Celebrating & Sustaining the History of African-American Media

It’s no secret that our country is becoming increasingly diverse. By the year 2055, experts predict the United States will no longer have a single racial or ethnic majority, and this growth is leading many public relations practitioners to rethink the way we approach multi-cultural audiences. As we work to ensure the voices, stories and perspectives of people of color are represented appropriately, it is imperative that PR professionals make African-American media — whether broadcast, print or digital — a cornerstone of their communications strategy.

Since as early as the 1820s, African-American media has provided a forum for minorities to communicate pertinent views on the social, political and economic issues that impact the community. And as our nation celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans during Black History Month, black media counts revered leaders such as Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois and Langston Hughes among its alumni.

A long and proud tradition of serving minorities is why African-American media remains a trusted institution for communities of color across the country.

For public relations professionals, partnerships with African-American media present the opportunity to deliver authentic, culturally-relevant messages to diverse audiences. By supporting African-American media and the rich history and heritage it represents, companies and organizations can demonstrate their understanding and appreciation for the economic, political and cultural perspectives of the black community.

It’s clear that African-American media is a powerful and credible space for practitioners to take advantage. And yet, spending on African-American media — via advertising and sponsorships – has been on the decline. Although African American buying power is projected to amount to $1.4 trillion by 2020, according to the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth, advertisers typically allocate less than three percent of their annual budgets to media aimed at African-American audiences.

Today’s African-American media provides a valuable service to the community, and to sustain it, more communicators should use this powerful and important platform — not only for the depth and breadth of its reach, but for the vibrancy and significance of its history.

Johnny Smith Jr. is Senior Director of Public Relations for St. Louis-based Ascension, the largest non-profit healthcare system in the U.S. with 141 hospitals in 24 states and the District of Columbia. He serves as a member of the Public Relations Society of America’s National Diversity & Inclusion Committee. 

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Johnny Smith Jr


  • Thank you for presenting this topic. I would be interested in comments regarding how organizations can transition beyond the concept of workplace diversity toward community engagement through platforms such as African-American media. The relevance of your topic expands beyond black history month and enters into the concepts of culturally competent initiatives to engage communities and patients for better health outcomes.

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