5 Myths About Black PR Professionals

Young African American business woman with spectacles while at work
Young African American business woman with spectacles while at work

I am a black PR professional and I live, eat, breathe, sleep, and daydream about public relations. I spend my free time networking, learning about the latest tools and social media forums, attending professional development workshops and leading an exclusive organization for women of color in communications called ColorComm. This all sounds pretty disgusting, right? But, this is the truth, this is my life.

I interface with all types of communications professionals daily -- junior-level folks, managers, senior level executives, and household PR names both in my professional and personal life. In fact, Judy Smith (yes, the real Olivia Pope from the TV Show Scandal) called me on my cell phone from a blocked number several weeks ago. True story!

Through my professional experience, conversations with peers, and interaction with managers, I've come to learn that black PR professionals are often stereotyped. Now, I know that this shouldn't come as a surprise; since we're all stereotyped and judged to some degree by people who think we are X because we look like X, but it's rather frustrating that often times black PR professionals miss out on opportunities because someone has cast an assumption based on what they assume to be true.

The myths about black PR professionals exist and they are out there. Let's understand them so we don't fall victim to categorizing our peers based on race and culture. It's important that everyone has an opportunity to gain the most out of their professional experience and that professionals are given the proper tools and guidance to ultimately become an asset to the company they serve. In the end, dispelling the myths will be an added benefit to the workplace for all parties, because it will eliminate what we are all too afraid to address.

We only want to work on the multicultural team.

Wrong! Some of us want to work on the consumer team, technology team, or public affairs team. It's understood that the multicultural team should be multicultural and reflective of the clients they serve, but often times black professionals get pigeon holed into working on this team, without ever expressing interest. Why is that? Is it a natural assumption that because we fit the multicultural demographic that we are going to automatically thrive on this team? What if we have absolutely no interest in connecting with minority communities? What if we find this aspect completely boring?

Often times we don't speak up. We sometimes feel that we're so lucky to get this job, yet we won't share to the hiring managers that we have no interest in this role. How can people become successful in their work, if they have no interest in what they're doing? Don't assume that black PR professionals are going to care about working on the multicultural team. Some will genuinely be interested and some won't. It's safe to have an open dialogue and let employees share their own interests before approaching this opportunity.

We are experts with the black press.

You'd be surprised how many black PR professionals can't even identify the black newspapers in their hometown or city in which they currently live. In fact, I had a black PR professional ask me the other day, what is TheRoot.com? Seriously?!? My head fell to my lap. It fell mainly because I think as a PR professional we should be on top of everything -- black media, mainstream media, in between media -- frankly all of it! Those are just my high expectations of myself and of my peers.

Nonetheless, black PR professionals who don't have multicultural clients may have no reason to engage the black press. They could be working on solar energy clients that only want to influence energy trade publications and their clients may have no real reason to reach Essence magazine or BET Networks. Anyone can be experts with the black press and you don't have to be black to be an expert, you just have to interact with this audience on a frequent basis and get to know them on a personal level. Don't assume because we are black that we have more insider information than someone who is not black. Our strongest press contacts could be with the energy press and our talent could be misguided into a different direction, because you're looking to find someone to interact with the black press.

We want to remain an account supervisor forever.

If I hear one more black PR professional share that they've been an account supervisor for more than three years, I will scream. Actually you will have told me back from waltzing up in their job, locating their boss and asking why. Literally why? I'm so tired of hearing, witnessing, and experiencing counterparts on the "fast track," who are shockingly not black. It is so disappointing to witness barely-cutting-it VPs who make it to that level before 30, with no advanced degree, no interest in professional organizations, and no management experience.

I'm beginning to think that hiring managers assume that black PR professionals are content with being a mid-level manager for the rest of their PR career. After all, if we don't speak up, how do you know that we want to move up? Well now you know that we do! If we are still employed at that job, obviously we are good enough to do that job, because we are being kept on the payroll. Some of us are far exceeding our roles and we aren't getting noticed. Nurture us, groom us, invest in us and put some of us on the fast track! After all, we could be the next CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and wouldn't it be nice to know that you and your firm helped to guide us along the way.

We only want black mentors.

Nope, nope, and double nope. This industry is tough and this industry is cutthroat. To survive working in the PR field or communications arena, you need several mentors to help guide you. Trust me, you won't survive in this field on your own! You need mentors who have your best interest at heart, mentors at your job who give you the opportunity to excel, and mentors in your personal life who guide you in the right direction.

During Congressional Black Caucus Week last year, I attended a panel discussion with Jamal Simmons, political analyst and TV commentator for CNN. On the topic of mentors, he said, "Find someone who doesn't look like you to be your mentor." At that particular moment in my life, I started to evaluate the people who I call mentors. I listed them out and realized that they were only black females and that this was a problem. However, just because I only had black female mentors, didn't mean that I didn't want more diversity in my "mentor line-up." Oh, I most certainly did. And at that moment when I realized the importance of Jamal's words I began to cultivate and reconnect with industry leaders in my field who were not of my race or gender. Black PR professionals can certainly benefit from mentors of different races and vice versa.

We don't want to participate in company activities or events.

While working in the PR industry, you will find yourself with dozens of events to attend each month. You have client events, in-house events, corporate functions, industry gatherings, etc. There may be committee meetings for all these events. If there are committees, black PR professionals need to be on them. And if we aren't, then why not?

A couple years ago I was working at a large PR firm and really wanted to be on the Christmas party planning committee. I didn't know there was even a committee until it was active for several weeks. No email went out about this and there was no formula for choosing folks. After doing some research, I found out that this was some "top secret" committee and only several people were asked to join. Now this may not seem like a big deal, but this was slightly frustrating. I wanted to lend my time and get to know employees on a more personal basis, and I was told that this wasn't' an option for me since the committee was full. But there's always next year! Apparently it wasn't an option for the people who looked like me either. Often times we aren't immediately tapped for these opportunities to get involved socially with our company, clients, or industry functions. Maybe people think that black PR professionals are typically less involved or don't care as much to get involved compared to their counterparts.

It's bigger than being on a planning committee. It's truly about having the option to lend time to our company and get to know our co-workers in an informal manner so that we're all more comfortable working with each other, which ultimately yields better results for the people we work for.