Become a Champion of Diversity During March Madness and Beyond

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Last second shots, fan excitement, the media frenzy, team wins and upsets—yes, this is one of my favorite times of the year, professionally and personally.   It’s also one of the most exciting times in college sports.   It’s commonly referred to as March Madness.   The games show us the best talent; the best team spirit; and of course, the best game plans of the season.   It is college basketball at its best.

I also believe our public relations industry is on the cusp of exciting times too.   Public relations professionals are in a position to have a positive effect on the industry for years to come and enhance our value with the numerous publics that we serve.   America and the world are diversifying and becoming more inclusive.   And, our public relations industry will need to keep pace with diversity and inclusion as we progress into the future.

During March Madness, I see a wide range of diversity.   I see it on the playing courts, on the coaching sidelines, in the stands, at fan gatherings and in advertising.   Now understand, the sports industry hasn’t always been the jetsetter for diverse change.   However, the industry has made significant strides over the years in furthering education on diversity, in hiring practices and with ensuring that relevant voices, including diverse voices, are heard.   There is still much to be achieved, and I believe the sports industry will continue to evolve and be a reflection of what we see in society.

I also believe we’re at a crossroad in the public relations industry with regard to diversity.  Yes, public relations professionals have impact, predict change, affect change, and communicate.   It’s how we function.  It’s our modus operandi or “M-O.”   So it shouldn’t be a surprise that if we’re going to have an impact on diversity in our industry, we have to start thinking of a plan, our own “game plan,” to shape the look and feel of the future.

We’ve seen the effect diversity can have on political elections, we see national demographics changing and we see variations in the way people think today and how they communicate their ways of thinking.   Public relations must keep in step with change and a world that many say will look completely different in just a couple of decades in order to remain relevant to clients and publics, many of whom will also look and think differently.   We’ve seen numerous articles and heard discussions about the need to increase opportunities for women and minorities in our field, and that remains relevant.   However, we have to see the bigger picture and find ways to implement more change, accept different ideas and embrace diverse backgrounds.   As we look at our publics, our publics will also take a closer look at who we are in the future.

We have to be brave enough to welcome inclusion and let people know that though we don’t all think and look alike, we all belong.   Decision makers and influencers must be ready to recruit, hire, retain and take steps to ensure that staffs reflect our diverse environments.   It won’t be easy and may not be readily accepted, but remaining the same is not a viable option for our industry.

We’re taking steps at the national level in PRSA with new directions for the Diversity Committee.   Today, I see individuals who are charged with keeping an eye on progress and initiatives, not only in corporate America, but also in sports.   Task forces are being formed and individuals are adding diversity to their business models.

So, we all need to be the point guards, or leaders, for the future.   Are we developing key relationships in mainstream higher education as well as with cultural and diverse organizations?  Are we mining our Historically Black Colleges and Universities and women’s colleges which produce talented and eager graduates?   What are we doing at the high school levels to encourage public relations as a career choice in higher education for all who are interested?   Are we nurturing and mentoring individuals who we believe have promise?   How are we positioning ourselves in social media where we have access to affinity groups?   We can develop strategic recruitment techniques, open our communication methods, and set priorities to encourage a more diverse public relations industry that welcomes different ideas and open dialogue.   There is no reason why our industry should not reflect the look of a changing world.   I’m confident we can be successful.

Ah, the “Madness.”   It’s a good example of how diverse cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, races, genders, lifestyles and differing viewpoints come together to celebrate in sports.   So when we look at the basketball games this month and in early April, know that diversity is still a piece of the Madness, and it’s still evolving.   We, as public relations professionals, can help bridge the diversity gap in our own industry so we can continue to evolve.   We just need to tighten our game plan.

Gail Dent is associate director of public and media relations at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, where she works with national media and focuses on communications surrounding NCAA issues and programs. She is also a member of the PRSA Diversity Committee.

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Gail Dent

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