Low representation numbers are a continual sign to change existing practices. The industry has a responsibility to address the inequities shown by the data and to work to undo the systems and cultures that uphold the status quo.
In addition, when so many PR professionals have similar backgrounds and experiences, businesses must break out of that invisible echo chamber, recognise implicit biases, and actively improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
Two ways B2B communications professionals can do this – as we continue to build an inclusive environment where people from diverse backgrounds can join and thrive – include leveraging spokespeople/influencers and content review boards.
Doing so can continually challenge us to change our traditional practices and ensure we are all committed to cultural sensitivity and creating a more inclusive environment to really transform B2B practices, agencies and industry.
Leverage diverse spokespeople, influencers and third parties – and ensure they are fairly compensated
First is ensuring you have a diverse pool of spokespeople. And if you don’t, ask ‘why not?’
This isn’t to say your current executives don’t have invaluable insights or expert credentials of interest to top trade, national and broadcast media. But if you can put a plan in place to build up new thought leaders from alternative backgrounds, that provides valuable insights from different voices. Be prepared to work with talent managers, as you may need to review recruitment and hiring practices.
We should also ensure fair compensation for diverse influencers they work with, whether leveraging them for a quote in a press release on B2B research, for double-headed briefings, as a panellist in roundtables or something else. Case in point, Cosmopolitan wrote in 2021 about how Black women were offered less for their posts by an unnamed PR agency acting on behalf of their client.
While our job is to negotiate and stay on budget throughout communications campaigns, we also have a duty to ensure we call out implicit bias and ensure influencers are reimbursed appropriately for their time and work.
We are in the fortunate position of having influence over which third-party partners clients should work with, and we have the ability to open doors in the communications industry for people with marginalised identities. So, consider whether go-to contacts for services like photography and videography are really doing the best job, or if a new contact who may have a lighter portfolio of experience could produce a better result for the client.
Have a robust content review process
Second, content review. Embedding DEI into communications programmes is a continuous process, so PR professionals should think critically about the pre-approved content they repurpose for bylines, articles, features and the content they produce in the present. Messaging or commonly used phrases that may have made sense years ago may sound out-of-touch or no longer be relevant in light of moments in time since it was written. It could also be open to misinterpretation in light of news events, such as political change, protests and more.
As well as having a robust process in place for approving content, you should also regularly update messaging and talking points in briefing documents – not just for factual accuracy but also how they are worded to reflect new contexts.
For example, in 2021, BBC’s executive complaints unit investigated a complaint from a listener of the Brexitcast podcast after its political editor Laura Kuenssberg used the phrase ‘nitty gritty’, a term believed to have roots in the slave trade. The complaint was ultimately rejected, but the example highlights how continual learning and content review is a must, given our important role as PR professionals in organisational reputation.
One initiative you could incorporate to ensure materials are appropriate is seeking an agency with a content review board – a group of dedicated individuals with diverse backgrounds and perspectives who look closely at how messaging could be interpreted in terms of inclusivity, risk and cultural sensitivity by using research and insights-based methodology.
At Allison+Partners, we always work to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive, using data to make decisions and measure impact, and we continue to cultivate an equity-driven workplace. A+P’s content review board reviews client work and agency marketing content through the process of vetting and sharing of perspectives, fostering both inclusive and representative content development and a greater cultural knowledge base throughout the agency.
Integrating DEI is a continual process, not a one-time investment. There is far more to consider than just the above to be successful, but keep in mind your training, people and content review and you will give yourself a solid foundation for your B2B communications in 2023 and beyond.
Sarah Johns is an account director based in London working across B2B, corporate and consumer PR accounts.