PR firms commit to combatting racism

The CCPRF outlined six actions to be taken by signatory agencies, adding to other calls for equity within the industry.

More than a dozen members of a national association of PR firms have committed to a series of measures aimed at helping combat racism, discrimination and inequity in the Canadian public relations and communications industry.

In a statement posted to its website (and below this article) on July 10, 13 of the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms (CCPRF)’s 18 agency members committed to implementing six proposals that touch on their internal recruitment, training and CSR activities, as well as their dealings with clients and stakeholders.

To date, CCPRF member agencies that have signed on include: Apex PR, Argyle PR, Broad Reach Communications, Casacom, Citizen Relations, Energi PR, Edelman, GCI Canada, Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada, Media Profile, Paradigm, Proof Strategies and Strategic Objectives.

The actions were drafted by a CCPRF Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, implemented at the beginning of June and led by Daniel Tisch, CEO of Argyle Public Relationships, with each signatory committing to meet the six proposals through their own plan and policies.

While systemic racism in the industry and society is not a new issue, awareness has grown following Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S., with many groups, brands and associations vowing to make the changes needed to improve the lives of marginalized people.

Diversity and inclusion across a “wide spectrum of under-represented professionals” has been an ongoing topic of discussion within the industry and association, but it was at a virtual meeting at the beginning of June that “we determined the time was now to establish a formal commitment among members in opposition to racism and discrimination,” wrote Judy Lewis, chair of CCPRF and partner at Strategic Objectives, in an email to strategy.

“Our members wanted to speak as a collective voice as we feel that is the most effective path to genuine change and improvement,” she added.

The commitments include working to make leadership ranks more diverse; removing barriers to recruitment, retention, and advancement and improving the representation of Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) at all levels; implementing unconscious bias training and creating safe spaces for employees from underrepresented groups; advocating for change with clients and working to ensure diverse representation in their content and content creators; making equity and anti-racism a focus on CSR and philanthropic investments; and committing to benchmarks to better measure performance including on representation and pay equity.

The CCPRF’s commitment follows other recent calls from groups within the marketing and communications industry to help end systemic racism and ensure greater equity for BIPOC and other marginalized workers.

In June, a group of Canadian advertising and marketing professionals released an open letter (modelled after one circulated in the U.S) calling for better representation of BIPOC talent. And on July 8, a network of Black communications professionals known as Code Black Communicator Network released a manifesto outlining barriers to entry and success for Black communications professionals and the actions needed to redress the issue.

“The task force has been engaging with and listening to many of our peers in the global communications and marketing industry these last few months,” says Lewis, adding that the CCPRF task force reviewed the commitments made by the Diversity Action Alliance and consulted with experts, BIPOC professionals, and employees from member agencies. “We believe a choir of voices, all with their own specific role and tone, can be very powerful in signaling and supporting change. We favour collaboration over competition.”

The CCPRF is “strongly encouraging” its remaining member agencies to join and participate in “industry-wide data collection and accountability” in the coming months. Agencies outside of the association are also encouraged to support the commitment, Lewis says, but they will not be considered signatories, because membership is determined by certain agency criteria and adhering to an established code of ethics.

While a handful of member agencies have not yet joined the commitment, Lewis said none of them have raised any opposition or indicated that not signing equates to non-support of the CCPRF or the cause. “Everyone has been very supportive so far, and we appreciate that some firms have more complex internal approval processes, especially when operating in multiple markets,” she says. “We are respectful of this.”

Signatories are responsible for developing their own implementation plan. Lewis says the approach takes into account that CCPRF includes multinational agencies, as well as large, small and boutique Canadian independents. “We felt it important to give each agency the capacity to implement the commitments in the context of their size and priorities while complying to the fundamentals of the commitments.”

The association does regular benchmarking and the commitment will be integrated into member surveys and data collection, which looks at compensation, benefits and pay equity, she says. Those surveys will now integrate measurement on progress on diversity.

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An Anti-racism, Diversity & Inclusion Commitment from Canada’s Public Relations Firms

We, the undersigned, as leaders of major Canadian public relations firms, join our voices in opposition to racism and discrimination, both in our country and abroad. We stand with our employees, with the activists and advocates, and the growing mainstream in our society that seeks change.

We understand that we must listen more, learn more, and do more to eradicate racism, inequity and discrimination of all kinds – both inside our profession and in our work with clients, stakeholders and society.

Each firm therefore commits to the following six strategic actions, starting immediately:

Leadership: We understand that this anti-racism commitment must start at the top, and that our current leadership ranks are not diverse enough. That is why we commit ourselves and our firms to understanding and removing barriers to the recruitment, retention, advancement and experience of professionals from underrepresented backgrounds.

Recruitment: We will audit and enhance our recruitment processes to achieve an ongoing, measurable improvement in the representation of Black, Indigenous and people of colour at all levels. We will bring an equity lens to the hiring process, including a commitment to working with educational institutions to improve the diversity of the available talent pool.

Training & development: We will ensure our training programs for managers and employees explicitly include instruction on how to recognize and eliminate unconscious bias. This also means creating safe spaces for employees from underrepresented backgrounds to share their experiences, and ensuring there is mentoring, support and opportunities for them to showcase their skills, and to rise to senior leadership roles.

Client work, content & partnerships: We will be proactive in advocating that clients invest in greater engagement and communication with people and communities who are under- represented in institutions and organizations with power in Canadian society. This also means seeking to ensure diverse, inclusive representation in the content we create, and in our partnerships with content creators and suppliers.

Social investment & philanthropy: We commit to making equity and anti-racism core elements of our respective corporate social investments and philanthropy, with each firm selecting initiatives and causes appropriate to its business, values and communities.

Accountability: We commit to setting clear benchmarks and targets, measuring our performance, and reporting as an industry association on key metrics such as representation and pay equity at all levels.

We know that the fight against racism, discrimination and inequity is a long-term effort that requires sustained and strategic action, rigorous measurement and courageous communication. It also means advocating and embracing change. While we compete in the marketplace, we collaborate in making these commitments to our employees, our profession and our society.

Apex PR
Argyle PR
Broad Reach Communications
Citizen Relations
Energi PR
GCI Canada
Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada
Media Profile
Proof Strategies
Strategic Objectives

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the full list of signatories, including Proof Strategies and Strategic Objectives, which were unintentionally omitted. Strategy regrets the error.