By Scott Stewart, PRSA Detroit Diversity Committee
A few months back, I was with some PR professionals and we were discussing diversity in the creative field. We discussed how upon reviewing the teams at many of the local companies, there was one common factor: a lack of diversity. This lack of diversity is mainly centered upon a lack of racial diversity within the field.
It’s only fitting that this conversation was closely followed by the recent, controversial advertisement that PepsiCo put out featuring Kylie Jenner. I’m sure you’ve all seen it, but the premise is that all race and diversity issues can be solved with a) a rich, white celebrity that has never spoken up for race issues, and b) just a can of Pepsi. Who knew?
This advertisement hit on three areas: crisis communications, diversity in the field, and the need of brands to appeal to the social justice expectation of millennials.
Naturally, due to all of the negative social media reaction to the ad referring to the brand as “tone deaf” – Pepsi ended up pulling the ad. Pepsi came out with a statement noting that it was a “global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony.” While that intent is always pleasant, this refuses to address the main issue of the ad – the minimization of the social injustices that exist with a simplistic, unrealistic solution. This even elicited a response from Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter:
This whole controversy could have been avoided, however, if companies increase and truly focus on diversity within the field. How many steps do you believe it took to get this ad approved? Tons, of course – so how couldn’t this have been caught? In many cases, there isn’t enough diversity at all levels of the decision-making process, especially among upper-management. Even for those organizations with some forms of diversity – which is usually a small percentage – many people of color are silenced on issues due to a nervousness of either retaliation for speaking out or being seen as over-sensitive. Both issues that represent a harsh environment for diverse communities.
Scott Stewart is the Marketing and Development Manager for Oakland Integrated Healthcare Network (OIHN), a federally qualified health center in Pontiac, Michigan, as well as the Secretary for the Board of WC SAFE (Wayne County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners Program). He is a member of PRSA Detroit and serves on the Diversity Committee.