“Public relations is synonymous with human communication.” African-American Public Relations Pioneer, Mr.Ofield Dukes (1932-2011)
“Ofield Dukes revolutionized the public relations industry by increasing the visibility of African Americans working in the field,” Gregory Lee Jr., president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), said. “He will forever be regarded as a standard bearer for public relations professionals of all races.”
This year, Barfield Public Relations (BPR) celebrates 25 years in the PR business. The secret to our staying power? A fierce drive to realize the industry’s promise for equitable access and opportunity. It is, in my view, an imperative; one that I urge you to share with me.
At this quarter-century milestone, I am inspired by PR pioneers like Ofield Dukes – who led his own PR firm for 42 years before his death in 2011– to look backward as well as forward into the future of African-American professionals in the PR industry. In doing so, I invite you to join me in looking at both ends of the time spectrum – and seeing how they reflect and inform each other.
Let’s be clear from the beginning: My reflections are about lighting the way, revealing the missteps, cheering the triumphs, and inspiring us in the PR industry to take action. Yes. This is my call-to-action to my PR peers and colleagues – both current and future.
As we explore the past and look to the future, I intend for this blog to commemorate the pioneering leadership of PR professionals like Ofield Dukes as well as to celebrate BPR’s role in the business of PR over the past 25 years and in the decades to come. As Ofield Dukes knew, the future of our profession depends on attracting and then, retaining African-Americans in the PR industry.
Citing US Census Bureau report: “By 2010, the number of public relations practitioners nearly doubled to 311,000, and these professionals now compose roughly 10% of all occupations in the United States. However, while the number of public relations practitioners nearly doubled, the percentage comprising people of color essentially remained stagnant at 14.1%. The number of African Americans in the field actually declined while Asians saw only a modest increase among public relations practitioners.” http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/51169_ch_8.pdf
Let’s start the journey with me and my story.
I can reflect back on how I started my PR company from my kitchen table in my home. Before that, I think about how lonely it was to work in an environment where there was no one who looked like me or to whom I could relate culturally. Despite my feeling of alienation, I was taught to move around in unfamiliar spaces with confidence and to show no fear, even if you’re scared to death.
After decades of working in the PR agency world, I was going nowhere but o-u-t. I had hit the “glass ceiling,” with no place to go, but on my own. I wondered who would hire me to do PR…I thought about all the brands out in the universe of business and commerce that have made billions of dollars thanks to loyal customers like myself… It was then, in a flash I knew: I had to go after a niche market.
I began marketing myself as the publicist who can manage your PR outreach in the African-American consumer market. I provided special events, crisis management, corporate PR, product launch and government relations. I knew the ethnic media as well as general market media. My clients could see my value: I had won over the general market agencies. In order for me to survive, I had to know both markets.
And so Barfield Public Relations, Inc was born.
From the kitchen table of my home 25 years ago, BPR operates offices today, at 638 Macon Street, 3rd Fl., Brooklyn, NY and 352 7th Avneue, New York, NY.
Now, I’m kicking off our 25th anniversary by writing the “Reflections: PR Is My Business” blog each week for the next four months or so.
Join me as together we explore my thoughts and vision for the PR industry…how it is being transformed in the midst of tumultuous changes in media, journalism, technology, and society and culture. And, how the PR profession today is facing an enormous challenge – indeed, a crisis — in training, hiring, and increasing the visibility of African-Americans in our business.
Each week, I will look at the past, center us in the current realities of the PR business, and talk about the future we can still shape. It is my hope that my blog will help attract more African Americans to the PR profession and serve as a galvanizing call-to-action to PR agencies and Corporate America as a whole to offer opportunities to young African Americans and other professionals entering the PR sector.
I will explore the progress in corporations across industries and PR agencies’ hiring of professionals who are African Americans. Smart, creative, resourceful, and tech-savvy, these young professionals offer much to our industry. Hire them! It’s not only the “right thing to do,” it’s directly tied to your company’s bottom line, your success, and the integrity of your brand. A diverse profession is our future!