The United States Census Bureau predicts that by 2060, non-Hispanic whites will comprise 43.6% of the total population, and no single group will comprise a majority of the population by the year 2044 (Colby and Ortman, 2015). While these numbers are several decades away from realization, recent events such as #OscarsSoWhite and the backlash against JK Rowling “Magic in North America” reflects how important it is to recognize and embrace diversity or face backlash from neglected publics. Racial and Ethnic minorities are not the only groups demanding to be heard. As the Critical Media Project illustrates, many traditionally ignored voices have raised their expectations for how they are acknowledged by the media. For public relations practitioners, understanding how to communicate with these publics is a necessity for staying successful and avoiding potentially catastrophic missteps.
One of the best ways to successfully reach diverse audiences is to have a diverse team. There are many studies conducted that investigate how having a diverse workforce can be beneficial. As Steele and Derven (2015) explain: “a diverse mix of people can generate innovations in products, services, processes, or other solutions that might not be apparent to individuals enmeshed in the status quo or to more homogenous groups” (para. 3). For public relations teams, working with others from diverse backgrounds helps eliminate the risk of “groupthink” and helps each member of the team hone their intercultural communication skills. In these situations, it is important to address the risk of tokenism and pushing minority members to be representatives by “assuming one minority can speak for all members of his or her race” (Hon & Brunner, 2000, pp. 335). Placing value on group members for their abilities and understanding the variety of experiences that contribute to developing personalities and opinions for all people can help manage these issues.
Another key to communicating with diverse audiences is taking the time to do thorough research instead of relying on relying on what we think we know. As Just (2013) explains: “many of us may believe we understand complex cultures outside of our own, truth of the matter is, we probably know less than we think” (para. 3). Taking the time to understand the background of the targeted audience requires much more than just general knowledge, and will require confronting our own assumptions and biases, typically an uncomfortable but necessary process.
When developing a plan for communication, Just also recommends, “[identifying] similarities before pointing out differences” (2013, para. 4). Understanding that there are shared needs that all human beings have, regardless of their background, can help communications appeal to a more universal audience and avoid seems trite or tokenistic. As Just points out, “a sense of belonging is at the core of human motivation” (2013, para. 4). This need is one of the reasons that the battle for quality representation means so much to marginalized community, many of which have been typically ignored by the media. By identifying the ways that different target audiences are similar, PR practitioners can create more inclusive communications, and then tailor the communications to the nuances of each audience (Just, 2013, para. 5).
For Public Relations practitioners, understanding how to adapt to diverse audience is a skill that will become increasingly necessary as minorities gain influence. One of the best ways to adapt to this rapidly changing environment is to have a team that reflects the diversity of the rest of the world. Tossing aside stereotypes and embracing similarities are two methods that will improve the way public relations practitioners reach audiences from different backgrounds. Without taking these vital steps, Public Relations practioners and the companies they work for will not be able to take advantage of diverse markets, and will be faced with stagnantion.
Just, E. (2013). Five tips for communicating effectively with diverse audiences. [Web log post].
Hon, L. & Brunner, B (2000). Diversity issues and
public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 12:4, 309-340, DOI: 10.1207/
Steele, R., & Derven, M. (2015). Diversity & inclusion and innovation: A virtuous cycle.Industrial and Commercial Training, 47(1), 1. Retrieved from ProQuest Research Library