By Melissa Smith, Executive Vice President at RL Public Relations
When I began working in PR in 1993, the terms “multicultural” and “diversity” were rarely used. I was aware of their meanings of course, but the words themselves did not come up in conversation often, if ever. It wasn’t until I left the smaller PR firm scene and entered the big agency world in the late 90’s that I was exposed to these terms more frequently, specifically in the business realm.
Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s, I clearly knew what multicultural meant, but it was my everyday life – something you lived without thinking… it wasn’t an “initiative” or a target market, or even a word in your vocabulary. In fact it was not until I went to college in the Midwest that I realized how culturally diverse my life was. I can still recall missing the energy, restlessness and variety that I took for granted in New York, after I landed in St. Louis (at Washington University) where all three of those characteristics were alarmingly absent…
Once I began working at GCI Group (now Cohn & Wolfe), I learned simultaneously about the practice of multicultural marketing, and the lack of diversity in the PR industry. Those two concepts were etched into my mind as distinct and not interchangeable: multicultural marketing was reaching out to different ethnic groups, and diversity was what was (or wasn’t) going on internally – in our industry and in our company. I believe it was back then – pre 9/11 – that HR departments began their official diversity initiatives, and big agencies began putting out their “diversity reports” – all aimed at raising awareness of the obvious lack of diversity in our industry in an effort to show that they were doing something about it.