that’s coming in, we need more minorities there as well.

Alicia Thompson: Right. Another question. Dr. Hill, this is for you, I think. What efforts, if any, are being taken to change the PR text to better reflect our history?

Denise Hill: So, part of the first step is awareness of the issue, and then identifying, well, what’s the actual problem and then what is the solution. So part of the reason that… And I guess, I don’t know, Scott Cutlip is certainly not here to talk about whether or not he researched whether there were any African-American pioneers, and women, beyond the two that he mentioned in relation to the men with whom they worked. So I think what happens with certain things in history, events that happened are looked at in a different way. And often they’re looked at by voices that have been marginalized. And so I think the first step here is recognizing that, okay, this group was not included because it was marginalized. And so now the first step is to say, “Okay, yes, there are pioneers. And here’s who they are.” And then there are actual steps to take to get this information to those who write and publish textbooks.

So one of the things that I am focusing on is changing the way that our history is presented. And that involves doing some rewrites and providing information. So with some people, they may say, “Okay, well, the history section in my textbook is currently incorrect, or not incorrect, is omitting crucial information. So what is that information? If you provide it to me, I will include it.” So one of the things that I am taking on is providing that information, so reaching out and providing that information, and looking at other avenues that this information needs to be included in. So I’m approaching this like I would, since I have a background in public relations, I thought, “Why not develop a public relations plan for this and have this be the objective.” So that is what I am interested in doing. And I am not alone. So there are many, many others who are committed to this as well. So together, together, we will do this, and together we will change this history.

Alicia Thompson: Right. That’s what I was going to ask, what can we do. And I have to admit, after knowing I was going to be a part of this panel, I actually did a little research, and in addition to the many folks that you noted, I’m a member of PR [inaudible 00:37:56] so I was definitely familiar Park Gibson, [inaudible 00:37:59] Park Gibson pioneer award that they have, John Brown [inaudible 00:38:04], [inaudible 00:38:04], and then of course the wonderful Pat Tobin who started the National Black Public Relations Society. And we’ll share this presentation and a rerun of this webinar with the folks in my office here in Atlanta. But how can we help to share this? I know you do this presentation and have done it in the past. It would be wonderful to know how to follow you and to be able to share when you are giving other presentations similar to this.

Denise Hill: Yeah, and I will find a way to work with you to get the word out and get the word out through our many communications organizations as well, to get the word out about our pioneers and this presentation and versions of this presentation. So as I mentioned, any one of these pioneers, and, by the way, there are also others, any one of these pioneers could have an entire webinar devoted to him or her because of their many, many accomplishments. And as I mentioned, there are many people working on this. Dr. Rochelle Ford is working on a book on Ofield Dukes. The Museum of Public Relations has been working on this for many years. They have been at the forefront for profiling many of these black pioneers. If you go to their website right now, you will see a section on black PR pioneers. Which, as I mentioned before, they did this a couple of years ago, so they have been a forerunner in this regard.

So there are a number of organizations and there are a number of individuals working on this. And if there’s anybody else who wants to join in after this webinar, please reach out to me via email, and I will incorporate you in our efforts.

Alicia Thompson: Jada, what do you think students and other college professors could do to help to foster awareness around these pioneers

Jada Culver: Yeah, so I think that this will hopefully also serve as an answer to Pat Ford’s question where he just asked how can I as a PR SFA chapter president build on this excellent presentation, but also enable emerging PR leaders. And I think first as a student I think kind of a thought that I did have in my head is, Alicia, as you were talking, is that I think the very sort of a challenge then to my professors and to those that maybe not a professor of mine but are part of the department but to make sure they are presenting the full history to me. Because I think as I go back to the statement, it is a disservice to not be given the full truth. And I think that educators should be making sure that they are giving us the most up to date, the most thorough, in-detail explanation of the history and origin of things. And I think that I would call upon just educators to make sure that they do take this presentation and show it in class, talk about it, make it be a discussion, if further webinars are made that maybe are about different pioneers that you discussed, Dr. Hill.

But I think that as a student, I would want to know more. And I would put that emphasis on my professors that I’m not going to know what to teach myself because I’m a student. And so I need someone who’s going to tell me this whole truth, and I’m going to need them to know the full truth so that I can have that truth, and then we’ll both learn fully about the industry. And so I think that’s definitely something that I would want as a student and what should be provided to students as we move forward.

Denise Hill: Yeah, and we’ll be working with a number of associations to get the information to educators as well, in addition to some student organizations like PRSFA.

Jada Culver: And I think, yes, as a chapter president, I think that my responsibility then is to make sure that my members, my peers are aware of this. It’s something that I think prior to… I think if I left this webinar and then went on campus to go talk to some friends about this stuff, they would have no idea about this. And it’s something that it’s education that I think as a chapter president and anyone involved in PR SFA as a leader should make sure that they are spreading that truth, letting people know more about this. And I think that as resources evolve and become at our display for us to just use and utilize in any way possible, that’ll really help us begin that conversation of making sure that more students are aware of this knowledge.

Alicia Thompson: Remember, if you have a question, feel free to type it into the Q&A box in the lower quadrant of your screen. Dr. Hill, I would love your thoughts on how you think the professional public relations field has evolved since you transitioned from the corporate agency realm to academia.

Denise Hill: My transition from the professional world to academia was very recent. It’s just been three years.

Yeah. So as far as diversity, I can’t look back three years and say, “Oh goodness, there have been some significant strides made.” There have not in three years. And one could say, “Well, it’s only three years.” But then you could also say, “Wow, three years is a long time and there should have been strides made.”

Alicia Thompson: Right. Yeah, it continues to boggle the mind that we haven’t made greater strides. I think when I was appointed the general manager in my last position, someone pointed out to me that I was the first African-American to head the agency, head the office of a global PR agency. And I was like, “It’s 2015. How is that even possible?” But turns out it was correct. So I think we’ve definitely made strides, but there is tremendous work still to be done.

Denise Hill:  Yes. Yes. I was giving a presentation the other day and I was pointing out one thing that is not included in my bio or background, so the VP roles that I held, the vice president positions that I held, those are certainly included as they should be, but what is not included is that in every one of those roles, I was always the only. So the only minority female vice president, or in some instances the only minority vice president in the entire organization, or the only minority female. And it was usually the only minority vice president. In some instances, if the organization was larger, there might have been one other. But there were a lot of the only one. And that of course needs to change.

Alicia Thompson: Yep. I would agree.

Jada Culver: And even speaking as student is that I could say the same, looking around, and I think someone mentioned this early, is that in my classrooms it is a lack of minorities as well. There are some, and I don’t want to say there are not, and that is great because I’ve seen the stride I think in the inclusion of different students from different backgrounds, students from different races, students of different genders. And I think that amazing insight if someone wants that goal to happen, but I think at the same time if I look at my own experience, it was always a first, or one of the only. And I think that that also needs to be reflected in the classroom, that once we have this challenge of this is inclusive and this is supposed to be a vast amount and diverse amount of students, because as you said earlier, Alicia, when you have that combination of different people, the work is just going to be so amazing.

And I think as a student, I would love to see more of that, just more of my peers looking different and being more diverse and seeing how people in education, and I guess, Dr. Hill, you might be able to speak to this as well, but how they can make that more diverse. How do you appeal and almost encourage diverse people to come into the PR field as students? And I think that this knowledge honestly would be a really big step forward and them recognizing that this is a place where there are people who have come in the past who were pioneers that don’t look like what the industry looks like right now, but that it’s moving forward to that diversity, but we need to do a huge push on making sure that is reflected in the student body.

Denise Hill:  Yes. So similar to organizations, many, many universities also have initiatives underway to increase the diversity of their student bodies.

Alicia Thompson: And one last thing that I noticed, as you were going through your presentation, a lot of the hidden figures noted in your presentation, I know it’s a wide swath of them, were African-American males, which we all know are also not as frequently represented in PR agencies and in corporate communications roles today. And so I thought that was a fascinating thing, just kind of aha moment as I was listening to your presentation, “Wow, a lot of the hidden figures were men, and yet in the industry today that is one of the underrepresented populations.”

Denise Hill: Yes. Yes. Yeah, with the change in the profession, which I’ve noted since the many years I’ve been in it, with the increase in the number of women in the profession, it means that there are fewer men in general, but especially African-American men today.

Alicia Thompson: Yes. So do we have any other questions from the participants? While we wait to see, Jada, Dr. Hill, I’ll give you a moment if you have any last closing thoughts or comments.

Denise Hill: Well, one thing I would like to say is currently with public relations history, so professors who are teaching public relations, similar to the textbooks, aren’t devoting significant amounts of time to the history of public relations in general. So most programs don’t have a separate class called public relations history. So, the time that they do have within their schedules to devote to the history of public relations in general is a small amount of time because they’re focused on the practice of public relations. However, in that brief period of time, as Jada mentioned, in that brief period of time, the history that is being presented needs to be inclusive, and it’s currently not inclusive. So even though it’s just a small amount of time that’s being focused on the history of public relations in the United States, what’s currently being presented is a skewed view of that history. So that is what needs to change.

And I think it’s beneficial for all students, not just students of color, but for all students to know that the history of public relations was indeed diverse, that there were diverse practitioners practicing throughout the history of our industry.

Alicia Thompson:Correct.

Jada Culver: I was going to say I have no further comments, but just simply I really am taking away a lot of just newfound knowledge from this webinar. And simply want to say thank you to both Dr. Hill and Alicia, just for providing information for me to understand from a better-educated standpoint, but also professionally, and being able to be challenged by this new knowledge and know more about where the profession is going from what you said, Alicia, but also about how I can look forward to education now taking this knowledge and disseminating and letting other people know about it. So I’m just very thankful again, Dr. Hill, for your presentation.

Alicia Thompson: Yes. And so I would also like to thank Dr. Hill and Jada for joining us on this webinar. I think it is absolutely critical that we continue to highlight the diverse history of our industry as a whole. I would also ask you each, the participants and our panelists, to continue to look to the Plank Center for support in driving forward this kind of conversation. Our commitment to helping to drive change around diversity in the industry, and the advancement of ethical public relations in an evolving global society, is exactly what we do all day. And I want to tell everyone that this is something that we will continue to do and would ask for your continued support by participating in these types of webinars and listening to and helping us to continue our efforts. This webinar is being recorded and will be available in the webinar section of the Plank Center website. I hope that you will copy and paste the link, send it to your colleagues, send it to your peers, send it to your fellow students. Help us spread the word about this very important topic, and help us to drive continued awareness for these amazing hidden figures, putting the spotlight on these PR pioneers. And with that, we will end our webinar. And I want to thank you again for joining us today.

 

Research

Leaders exert significant influence on the success, future and image of their profession. Yet, only a few PR studies have explored this important topic.

One goal of the Plank Center is to build a research-based foundation of knowledge regarding the values, qualities and dimensions of excellent leadership, mentorship and diversity and inclusion in PR.