Monday, November 9, 2015

Progressing toward Diversity Goals in the PR Industry

Faces of the PR industry of the future: Class of 2015 students,
Branding + Integrated Communications Master's Degree program at City College of New York

The year 2015 may turn out to be viewed as a watershed in the public relations industry for taking stock of its shortcomings of achieving a diverse, multicultural workforce.

Over the past few months, a number of formal studies conducted by academic researchers throughout the country and funded by the PRSA Foundation and the Arthur W. Page Society, are yielding new insights into the obstacles to and opportunities for achieving diversity in the PR profession.
Earlier this year, Professor Dean Mundy, Ph.D. from the University of Oregon, published his study, “From Principle to Policy to Practice? Diversity as a Driver of Multicultural, Stakeholder Engagement in Public Relations” in PR Journal (Vol. 9, No. 1). (The research was funded by the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication at Penn State University.)
In an August 31, 2015 blog post at the Institute for PR site, Professor Mundy commented on his study, asserting that PR organizations continue to assert the benefits of diversity in the workforce. But he also learned “despite this sentiment . . . PR has not taken a lead role in championing diversity. In fact, when asked how the PR function has addressed diversity, almost one third of the [study] respondents replied, ‘not applicable.’ Finally, I learned most practitioners feel their organizations do a solid job providing benefits for diverse groups, but few are able to indicate readily what those benefits actually are.”
Professor Mundy’s research set the stage for the panel discussion on Monday morning, November 9, 2015, at the PRSA International Conference in Atlanta, “Tiptoeing the Talk: Is PR as Inclusive as We Like to Think?” that presented early public discussion of three additional new studies, all funded by the PRSA Foundation.
One study, “Improving the Shades of Diversity in Public Relations: Engaging Under-represented Practitioners in the Workplace by Exploring their Concerns involving Career Satisfaction, Workplace Inclusion, and Work-Life Balance,” was conducted by Professor Richard D. Waters, Ph.D. at the University of San Francisco, looked at a wide variety of under-represented demographic categories, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asia-American/Pacific Islanders, and LGBT PR practitioners.
A second study, conducted by Professor Hua Jiang, Ph.D. at Syracuse University explored the perceptions of elite corporate and agency PR practitioners through in-depth interviews and a survey of members of the Arthur W. Page Society (primarily CCOs of Fortune 500 corporations, CEOs of leading PR agencies, and senior academics from top-tier communications and business schools).
The third study is more narrowly focused. This study was jointly conducted by Professor Lynn Appelbaum at City College of New York and by myself, and investigated the specific PR career obstacles and opportunities faced by African-American and Hispanic young professionals, who graduated from college from 2008 – 2014, “An Examination of Factors Affecting the Success of Under-represented Groups in the Public Relations Profession.”
All three of these research projects will be available in published and PRSA Foundation-distribution formats. The full text of the Appelbaum-Walton study is currently online at
Since all the reports of these studies are just now being published and distributed, we look forward, over the next few months, to formulating insights and understanding implications as the various data sets are compared.  However, a few immediate observations are worth preliminary attention:
Public “commitment” to diversity by corporate communications departments and PR agencies is solid, but vague. Diversity definition, even within individual organizations, is not well defined. Management accountability is not linked to diversity metrics. Intentions are perceived to be correct (by all samples and perspectives); implementation, not so much.
Efforts to recruit under-represented groups into PR departments and agencies are fairly well rated with a number of organizations having ramped up their outreach efforts to some success.
However, retention of under-represented groups in PR departments and agencies is clearly a major challenge for the immediate future. Once “in” the organization, the multicultural practitioner often reports being “outside” the normal patterns of work assignments, assigned roles, mentor relationships, preferment structures, and social-cultural dynamics.
Employees with specific “identities” (African-American, Hispanic, Asian, male, female, LGBT) report varying experiences, but cumulatively, they seem to report still experiencing that they are on the margins of the PR establishment.
More cross-study insights will emerge, but one is striking on just first review. The Jiang survey of Arthur W. Page Society members (CCOs of Fortune 500 corporations and CEOs of PR agencies) present some striking dissimilarities to the findings of the Appelbaum-Walton study (African-American and Hispanic PR practitioners who graduated college since 2008):
One area of discrepancy is the perception of workplace bias for advancement.
  • Only 12.7% of the Page Society members survey respondents believe that PR professionals from under-represented groups have to be “more qualified” than Caucasians for the same position.
  • This contrasts with the Appelbaum/Walton study that found 30.4% of the Hispanics and 56.3% of the African-American PR professionals who graduated since 2008 report that they have to be more qualified than a Caucasian professional for the same position.
A second area of discrepancy is in workplace relations.
  • 93.5% of the Page Society members say that racial/ethnic minorities are treated with genuine respect by their colleagues in the PR profession. This presents a different perception compared with
  • 69.6% of the Hispanics and 50% of the African-American PR professionals who graduated since 2008 and report feeling that they are treated with genuine respect in the workplace.
While acknowledging that these comparisons are drawn from different data sets, the scale of this kind of disagreement on core issues, at least, should raise a “red flag” for the PR industry. As more detailed and thoughtful review of all these studies is conducted, the PR industry associations and major players will find focus for additional action.
Here is the good news. On first review of all these studies – all samples of PR practitioners from the CCOs to the young professionals – reveals a strong support and commitment to the PR profession. Where perceptions of shortcomings emerge, those perceptions emerge in the context of “disappointment,” not of anger or rejection.
The good work of PRSA Foundation and other industry leaders in funding the research and insights from these studies presents the U.S. PR sector with an enormous opportunity to act with new knowledge and vigor – knowing that the young, under-represented professionals in the PR profession are eager and willing to assist the profession to adapt to the 21st century.
Having taken stock of the PR sector’s diversity challenge in 2015, we can look forward to a year of action and initiatives in 2016.

This post was published at on November 9, 2015.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Chantal Akerman, Filmmaker, 1950 - 2015

Image copied from The Guardian, October 6, 2015
Chantal Akerman in Venice in 2011. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
Chantal Akerman had an uncompromising view; she suffered no fools. I certainly did not know her well, but in a few years during which we both taught at City College of New York, I had opportunity to share a few occasions of commiserating about the "organization." There is much media coverage today because of her death on Monday (reported, probable suicide) in the European mediia -- and even a New Yorker post The cultural media is treating her quite well now. "Rest in Peace" is a nice thought, but not for people like Chantal: the more apt thought -- "Did Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night."

Bridgehampton, New York -- October 4, 2015

Monday, October 5, 2015

Trevor Martin and Comedy Central: Great Comedy / Satire / Absurdism -- Trump as Our First African President

I'd been underwhelmed by the first few nights of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.  But this piece on Trump as America's first African president is Brilliant.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Conference on Insights into Meditation Research, 2015

On September 24-25, 2015 I attended a conference at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City on the topic of Advances in Meditation Research, 2015.

Here is the full agenda:

Most speakers were quite young (under age 50).  Purpose of the conference was to highlight new research (recently published or soon-to-be published).

There was no presence or attention paid to popular culture representations or promotions of meditation and contemplative practices – no Dan Harris or Arianna Huffington, etc.  No presence or attention to “popular” meditation or mindfulness teachers.  No presence or attention to religion or spirituality.


Both Thursday night and Friday, there were about 100 – 125 people in the audience.

The audience was young – most under 40 years of age. Some of these young people had brought their babies with them.  Some of them looked “hipster” in attire, etc.   A close 50-50 mix of men and women.

The audience was 99% (my impression) white/Caucasian.  I think no blacks and very few Asians or in the room.  I noticed only one man (with head covering and beard) who I would guess was presenting himself as a Sikh.

At Q&A sessions, when audience members identified themselves, they all identified themselves as either neuroscience researchers or as doctors and nurses doing clinical work in high-risk/stress situations (emergency rooms, cancer care, neonatal pediatric care, etc.).

I would guess that there were very few people in the audience who were representing a spiritual practice or religious tradition. I do not know if Memorial Sloan Kettering did not promote the conference to those communities. Or perhaps those spiritual / religious communities are not so concerned about the kinds of work being presented at this conference. I was, actually, surprised, not to find more of a “mix” of the religious / cultural communities and the neuroscience community.

Speakers: Neuroscience

Majority of the speakers are active research neuroscientists. There were a few clinical practice professionals (psychiatrists and social workers), but even the clinical professionals focused their presentations on research.

The presentation of research was mostly focused on therapeutic outcomes – 1) child development (normal and abnormal); 2) helping cancer patients; 3) helping patients with anxiety, depression, and addition (including post-traumatic stress disorder); 4) mitigating effects of brain and biological aging.

Speakers represented leading research institutions, hospitals, and universities. While all acknowledged the value of “complementary” and “integrative” approaches to medicine, all of these speakers were primarily oriented toward the Western, scientific tradition and practice.

None of the speakers represented anything like “alternative” or “New Age.” 

Presentations: Neuroscience

While I took notes (for myself) I am loath to share them – I don’t know anything about neuroscience, and I probably would mis-represent much of what was presented.

The conference did not offer the PPT presentations.  If I can get them later, I will forward them on to you.

I offer the following “lay-man’s” observations from the many neuroscience presentations:

·       There is firm, 100% consensus among these advanced, young and more experienced neuroscientists that contemplative practices directly affect both brain function and even brain structure.

·       These researchers just accept the “fact” that contemplative practices can enhance or impede other brain and body states.

·       (BUT There is no discussion, at all, about “Mind” (Buddhism)  or “Soul” (Christian) .  )

·       While our DNA/genes cannot be changed, these scientists are all very aware of the many aspects of “epigenetics” – how various experiences affect how genes are “expressed” (turned on or off) – and how experience (physical and/or experiential trauma) can build or inhibit certain brain activities leading to positive or negative outcomes.

·       Lots of focus on the concept of brain “plasticity” – the brain – even adult and older people – can change and sometimes repair.  And self-directed experiences (like meditation, yoga, exercise, tai chi, music, etc.) can facilitate positive brain changes.  These neuroscientists just accept this as “proven.” --- not always sure “how and why” but they have no doubt that it’s real and replicable and should be part of cancer therapy, PTSD therapy, etc.

·       These neuroscientists are totally confidant and accepting that “practices” (yoga, meditation, etc. etc) can change the size and connections/functionalities in the brain.  They have lots of research showing that it happens.  However, they are not at a point in which they can prescribe exactly what practice would benefit people in certain situations. Although they have confident recommendations advice to cancer patients, for example.

·       Interesting but frightening insight: the research from many studies seems to clearly show that trauma (as an infant, in utero) can affect brain function into adulthood  (through the epigenetics issue cited above). So that people born and raised in poverty and other traumatic settings are more likely to have potential problems in the future (because of the difficulties of their brains in self-regulation, proclivity to anxiety and/or depression, etc.).  And these are populations that might benefit most from the contemplative practices that can (to some extent) re-model / re-train the brain processes.

Speakers: Public Policy

One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Josephine P. Briggs, Director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, an agency of the National Institutes of Health (leading U.S. government research-funding and policy agency).

Speakers: Spiritual / Cultural Perspectives

Only two speakers represented any organization of field considered to be “spiritual”:

1) Thursday night opening lecture was by Bob Thurman (Professor Robert A. F. Thurman)   As many of you know, Bob Thurman holds the first endowed chair in Buddhist Studies in the West, the Jey Tsong Khapa Chair in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University.  Bob earned his Ph.D. from Harvard in Sanskrit Indian Studies. In the 1960s he decided to go to Asia to study: he was ordained a Buddhist monk, and studied directly with Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (who because a friend and long-term associate).  In the 1980s he created Tibet House U.S in New York City with Richard Gere and Philip Glass.  Bob has an extraordinary and unparalleled career spanning acknowledged accomplishments in Indo-Tibetan scholarship, support for Tibetan political and social causes, support for Indo-Tibetan cultural institutions, and high-profile promoter of Buddhist topics and causes through his wide network of contacts among entertainment and cultural celebrities.

See notes, below, about Bob’s presentation.

2) One of Friday evening’s keynote speeches was by Joe Loizzo  (Joseph Loizzo, M.D., Ph.D.)   Founder and Director of the Nalanda Institute for Contemplate Science and clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry in Integrative Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College   Along with being an M.D. psychiatrist trained at New York University and Harvard, Joe earned his Ph.D. in Indo-Tibetan Studies at Columbia University.  His research, clinical practice, and popular writing have been focused on the fusion of the contemplative sciences and healing arts of India and Tibet into Western medicine, psychotherapy and health education.

See notes, below, about Joe’s presentation.

Presentations: Bob Thurman and Joe Loizzo

Beyond neuroscience:

Bob Thurman’s Presentation

I like Bob very much.  I’ve heard him speak many times.  I’ve met him several times, including a few times with Minoru and Chika.  So, I’m predisposed to liking his work.

Bob focused his presentation using an image shown to the audience on a large screen of a Tibetan mandala which was supposed to be “medical / healing.”

He asked us to imagine that among all those bodhisattvas, etc. in the mandala, would be the doctors and nurses and researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering and others, etc.  This little gesture creates a link between the contemporary medical community and that “community” of bodhisattvas and sages, etc. in the traditional mandala.

Bob talked about “instrumentalizing the placebo effect” – in other words: he was totally OK and celebrates the possibility that the placebo effect (benefits of a patient from belief, prayer, etc.) could be “instrumentalized” (used and controlled) by Western medical practitioners.  He thinks that would be great – and would show the value of both points of view.

Bob says he has no problem with Western medicine vs. “religion.”  He says Buddhism is not a belief system.  You cannot believe yourself to salvation: You have to understand yourself to salvation.  Buddhism has always been a set of educational services (meditation, ethics, learning, wisdom-cultivation, etc.)  -- You will only free yourself of suffering if you understand yourself and your suffering (god won’t save you, your own understanding will save you).  So Bob welcomes all the most advanced, Western neuroscience and medicine – it’s not at all a threat to his understanding of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism.

Bob says, the Buddha put the path of realizing freedom from suffering as “three higher educations/training”  -- ethics, meditation, and wisdom (wisdom being defined as: “super knowing” – what is real in the world and in the mind – what is helpful to you and what is harmful to you?  -- which Bob felt is the topic of the Neuroscience conference)?

Joe Loizzo’s Presentation

Joe’s presentation centered on what I think is more of an anthropological or cultural history argument.  He argued that the traditional ancient Vedic and Chinese “map” of the body (the chakras of the Subtle Body and the circuits) were actually useful in the contemporary practice of healing and well-being.

He made an argument that the traditional “map” of chakras is meaningfully and usefully consistent with the “map” of the brain (as understood by Western, contemporary neuroscience).

I don’t know anything about either Chakras or brain science.  But Joe’s presentation was received politely, but with no approbation / enthusiasm.  His discussion did not seem to be in the spirit of “usefulness” that informed most of the program.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Advertising Week 2014: Technology rules

The ad world is revving up for Advertising Week 2014. The official promotion and media coverage, in the week before, focuses relentlessly on the tech / digital issues.  One does (at least a little) wonder if anybody is going to pay attention to "content." All those new digital channels have to distribute something, after all. We look forward to discussions about what will be the effective content for the new varieties of digital media.  (After all, just because you CAN deliver content, doesn't mean it sells anything.)

The Wall Street Journal (posting Sunday afternoon, Sept 28) foresees Advertising Week 2014 to provide a vision for how digital media will increasingly dominate the ad spend: "Digital Media to Take Center Stage at Advertising Week." The Journal expects the news (and the chatter) to focus on the technology of distribution rather than the power of brand: "Talk at the swanky cocktail parties is likely to revolve around things that didn't even exist a decade ago, from BuzzFeed and Instagram to programmatic ad buying and marketing cloud. The chatter over canapes will entail an alphabet soup of new marketing jargon such as DSP, SSP, DMP and RTB. . . . It is a far cry from the first Advertising Week, 11 years ago, when much of the talk among ad executives was whether the prize for fan-favorite ad icon would go to Tony the Tiger or the M&M characters."

The New York Times (also posting on Sunday afternoon, Sept 28) sees Advertising Week 2014 to offer a referendum on the future of television: "Advertising Week 2014: Exploring the Future of Television.".  The Times' perspective is consistent with the WSJ, but provides a view of the continuum from the recent past to the uncertain future -- as consumers evolve in their screen-behaviors -- away from TV (some of the time, for some consumers): "A debate that is likely to generate heat, if not light, is whether rapid, large increases in digital ad spending by marketers,prompted by shifts in how viewers watch video, mean a concomitant decline in spending for commercial time on traditional television." . . . According to the 2014 Ipsos Affluent Survey USA, the use of digital media is growing strongly among affluent Americans but not at the expense of traditional media like television. 'Digital media is supplementing, not supplanting,' Stephen Kraus, chief insights officers for the Audience Measurement Group of Ipsos MediaCT said."

The following is an excerpt from the Advertising Week / Stillwell Partners media release issued September 23:

"Extended thought leadership content tracks dig deep into industry hot buttons including: Programmatic, Mobile, Data, Video, Innovation, Local, Health, Fitness & Wearables, Retail Innovation, Sports, Native Ads, Cross-Screen and Social Influence. The Advertising Week Experience (AWE) also returns featuring nearly 100 start-ups that represent the front lines of technological innovation, which is re-shaping the industry, in real time.

"Additional highlights:
  • Grand Central Terminal hosts the Opening Gala, in partnership with Amazon Media Group
  • The Wall Street Journal launches Disruption, a new evening event
  • Fortune stages a special edition of Brainstorm TECH
  • Randall Rothenberg leads IAB's annual MIXX Conference
  • CMOs and CEOs take center stage throughout The Week along with a "State of the Industry" series featuring more than a dozen major trade associations
  • The Pandora Battle of the Ad Bands returns to the Highline Ballroom
  • Rovio's Angry Birds Transformers Party, returns to Arena
"New and returning corporate and media partners for Advertising Week 2014 include: AARP, Acxiom, Adara, Adobe, Amazon Media Group, Amobee, AOL, AT&T AdWorks, BuzzFeed, Centaur, Exponential, Facebook, Fast Company, Fortune, Getty Images, Google, Keek, LinkedIn, Marketo, Mashable, Mediaocean, Microsoft, Millennial Media, MLB Advanced Media, NBCUniversal, NCC Media, New York Market Radio, The New York Times, Nielsen, OpenX, Pandora, Precision Marketing Insights from Verizon, Purch, PwC, RadiumOne, Rovio, Rubicon Project, Tasting Table, The Wall Street Journal, The Weather Channel, true[X], Turn, Quiver, Univision, USA Today, WebMD, Yahoo, yp, and many more."

Other developments to watch for:

"Will Facebook Announce New Atlas Advertising Platform at Advertising Week 2014?"

The Yellow Pages will "take over" Grand Central Terminal.

The Drum will try to shock you.  (Anybody out there still shock-able?)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Wiki coping

Public relations practitioners often face the conundrum (frustration) of a client's / organization's Wikipedia entry being wrong or damaging. Prof. Marcia DiStasio at Penn State has been involved for the past few years in a number of initiatives to empower PR professionals responsibly to participate in the wiki ecosystem.

This post at the Institute for Public Relations site provides links through to useful, specific guidelines and insights.