Diversity is tough

Verve Communications is diverse by nature. There’s no overarching plan to ensure we’re inclusive and diverse. Yet we are. We have no real evidence that our clients notice, but we know it makes a difference to how we work.

Much of the work we do with our public sector clients, requires us to have a deep understanding of local communities. I began my career believing that that everyone in PR understood the importance and relevance of employing and working with talented professionals, experienced and new, from all backgrounds. It was a view that has changed over time influenced no doubt by the homogenous nature of many of the teams I have worked in over the years.

Bell Pottinger’s fate may well have made some agencies re-visit their clients lists to review the ethics of their clients. I hope they will also reflect on not only on the work they do, but also upon who is doing it. I don’t know the composition of Bell Pottinger’s South Africa office team, nor if its diversity or lack of diversity would have changed the choices they made. But good, effective PR must be inclusive if it is to be honest and true.

Diversity is an inevitable consequence of inclusivity. Our clients hire us to help them engage, inform, and influence, the people who matter to them. I believe that to influence you need to understand, and part of that understanding is gained from looking for the most excluded members of the intended audience. Campaigns particularly those involving aimed at changing behaviour, involve using one’s heart as much as the ‘head’ to address what truly motivates people.

In many ways diversity is tough, and making people really feel ‘included’ is can be challenging. There are no ‘quick fixes’ or shortcuts. In business, the drivers for diversity are clear, yet no industry has managed to address all aspects of diversity entirely, and some have a very long way to go. Global tech companies have acknowledged the woeful absence of diversity in a rapidly growing workforce. The Civil Service, UCAS and other public institutions have said they are moving to a system of ‘name blind’ applications.

Progress is being made in PR as businesses start to understand the business imperative to be diverse within their respective sectors and inclusive by nature. But diversity is not a badge to be picked up and worn on special occasions. We must change our expectations. We should use words that include people, not simply demonstrate knowledge they exist. Getting diversity and inclusion right within our industry puts us ahead of our clients. It makes us the experts on communicating with diverse audiences. It means we can help our clients achieve business objectives and add real value to the work we do. And, if we don’t understand how to do that, and become skilled at delivering more inclusive campaigns, then we have failed at our job.

We need to approach the act of being ‘diverse’ and ‘inclusive’ strategically, paying attention to all its aspects. It needs to become, as we believe it is at Verve, just something we are and something we do.

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