Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

A Curious Unpreparedness

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

A Curious Unpreparedness

Article excerpt

A Curious Unpreparedness

What are the greatest challenges facing the United States in the 1990s? The faltering economy? Maintaining a competitive edge in world markets? Domestic issues such as joblessness, inadequate housing or eroding educational systems?

While politicians, business leaders, economists and others debate the national agenda, one of the primary challenges facing public relations professionals is how to prepare our industry, our companies and ourselves for the future. Whatever our perspective, we can probably agree that preparation is key to handling the critical issues of this decade effectively.

Most PRSA leaders responding to a recent Public Relations Journal survey ranked preparation for high-level assignments, such as strategic planning and issues management, as their major challenge for the coming decade. On a day-to-day basis, we continue to prepare for burgeoning functions, new disciplines, and new clients and audiences. Because we are paid to watch trends, monitor public sentiment and advise top management, we're expected to be on our toes.

So it is curious that the public relations profession has been caught flat-footed in preparing for the demographic changes in the next century's work force. In a discipline in which people and their talents are the only true capital, we appear to be dangerously unprepared for the 1990s and beyond.

Stasis amid change

Blacks, Latinos/Hispanics and Asians will make up the majority of the population in the 21st century. But public relations lags behind marketing, broadcasting, nursing, teaching and the personnel field in its record of hiring and retaining people of color. Less than 7 percent of the workers identified by the U.S. Department of Labor as employed in public relations jobs are nonwhite.

While the United States continues to diversify ethnically, public relations remains essentially the same. Although the buying clout of blacks and Hispanics exceeds $400 billion annually, the communications professionals responsible for reaching these populations are, for the most part, racially homogenous. It appears that public relations firms and corporate departments have failed to look beyond their traditional sources to recruit and advance nonwhite professionals.

Some people believe that this reluctance to hire people of different backgrounds and cultures into public relations hampers our credibility and effectiveness.

According to Wesley Poriotis, CEO, Wesley, Brown and Bartle, a New York-based executive recruiting firm, many public relations executives are afraid of P.O.T.--people other than us.

"We don't seem to be able to break out of stereotyping blacks and other ethnic groups," he adds. "We keep putting them into the `black market' jobs. Until we can integrate the intellectual core of a company so that minorities are interpreting policy to internal, as well as external, audiences, we won't affect reasonable change."

To many blacks and Hispanics, in particular, the issue is not "how" to diversify public relations but "when" it will happen. Findings of the Hudson Institute's "Workforce 2000: Work and Workers in the 21st Century," and other supporting data from the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Census Bureau, point to the coming century as a time in which the fiber of American business must adapt to demographic reality. More than 80 percent of the new entrants to the work force will be nonwhites, females or immigrants. They'll bring with them different languages, family and personal needs, educational backgrounds, skills training, work values and lifestyles.

Business responses to the new demographic makeup of the work force will need to range from re-evaluating personnel hiring and benefit policies to employer-provided child care to instituting on-site worker training in language, math, science, reading and writing skills. …

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