PR students implement campaign to promote diversity as part of competition

Holly Rubin
March 18, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A five-member team of Penn State students is competing against 75 teams from across the United States in the Public Relations Student Society of America's (PRSSA) 2019 Bateman Competition, with the challenge to create a campaign to increase diversity and inclusion in the public relations (PR) profession.

The lack of diversity and inclusion in the public relations profession is a critical issue for the industry, according to the Public Relations Society of America's Foundation, sponsor of the Bateman competition. According to the PRSA Foundation, diversity "has become an ever-increasing issue for companies and organizations in the communications sector."

U.S. Census data indicate minority populations — including Latino/Hispanic Americans, African/Black Americans, and Asian/Pacific Americans — will become the majority of the workforce by 2045. A 2018 survey published in Harvard Business Review found that nearly nine out of 10 public relations professionals were Caucasian.

So, those five Penn State seniors studying public relations have been spending their free time and weekends working on a national campaign to address the issues. Team members are Holly Rubin, Mackenzie Stagnito, Emma Kauffman, Emma Riglin and Madison Price.

"Bateman requires a significant amount of time and dedication from the team members," said Mackenzie Stagnito, PRSSA's vice president.

The team is responsible for conducting pre-campaign research and developing objectives, strategies and tactics based on the research. They will implement the campaign by hosting a month of events followed by post-campaign research.

"There’s really no better way to learn about what the PR field entails than to implement a plan yourself. It was so helpful to me to get this experience as a sophomore and I’m so glad that the PRSA Foundation was our nonprofit because I’ve witnessed how much we need to improve diversity and inclusion in this field," said Riglin.

The Penn State Bateman team was inspired by the story behind Penn State’s slogan “We Are” and decided to name its campaign “We Are PR.” The slogan for the “We Are PR” campaign is “Better Together,” to represent the positive impact an all-inclusive and diversified environment can have on the public relations industry and other communication professions. All social elements of the campaign and events will be publicized using the hashtag #WeArePR.

"Our five team members began our work by interviewing outstanding professionals in the public relations field that have a relationship to or experience with diversity," said Holly Rubin, Penn State PRSSA president. Rubin plans to enter corporate public relations practice in New York City.

One of those professionals was Patrice Tanaka, founder and chief joy officer of Joyful Planet. Tanaka is a pioneer in the public relations profession. A Hawaiian native of Japanese origin, she is one of the first women to serve as a PR firm president and chief executive officer.

The team surveyed more than 100 current and future public relations professionals in the field about their understanding of and experience with diversity and inclusion in the field. One respondent reported 28 states still discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community, and being open about sexual orientation in the workplace can destroy a career.

To help Penn State students gain a better understanding of diversity and inclusion, the Bateman team created the programming phase of the "We Are PR — Better Together" campaign, and organized a diversity and intersectionality workshop led by Penn State's Senior Director of Talent, Diversity and Inclusion Sara Oliver-Carter. Hired by Penn State's Office of Human Resources in 2017, Oliver-Carter brings three decades of corporate diversity and inclusion experience to the University.

Oliver-Carter spoke with students about what diversity and intersectionality mean and how diversity and inclusion make organizations better places to work for employees.

Oliver-Carter provided students with UCLA Law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw's definition of intersectionality, which is "a framework for conceptualizing a person or a group of people, or social problems as affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages. It takes into account people's overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexities of prejudices they face."

In addition to the workshop, the team hosted a "Diversity in PR Week" with a promotional event at the HUB-Robeson Center. Team members visited classes where students were asked to complete phrases such as “I love PR because…”; “PR is my place because…”; and “I belong in PR because….” The team is conducting a thematic analysis of the responses and those responses will be included in a digital banner.

To connect with industry professionals and students at the same time, the team participated in the Bellisario College’s on-campus job fair. The team hosted a table engaging students and professionals in a conversation about diversity and inclusion.

The team not only promoted diversity and inclusion in the profession but also educated students, faculty and professionals about the book “Diverse Voices: Profiles in Leadership.” The book, produced by the PRSA Foundation in partnership with the Museum of Public Relations, features the oral histories of 35 diverse communications professionals.

"Integrating traditional and digital PR for a campaign start to finish was a really gratifying experience. Overall, Bateman has taught me not only the process behind a campaign, but also the importance of collaborating with a team," said Kauffman. She plans to work in Philadelphia or the District of Columbia in digital, corporate or nonprofit public relations.

The Penn State team’s submission will be judged in early May. The Bateman Competition was founded in 1973 as the National Case Study competition. The competition name was changed to honor the significant contributions of the late Carroll J. Bateman, who served as president of PRSA.

The Lawrence G. Foster Penn State Chapter of PRSSA at Penn State was established by 10 students in 1998 to honor the contributions of Penn State alumnus Lawrence Foster, who served as vice president of public relations for Johnson & Johnson. With nearly 200 members, the chapter is one of the largest in the nation.

Last Updated March 18, 2019