Editor’s Note: In this new series, PRNEWS features young communicators discussing their views of the industry and of life, what skills they’ve acquired and things they wish they’d known before beginning work. Our first young PR pro is Cedric F. Brown. If you’d like to suggest a young communicator to profile for this column (fewer than 10 years’ experience in PR), please contact: Nicole Schuman ([email protected]) or Seth Arenstein ([email protected])
Cedric Brown is a young storyteller with a mature sensibility. We ask about his favorite Black History Month figure and he quickly names Jackie Robinson. But he also mentions the Dodgers organization for helping integrate baseball, which made it a better game. “Not only did [the Dodgers] bring in Robinson, but they added Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, who were excellent players.” It’s why Brown, a freelance digital strategist from Detroit who now lives in Washington, D.C., admits he’s a life-long Dodgers fan.
He also identifies with Robinson’s difficult road to baseball success. “He had to prove he could perform at that level. If he hadn’t, it was going to set back the cause. He rose to the occasion, dealing with all types of abuse, even in his own clubhouse.”
While much has changed since Robinson’s time, Brown sees parallels. While it’s not uncommon for Black PR pros to find entry- and mid-level opportunities, advancing to senior positions remains a hurdle. “People will always see your skin color,” Brown says, “but if you bring talent and add value to an organization, being Black just comes with the territory.”
Diversity is The First Step
Still, he acknowledges PR’s diversity difficulties. “Diversity is the easier part,” he says, referring to adding people of color to a company’s rolls. It’s relatively easy, for example, to hire BIPOC as interns or at low-level positions. Inclusion is more difficult. "What are you doing to make people feel welcome? How are you adding to their skillset? Are you making the time to be a mentor, a resource and really being an advocate for them?"
Employing skills and talent are what attracted Brown to PR. In one occurrence as a student assistant in Northwood University’s PR department, he wrote a press release for a student arm of the American Marketing Association (AMA).
The group was fundraising to send a student to the AMA annual conference. A professor donated a Super Bowl jacket to the cause. A local paper picked up Brown’s press release mentioning the jacket. The professor, Brown says, “received five calls in the span of a couple of hours.” Bids arrived in excess of $500.
“To see that, if you know how to communicate, you can help organizations that want to see change…that was pretty compelling to me.” It also cemented Brown’s choice to pursue PR, particularly as a way “to give back to communities that need it most.” As a result, Brown has worked for a bevy of nonprofit organizations and agencies specializing in PR and marketing for racial justice groups.
What does Brown, who’s seeking a full-time position, wish he had studied while in school? Paid content, he says. “I see more and more job notices mentioning” paid. Schools will have to incorporate that more into curricula, Brown says.
In addition, he notes “a big push for project management…people who can manage large budgets and multi-faceted, high-profile projects involving teams,” he says. Certainly, Brown worked on group projects in college and grad school, “but they pale compared to what’s expected of you these days.” Still, as a communicator, Brown values the ability to create content, align it with business goals and “measure its effectiveness across platforms…I’ll take those skills any day of the week.”
He also mentions analytics, something, he says, PR pros should not be afraid of. “Getting a placement in the NY Times is great. But what do you with it after that?” Are you funneling your audience somewhere? And if it’s to a site, is the site clear about a CTA?
Back to Black History Month and Brown mentions Ofield Dukes, the Black PR pioneer. “He was from Detroit and came to Washington to make his mark on PR…so we have something in common.”
And like his earlier example about Jackie Robinson, Brown offers more depth. Dukes mentored Brown’s mentor, Dr. Rochelle Ford, who counseled Brown while he received a master’s degree from the Newhouse School.
A measure of the respect Brown has for her, even years after graduation, is that he refers to her as ‘Dr. Ford.’ He did so during a panel this week as part of the Museum of Public Relations’ annual celebration of Black History Month. Dr. Ford moderated the panel. “It’s funny how it’s full circle,” he says, referring to the tie between Dukes, Dr. Ford and himself.
Seth Arenstein is editor of PRNEWS and Crisis Insider. Follow him: @skarenstein