Why There Aren’t More Black Men in PR – And Why It’s an Industry Issue

Black men in PR leadership

A Museum of PR Event on Feb. 18, titled “Celebrating Black PR History 2024: Where Are All the Black Men in PR,” hosted an intergenerational panel to discuss the issues facing Black men in PR today, strategies to attract more of them to the industry, and learnings from personal experiences.

To set the context, Dr. Chuck Wallington, EVP and Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at Cone Health, shared qualitative data from his graduate study research, which pointed to the lack of Black men in PR and the particular challenges they face. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics cited by Dr. Wallington, Black men represent just over 3% of those employed in entry-level roles.

The research, based on interviews with 32 Black men working in PR, surfaced three overall themes:

Limited Early Awareness. “There's a lack of understanding about public relations among folks in high school. So before you even get to college, young men just don't have an understanding of what the profession is all about,” Dr. Wallington said. “Without that early awareness, folks are just not going be successful when they go into the field. It's hard to attract people into the field, and when they get there, they tend to flounder around."

A Shortage of Mentors. “There's a shortage of colleagues, especially Black men, who can be mentors, who can be sponsors, who can be role models, who can be allies,” he said. “When this happens, Black men feel alone; they feel isolated. There's no one else there who can relate to them, to their experiences, and to their journeys.”

Lack of Executive Representation. “The profession has evolved into an industry that's dominated by white females and white males. And white males are typically at the top of the totem pole, with women running the day-to-day,” Dr. Wallington said. “Black men don't see other Black men in decision-making roles, particularly as it pertains to hiring, promoting and training. So they're just left to figure it out.”

Add to that an additional challenge relating to perception: “Data suggests that Black men, by our very presence, can be intimidating to those who don't look like us," said Dr. Wallington. "And this dynamic presents its own challenges in and of itself."

Why It's an Industry Issue

In light of all this, Dr. Wallington challenged the panelists to articulate why the industry—as a whole—should care about this issue.

David W. Brown, Assistant Dean of Community and Communication at Temple University, boiled it down to representing "the best ideas." “Public relations is defined by bringing the best ideas to the table. And if those ideas are not represented in the fullest, [most] diverse sense possible, then we're not bringing the fullest ideas to the table,” he said. “So it is a problem for the industry. And if it's a problem for the industry, it's going to be a problem for industries that are touched by public relations.”

Devon Jackson, Senior Account Supervisor at EGAMI Group, pointed to the importance of solving the issue for the sake of the work itself. “How can we get it right as marketers and PR persons? How can we get it right—in order to get it right for the consumer?” he said. “The strategist behind the campaigns must be reflective of the world that we live in and what we make up. And these diverse voices and perspectives for myself and my colleagues here definitely help brands build that authenticity.”

Addressing the inadequate number of mentors for Black men, Freuds Group EVP Brandon Thomas encouraged Black PR professionals to know their value and their work. “Write down your intention. Think about the unique value proposition that you bring to the situation you're in,” he advised.

And to those who plan to join the industry, Jackson recommended getting in touch with existing PR professionals. “Reach out to myself or colleagues on LinkedIn,” he said. “We are dying for more talent and also mentorship opportunities. I know sometimes those cold calls can feel scary or intimidating, but you'd be surprised at how much we're looking to pay it forward.”

Surmounting the Double Challenge

And what about meeting the “double challenge,” as Dr. Wallington called it, of being Black and male in a predominantly female industry?

Emmanuel Reid, Account Executive at Ogilvy Chicago, chooses to see his position as an opportunity, despite the lack of representation. “Even though there might not be a consortium of Black men—and also [the number of] just men in general might be lower—I tend to focus on the opportunity,” he said. “So even though there might be less of my identity, how can I continue to permeate the space, and integrate my ideas organically and authentically?”

Reid urged PR folks to do so with humility, and above all, make it about doing good work. "Sit back, listen to no matter who's on the team, the gender, makeup, identity, et cetera—and say, okay, what does the team need to succeed? And how can I continue to serve, so that all of our clients and the community can have the best resulting work?”


Kaylee Hultgren is Content Director at PRNEWS.