The current spotlight on racial injustice in America has forced me to reflect on my privilege and ability to make an impact as a white woman. As someone who is obsessed with every aspect of media and public relations, it was my natural inclination to reflect on my professional role and position of power. I found myself wondering: How can I use my skillset to provide a platform for voices that are all too often left out of mainstream media?
Media and the news are primary sources of information for many people and play an important role in the public’s perception of racial and ethnic groups. All too often, people of color are portrayed as violent or dangerous in newspapers and television.
As media professionals, we play an important role in combating these negative portrayals and increasing diversity in media. We play a role in what narratives and voices are centered and heard the loudest in our culture. We work every day on headline news, social media campaigns that go viral and activations that carry large budgets.
Media, PR and marketing professionals possess the tools and connections to raise the voices of people of color (POC) and underserved communities. It’s time to reflect inward and recognize that we can do better.
I don’t have all the answers and I’m still learning. But here are some ways we can start using our professional power to increase diversity in media coverage and center the voices of people of color:
Examine the Role Race and Identity Play in Media
You can’t shape the future without recognizing the past. Representation of people of color in the media has played on harmful stereotypes throughout history. To work against negative portrayals, it’s important to learn about media representation and understand how it impacts culture.
It’s also important to understand the harmful portrayals of Black, Latinx, Asian, LGBTQ+ and other racial, ethnic and underserved groups. By examining the role race and identity play in media coverage, you can take steps toward combatting negative stereotypes.
Expand Your Bench of Spokespeople
PR professionals craft stories that reach large audiences and have the potential to provoke understanding. It’s important to increase diversity in media by putting forth a variety of perspectives and experiences that are more reflective of our culture. Examine the experts you are putting forth and seek ways to expand that. Find experts of various races, ethnicities, ages, genders, sexual orientations and more.
Don’t Pigeonhole Experts
Efforts to increase diversity in the media should not be done to check a diversity box or KPI. It’s important to be thoughtful with your approach and not only seek out POC for stories centered on race/identity. Do we only ask women to talk about what it means to be a woman in the media?
In our culture, and especially in the current climate, we often rely too heavily on POC to educate us on issues of race. While some experts on this topic may be happy to speak on it, others may be better positioned to talk about leadership or HR or software. Just as you would with any spokesperson, find the topics that are most important to them. By doing this, you’re showing the variety of interests and lived experiences of different identities.
Hold Clients Accountable
Our clients come to us for guidance. It’s part of our job as PR professionals to push clients to make the right decisions and advise them on what’s best. If you find your client uses their white, male CEO for every media opportunity, encourage them to tap into the variety of expertise within their organization. If they don’t have a diverse set of spokespeople to tap into, encourage them to examine and address that within their organization.
Inspire Journalists to Seek Additional Perspectives
Did you know newsroom employees are more likely to be white and male than U.S. workers overall? As a PR professional, use your influence and relationships to encourage journalists to seek out additional sources they may not have considered or have access to. Better yet, offer multiple sources yourself who come from diverse backgrounds and offer unique perspectives.
Source Diverse Talent
Media and marketing professionals often advise on how budgets should be spent for campaigns and launches. Use this power to seek out companies, photographers, influencers and creatives of color. Online resources and directories of all kinds exist to help. Editors of Color has compiled a list of resources worth checking out the next time you’re sourcing talent.
The fight for equity and equality is a movement, not a moment. This blog doesn’t offer every solution, but it’s a starting point for reflection and action. I encourage fellow media professionals to think about their unique skills and ability to increase diversity in media. What can you do in the short and long term to raise the voices of people of color and communities that deserve increased representation? You have the tools at your disposal – now use them.