The Currency of Change: Obama's Diversity Agenda Will Dramatically Impact the PR Profession
(The following story was published by the Bulldog Reporter on November 6, 2008)
The electoral victory of Barack Obama is about to remake our country and our public relations profession into a much more diverse, stronger and inclusive-minded place than it has ever been before. I say this being true to my Miami Cuban heritage—I was born Republican, consider Reagan my childhood hero, twice voted for George W. Bush, had never voted Democrat until 2008 and am now fiercely Independent.
If you think this part of Obama’s “change” agenda will come over time, then you are not thinking about how deeply multicultural this man is. Barack Obama embodies our country’s complex diversity like virtually no one else could have dreamed possible. Our 44th president is a Black American who hails from the Pacific island state of Hawaii, has a white mother and an African immigrant father from Kenya. To put the icing on the cake, his name is of Arab descent.
Yes, America, in electing Obama, we have given a vote of confidence to diversity that will have major societal implications for all of us in the communications field. Here are five key shifts PR pros can expect to see during Obama’s term in office:
1. Inclusion will become a major theme and mandate of the Obama presidency. This new thought will deeply impact all of our country’s social, government and private institutions. If ever there was any lingering doubt about the importance of diversity, if it’s been more lip service than day-to-day reality at scores of public and private institutions, then this is about to change. Other presidencies have been known to influence the way we dress and the types of dogs we pick as pets, but Obama’s White House team will reflect a wide hue of colors and experiences that will transform the way businesses and organizations operate.
2. America’s global literacy will greatly improve. Obama will work hard domestically on this issue because he knows that this is key for our nation to be stronger and more competitive in an increasingly interconnected world. This presidency will emphasize cross-cultural awareness by engaging in a level of proactive communication and education on world and cultural issues that our country has never seen. Our country now operates in such a complex world stage that it requires—no DEMANDS—that its leaders and citizens improve their cross-cultural understanding or perish.
3. Laws favoring a change of status for undocumented Latinos will be enacted. The electoral thrashing the Republican Party got at the hands of Democrats will give Obama the support he needs to finally pass meaningful, humanitarian laws that will bring approximately 12 million Latinos out of the shadows. The recent electoral cycle will also mark the last time that such large numbers of Republican candidates (not all or McCain) run campaigns strongly based on fear-mongering and hatred towards minorities.
The nation’s minorities kicked these Republicans in the teeth for hating on them during this election and Republican leaders today understand that their only hope to take back government is to clean house and come back to voters with a dramatically more diverse-minded social agenda in 2012. With millions of more Latinos slated to vote in 2012, the aggressive courting better begin soon.
4. The demand for multicultural-related public relations work will explode. There are two reasons why this is an almost complete certainty. The Obama diversity factor means that the smartest thing agencies can do right now, if they haven’t already, is to make sure they are able to execute communications programs for diverse audiences. If your agency has strong diversity PR capabilities, this is terrific news for you. But if you work for a PR firm that has national accounts or has a strong presence or focus in the big five diverse states of New York, California, Texas, Florida and/or Illinois, and you don’t have these capabilities, you better do something about this quick. If your agency cannot effectively execute outreach to Hispanic, African Americans and Asian American audiences, among others, you won’t be playing for a lot of accounts. This harsh reality will be especially true for agencies seeking federal and state government work.
The second reason for a predicted surge in multicultural PR work is that the Obama presidency coincides with the upcoming results of the 2010 U.S. Census. Revised projections already show that even the highest population projections of two years ago for Latinos were too low. Similar population projection spikes for Asian Americans and other minorities means marketers have twice as many reasons to dramatically increase their spending. Several changes in federal government communications laws will also compel the government to spend more to reach Hispanics and other minorities starting in 2010.
5. Recruiting minorities into the PR profession will significantly intensify. When you have an increasing demand for communication programs targeting minorities, you also have a stronger demand for minority professionals to help execute them. Yes, some of the work can be done by professionals who are not of diverse backgrounds, but the majority of it cannot and should not. This issue presents an enormous challenge to our profession, for there are astounding low numbers of minority professionals in the field right now and the percentages are not markedly improving. The Public Relations Society of America, PR agencies and others must play a lead role in recruiting and retaining minorities in every way possible. For example, recruiting students usually starts in college. This is good, but when it comes to minorities, it may be better to cultivate students since the time they are in high school through internships.
There is obviously no perfect prediction of how Obama will execute all of these and other diversity-related changes. There is always a danger on one side that regardless of how he does this, polarizing people will try to cause problems or hurt people of diverse backgrounds. Conversely, if Obama does this with an undiplomatic heavy hand, you also have the possibility that we see the rise of a One World-minded PC Police that will antagonize many.
The secret to doing this right is to do it in a balanced, reasonable and patient way. As we look to the next four years, one hopes that for the sake of America, we as Americans and PR professionals embrace diversity, not because it is the PC thing to do or the smart thing to do—but because it is the best thing to do. We will be stronger for being diverse-minded in our thoughts and our actions.
Manny Ruiz is president of Multicultural Markets and Hispanic PR Wire for PR Newswire. Prior to PR Newswire’s acquisition of Hispanic PR Wire, Hispanic Digital Network and LatinClips, Ruiz was Chairman and CEO of HispaniMark, the parent company of these three businesses. He is also the former co-publisher of The Hispanic PR Monitor, the nation’s only monthly Hispanic PR newsletter. Prior to launching Hispanic PR Wire in 2000, Ruiz was a founder and media relations director of the National Hispanic Market Practice of Porter Novelli.