We’ve been both delighted and terrified to see more and more reporters respond to pitches with: “That’s a great idea! Do you have anyone with a diverse background who could talk about it?”
“Delighted” because of the progress the question signifies. “Terrified” because diversity can be tough to navigate in the context of a client/agency relationship.
The development itself is not entirely new. PR pros have long recognized media’s interest in presenting diverse voices, but it was always more of an implicit “nice-to-have.” What’s new is that media are now making diversity more of an explicit demand. That creates challenges and opportunities alike.
The opportunity’s clear. Your humble PR shop may be as progressive as can be in terms of hiring, DEI policies and the creation of a welcoming workplace. But let’s be real: the much bigger opportunity for positive social impact lies in our roles as intermediaries between newsmakers and the press. (Not to mention that providing media with what they are explicitly asking for just makes good business sense.)
But what about the challenges? Here are a few you might bump into and some thoughts:
What’s diversity even mean to a given reporter? It’s probably best to let them decide. For example, in some industries, women’s voices may be heard regularly. But my firm specializes in financial services, where women have historically been vastly underrepresented. As such, we highlight female front-office clients when appropriate; some reporters might not consider them diverse, but those who have covered Wall Street mostly do.
How do I know a particular reporter cares about diversity? Unless they specifically ask for diverse sources or their LinkedIn profile indicates they spearhead the newsroom’s diversity initiative (as some do), you won’t know. All you can do is make sure you are proposing sources you consider diverse.
What if some of my clients are just not all that diverse, at least in the leadership ranks? A couple of workarounds (while the client hopefully works on the underlying issue):
- Candidly ask clients to identify diverse junior people and a niche topic they can speak to as a domain expert. Help them develop content on that topic that you can pitch and provide one-on-one media training to get them ready to handle interviews you land. It’s the proverbial win-win: You have a new diverse source to pitch and media training is precisely the type of professional development that can help diverse junior professionals become diverse senior professionals.
- Package up stories with your client and their diverse customers. Time-pressed journos won’t ever admit it, but they love compelling prepackaged stories. If the expert you work for isn’t diverse, find a BIPOC customer who could help them tell their story, provide them with media training and then pitch away. Another win-win: By securing coverage for their customer, you helped your customer shine.
Hats off to the journalists who want to make sure their sources look more like their readers and their viewers. As PR professionals we should be ready to help. What are your experiences meeting the growing demand for diverse sources?
An edited version of this article first ran as a “Tuesday’s Best Practices” feature in the Public Relations and Communications Professionals LinkedIn Group.