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PR Council releases DE&I guidelines for agencies and clients

The ‘Better Together’ report will serve as an outline for the client-agency relationship.

NEW YORK: The PR Council has released diversity, equity and inclusion guidelines for agencies and clients, effective today. 

The 22-page report, “Better Together,” aims to provide guidance for the agency-client partnership to support and grow inclusive teams, the organization said in a statement.

The council partnered with FleishmanHillard beginning in 2022 to convene a cross-agency group of DE&I leaders as part of its long-term efforts to help agencies become more equitable and inclusive. The goal of the year-long partnership was to work together to find solutions to the biggest obstacles to DE&I progress. 

The working group was led by Golin EVP of DE&I Natasha O’Dell Archer and BCW chief inclusion officer Carol Watson. Members of the team included Ketchum EVP and head of DE&I Maxine Enciso, Fenton EVP, DE&I and justice group lead Daria Hall, Greentarget partner Laura Miller, Racepoint Global chief people officer Carolyn Regan, Ketchum EVP, head of talent Julie Veloz and FleishmanHillard SVP Francesca Weems. 

After identifying what the team believed to be critical issues for the industry, the group outlined comprehensive guidance on best practices across the RFP and pitch process, staffing plans, recruiting and onboarding.

The completed guidance intends to serve as a toolkit for agencies and clients as they embark on their professional relationship. While the team leaders noted that every circumstance will be different, “Better Together” should be used as an outline for how they approach a partnership. 

“It's an invitation to a conversation that client teams and individual agencies will take and bend and mold the way that it makes sense for them as a brand,” Watson said. “Everything is not going to apply. Everything is not going to work for them, but it's really an invitation to a conversation that says this is a recipe based on what we think the stew should feel like and taste like.”

There was no brand or client representation on the workforce team. 

The PR Council has coalesced actions requested by activist groups in the past, but this is the first official set of guidelines being produced surrounding DE&I. 

The guidelines encourage clients and agencies to agree to a set of principles prior to an RFP being issued. Since the pitch process is where the relationship between the two companies begins, stating transparency standards related to DE&I metrics should be established early on, the report says. 

Noting that “diversity” is a relatively broad category, the guidance asks clients and agencies to be clear on their priorities and why. Requesting additional streams of information, including qualitative data can provide a more complete picture of a company’s commitment to equity and inclusion, according to the team.

“We're often as agencies so vulnerable, required to put forth so much information and data yet there wasn't really any reciprocity,” O’Dell Archer said of entering a client relationship. “We're really challenging clients and agencies to enter into a more transparent partnership. We're suggesting that both entities, when they come together, they're actually memorializing it on paper. That, to me, is what's progressive and new about what we're suggesting.”

Similar to PR Council’s generative AI usage guidelines released in April, the DE&I guidelines will not be mandated for agency members, unlike the council’s Code of Ethics

The report provides clarification regarding workforce data collection for agencies and clients by providing current reporting requirements that vary by region. The guidelines note that requests for identification not tracked by EEO-1 requirements can perpetuate bias based on perception.

Throughout the guidance, the leaders and team provide sample questions for both clients and agencies to engage in conversations with their partners to ensure each party is meeting the other’s expectations. 

The final section of the report serves as an accord, intended to be customized as needed, in an agreement to managing bias and developing and retaining a diverse and inclusive team. The suggested document touches upon language and storytelling, learning and development, a style guide for content creation, accountability and evaluation. 

“In the time we've been working on this, there have been so many language preferences that have changed,” PR Council president Kim Sample said. “We know we're going to need to update and we're super excited to get client input because the reality is that the agency and the client will almost have equal impact on the experience of our talent. We've got to make sure that we all agree and are on the same page of how we're going to handle everything.”

At noon ET on Thursday, Sample, O’Dell Archer and Watson will host a webinar about the guidelines. 

“Better Together” is the first product of one of three workstreams, two of which are underway and will focus on managerial competency to lead inclusive teams and best practices to measure the ROI of a company’s DE&I efforts. 

The managerial aspect will be in similar guideline format and are being led by a separate task force. The ROI efforts are still in its early stages. 

The release of the PR Council’s DE&I efforts comes on the heels of declining demand for diverse hires at agencies and recent legislation affecting education accessibility for historically excluded groups. 

According to PRWeek’s 2023 Agency Business Report, the average percentage of U.S. boards or C-suites that are non-white at agencies as of 2022 was 23.3%. The average total U.S. workforce reported non-white that same year was 28.2%. While PRWeek’s Agency Business Report data on diversity and inclusion shows growth at some agencies, these numbers are not reflective of the industry as a whole.

The timing of the release correlates with agencies and companies heading into Q4, looking ahead to new client relationships in 2024.

The PR Council and the DE&I workforce hopes that the guidelines will lay the groundwork for open conversation in new relationships and reaffirm a commitment to the equity and inclusion conversation. 

“Any leader that's thinking about the future of their agency, should be thinking about how do I embed [DE&I] in our systems and our thinking and our business model,” Watson said. 

The PR Council celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. 

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