As the leading trade magazine in public relations, PRWeek has been a significant publication for over 24 years, reporting on, interrogating and researching key industry issues.
In an article run as part of their BME Special Edition, PR at university: ‘We must become the BME role models we lack', staff and students from London College of Communication (LCC) were invited to share their thoughts on why an increasing diversity of students choosing to study public relations has yet to be fully reflected in the wider PR industry.
One-third of students on LCC’s BA (Hons) Public Relations course are students of colour, although the proportion of diverse professionals in the industry is currently only around 8 percent.
“We know that the problem is not the number of students leaving the university, it’s something happening afterwards,” said Dr Michal Chmiel, Course Leader of BA (Hons) Public Relations at LCC.
Dr Chmiel pointed to relatively low graduate starting salaries as a potential explanation, with students from lower-socio economic backgrounds – an issue which disproportionally impacts some communities of colour – unable to access the kind of additional financial support from family and friends that would enable them to accept typical graduate jobs in the industry.
"Power to make a change and educate people"
Nadine Sanchez graduated from LCC’s BA (Hons) Public Relations course in 2020, and is currently an Admin Executive at an insurance firm. With Irish and Guyanan heritage along with Spanish family, Nadine called for more authentic diversity in communications and advertising campaigns to enable more young people of colour (POC) to identify with the field of PR.
She also outlined the importance of PR practice in driving change:
“While you can write a story and put it out there in journalism, you have more power to make a change and educate people in PR and lobbying,” she said.
"We will have to become role models for the next generation"
Fellow graduate Chansey White achieved First-Class Honours, and currently works as a Campaign Assistant at global brand, McDonald’s. Born in the UK with Jamaican Heritage, she discussed the current lack of Black female role models in the field, and the need for today’s graduates to lead by example.
“As a Black woman, I would like to see more Black women in senior roles,” she said.
“I feel like there’s been a lot of tokenism within the industry where one Black person is ‘enough’. There are a lot of people my age who feel that we don’t have role models - we will have to become role models for the next generation.”
We caught up with Chansey to explore what inspired her to study BA (Hons) Public Relations at London College of Communication, her thoughts on how the PR industry can cultivate a more diverse workforce, and the stories she’s most passionate about telling in her future career.
"Specialities such as reputation management, campaign strategy and result analysis sounded exciting"
When did you first become interested in PR, and why did you choose to study the subject at university?
In terms of my relationship with PR, I actually began preparing myself for politics around 13 as I was certain I wanted to be an MP. However, after developing an interest in the more advisory and strategic roles within the political sphere, I quickly noticed that I’d prefer a communications role rather than being an MP or PM. This drove me towards learning more about communications, and so I began to look for universities that could nurture my curiosity.
I was incredibly interested in communications as a whole, so exploring areas such as reputation management, campaign strategy and result analysis sounded exciting. These things were presented well in LCC’s Public Relations course outline, so that’s how I made my ultimate decision. The content of a course is something you’re never really told to look out for, only the title, so I’d recommend that aspiring uni students take a long look into what they’re actually going to study first.
How did you get involved in the opportunity with PR Week?
It was suggested by one of my course leaders, Michal Chmiel. He’s very enthusiastic about his students. If you’re invested, happy to engage in conversation and want to learn, he’s happy to support your goals. Once he put me in touch with the writer, the rest was history.
"You need to fully integrate people from different races, religions and backgrounds to be truly effective"
Why was it important for you take part?
As it was a topic on young minority communicators, it seems perfect for me. Plus, it’s so easy for organisations and individuals to clump BAME people together when we have such different experiences and opinions, so I wanted to talk about my experience as a Black woman, not just as a minority or POC.
The interview was a great opportunity to be heard, so if I could offer a different perspective and discuss the sheer lack of appropriate representation in the PR industry, I’d be more than happy to. I’d undertaken internships and worked for PR companies, so I felt rather qualified to talk about the topic.
In your view, what should the PR industry do to make the field more representative and accessible?
The PR industry need to start offering good salaries for internships. Expenses aren’t enough if you’re trying to be truly inclusive in your workforce.
They also need to take the time to hire more than a ‘Token’ – one POC isn’t enough to build a rich workforce. An individual’s work is valid and they’re a great addition, but you need to fully integrate people from different races, religions and backgrounds to be truly effective.
Finally, the industry needs to listen to and involve diverse employees – they aren’t decoration, they’re individuals who have fascinating experiences, brilliant skills and topical insight.
“I plan to spend my career helping organisations to be better for society and the environment”
What are the stories you’re most passionate about telling and the themes you really hope to highlight through public relations?
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a big one for me. I’ve always been keen to help people, so I plan to spend my career helping organisations to be better for society and the environment. I’d also like to continue encouraging larger organisations to undertake or create campaigns that build trust while helping smaller communities, the nation or even the world. Since I’m still at the start of my career, I’m currently assisting with those tasks, but soon enough, I’ll be leading them.
Who would be your ideal client?
It’d be nice to work with someone who’s open to collaboration. If they’ve asked for help with something, it’s important that they allow either me or my team to do what we do best with their input and guidance. In terms of the ideal brief, I'd prefer something CSR or reputation-focused that needs an intricate, long-term strategy implemented. The stickier, the better!
What are your career goals?
I’m still working through this one, but something strategy-focused within the marketing or communications space where I can continue to learn and grow. Then, once I feel qualified, it’d be great to work for myself.