Because mainstream marketing demands relevancy and originality, PR agency Porter Novelli has been amplifying its diversity and inclusion efforts with a clear understanding that it’s not only about diversity of race, ethnicity or gender, but also diversity of ideas and experience.
While many companies consider diversity a responsibility of HR, Porter Novelli’s efforts are driven by executives involved in the company’s business strategy and bottom line. With Anthony Viceroy, the company’s global president and CFO, as a key champion, the company has implemented more organized initiatives to strengthen its internal workforce and interest people from a variety of backgrounds in entering the PR field.
This is not just a feel-good effort. It’s about building the business and doing the job more effectively. “For us to truly make an impact and influence the audiences most important to our clients, it’s critical for our staff to be representative of the marketplace at large,” says Viceroy. “We have to have the right people in place to accomplish that—whether through their ethnicity or background or experience.”
According to Sonia Sroka, SVP, director of Hispanic marketing and national chairperson of Porter Novelli’s National Diversity Council, “Diversity can’t be about filling quotas; it must be about making sure all staff members feel like their work and ideas really count. To that end, Porter Novelli created the National Diversity Council comprising a dozen of the firm’s leaders. The council is supported by seven local chapters in the agency’s U.S. offices, with about 50 mid-management and junior staff members who are considered “ambassadors” or “change agents,” Sroka says. “They’re responsible for taking our overarching strategy and localizing it. That gives them the opportunity to exercise leadership skills that they can bring back to their accounts, to their work.”
Efforts targeting minority students at both the high school and college levels are a key component of the initiative. “Minorities are less likely to go into marketing, public relations and advertising careers, because often they aren’t even aware that they exist,” says Sroka. “No one has exposed them to it.” Via partnerships with a range of student organizations and universities, Porter Novelli has had an impact on about 300 students nationwide.
For example, Porter Novelli has become very active with the New York organization TORCH (Together Our Resources Can Help), which focuses on under-served high school students. While TORCH had for many years offered students exposure to advertising and marketing coursework, Porter Novelli introduced a comprehensive public relations track to the curriculum. Every school year, Porter Novelli’s team prepares a PR program of study for about 15 to 20 TORCH students. They attend a class at the agency for several weeks and engage in other activities, like shadowing staff members in order to learn about different disciplines within public relations.
Similarly, the agency has helped create a PR educational track for multicultural Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. That track is part of a larger initiative that Porter Novelli’s parent, Omnicom, has made to create opportunities for students at Medgar Evers.
All the effort is starting to pay off. There have been awards and honors, certainly. But more importantly, the students Porter Novelli has nurtured are entering the workforce and helping to build out a diverse communications industry. ”That’s the real benefit of all of these programs,” says Sroka proudly.
Jennifer Vasquez (right), assistant account executive at Porter Novelli and graduate of the TORCH program, gets one-on-one time at a speed mentoring event with agency VP Erin Osher.