Behind the Headlines with Shelley Spector

This month, The Museum of Public Relations at Baruch College in New York City will kick-off the first-ever Black PR History Month! Following the event, an exhibit featuring lives of different black PR professionals will be on display for a month at the museum. The event is a partnership between the Museum and the National Black PR Society.  Its goal is to help diverse students and young professionals feel a greater connection to a field whose history has long been depicted as dominated by white men.

Shelley Spector, the founder of the Museum of PR and producer of the Black PR History event sat down with us this week to discuss the event. She explains, “If we want to attract more minority students to the field, we’ve got to give them role models with whom they can identify: people like Pat Tobin, Inez Kaiser, Ofield Dukes, Moss Kendrix and many, many other black PR pioneers who’ve been left out of the textbooks. One of our missions in 2017 is to begin changing our historiography–from one dominated by white men to a more inclusive story that reflects the important contributions of minorities and women. Once we do that, I hope that our diverse students and young professionals will feel a deeper connection to the field.”

In this week’s Behind the Headlines, Spector discusses event planning, how to craft something that will be successful, and the future of PR.

It is so exciting to see that the Museum of Public Relations will be kicking off its first-ever Black PR History month with an event and month-long exhibit! What was the motivation for pioneering this event?

The day I announced on the Museum Facebook page that Inez Kaiser had passed away, I saw a conversation in the comments section between two recent grads: “Wow. She seems great. Wish we learned about her in class!”  The other student replied, “Well, I guess we have to do our own research if we want to know about people who look like us!”  Inez Kaiser, in fact, was the first black woman to open a PR firm, which she did in the 50s. She died last August at age 98. This got me thinking: Why aren’t we teaching students about the lives and careers of black professionals, remarkable trailblazers like Moss Kendrix, Ofield Dukes, Barbara Harris, and, of course, Inez?  These individuals could serve as role models diverse students can identify with.

The Black PR History Month is a wonderful collaboration between the Museum and the National Black PR Society. Can you articulate the goals of the event and what you are hoping your audience will gain from it?

We’d like to demonstrate to the entire profession — but especially our diverse young people — that black practitioners have made enormous contributions to the field.  We believe that too many of them today regard the field, and particularly its history, as “all white.”  This may well contribute to our lack of success attracting and retaining them.  They need to see people, to borrow an expression from the above FB conversation, “who look like them.”  We also want to advocate for PR textbooks to include in their history sections a discussion of diverse individuals. We also hope to provide resources for PR professors to teach “diversity in history.”  In addition, we’ll have a networking reception so new connections can be made between young people and some of the field’s leaders in diversity.

What are some of the key components of successful event planning? How are you ensuring that this will be a success?

The most important component to this was getting the very best panel, people who are widely known, well-respected experts in the role of black PR professionals in our history, as well as an emcee — Pat Ford, the vice chair of B-M– who is deeply dedicated to diversity.  The panel consists of Dr. Rochelle Ford, Dr. Denise Hill, Judith Harrison and Don Singletary — each of whom is passionate about diversity.  We also have reps from every PR organization to talk about their own diversity efforts.

The communication and PR industry is constantly evolving. How do see this event playing into that evolution? Are you hoping to set any sort of precedent or send a message to the PR industry as a whole?

We want to change the way we tell the story of our field’s history, and send a message to everyone involved with teaching PR or writing books about it.

Do you have any other plans — for PR, different events, or other coverage — to continue executing your mission of painting PR as a more inclusive industry?

On March 9 we’ll be celebrating Women’s PR History Month.  Additional events are on our website.

What advice do you have for those looking to begin a career in this field, particularly minorities?

Young people have more support than ever from our PR organizations.  The profession now has coaches, mentors, counselors, as well as diversity specialists, ready to help all diverse students and young people with finding a good career path.  All they need to do is to seek out the help. It’s there.

Rapid Fire Round:

  1. My favorite social media platform is… Facebook.
  2. If I could have lunch with anyone, it would be… Buddha.
  3. My hidden talent is…Playing piano by ear.
  4. One thing I could not go a day without is… Laughing.
  5. My favorite season is…Spring.
  6. My daily news source is…NYT.