Editor’s note: In celebration of Black History Month in February, PRSA invited prominent public relations professionals to offer their views and ideas for achieving greater racial and ethnic diversity in the profession as well as what Black History Month means to them. A compilation of previous PRSA Black History Month blog posts can be found here.
As an African American male in a senior leadership role in a PR firm, I am an anomaly. So when I think about Black History Month in my professional life, I feel a huge responsibility to mentor and have an active, visible presence in our industry and professional organizations, especially as it relates to diversity and inclusion with new practitioners. It only takes a minute to scroll through the management team photos of the major public relations firms in this country to realize we have a long way to go, particularly for African Americans at the highest levels of PR management.
Although I would not have thought that in the beginning of my career, because I had the amazing opportunity to start and build my career in Atlanta, a veritable professional Mecca for high-achieving African Americans. In my early twenties working in brand marketing at Coca-Cola, one of my first professional heroes was William “Bill” Marks. At the time, Marks was masterfully managing public relations for the company during a series of high profile events in the life of the company. I was in awe of him and of his willingness to stop and chat with me, a young guy fresh out of undergrad and still rotating the same four dress shirts and three ties at work every day. He was a great source of inspiration and encouragement.
Being in the Atlanta market also afforded me the opportunity to follow the career and brand building skills of the late Don Perry. Perry was the first Black president of PRSA-Georgia and managed public relations for Chick-fil-A for three decades. His example of excellence and approachability still inspires me today. People like Marks and Perry were always passionately present in the professional community—playing leadership roles in organizations like PRSA and the Black Public Relations Society. Their careers provided evidence that it is possible to ascend to the highest positions in our profession, and that meant the world to me.
Likewise, there was a similar appreciation for men like Kent Matlock, my fellow Morehouse College alumnus and a multicultural communications icon. Aside from his company’s work in making some of the biggest brands in the world accessible to and appreciative of millions of consumers of color, Matlock, as chairman and chief executive of Matlock Advertising and Public Relations, is a shining example of the entrepreneurial spirit that pumps adrenaline through the veins of our great profession. His unapologetic communications genius and business savvy are doubly meaningful for my career because of the hundreds of job opportunities he has created for marketers of color over the years.
The strength these three men share is their commitment to excellence, accessibility and passionate participation in our profession. As a PR executive, that is the power of Black History Month to me. I am a benefactor of these examples of great Black senior leaders, but I also am required to be equally as aspirational and accessible to professional newcomers. Excellence in my own career is not enough. I have a responsibility to be accessible to young practitioners who need to see where the path of stuffing press kits and writing great press release drafts can lead. Black History Month means being involved with PRSA at the national and local levels so my younger colleagues see themselves reflected in organizational leadership, just as I saw myself in Don Perry and still see myself today with my own chapter president, Alicia Thompson.
That is what I aspire to for my own career, and it’s the hope that as those amazing practitioners inspired and continue to inspire me, I can offer that same level of inspiration and accessibility to young people of color at various places in their careers. The goal is to be the caliber professional that when my current interns or mentees are leading PR firms and departments, and someone asks them what Black History Month means to them in this context, somewhere amongst names like Joseph Varney Baker and Ofield Dukes, one of them will say Andrew McCaskill, as well.
Andrew McCaskill is vice president and group director at Atlanta-based William Mills Agency.