Photo Credit: John Ferguson
Photo Credit: John Ferguson
So, what is BME PR Pros?
It’s my attempt to promote racial diversity in PR and comms. It started as a side hustle, a hobby that got a little out of control, which has now escalated into a full-time passion project.
In six years, I have gone from talking about diversity to launching this website to launching this business. Until recently, I managed pretty much every aspect of BME PR Pros alone and unfunded. I originally funded the majority of the work myself and have so far spent around £20-25k of my own money on it.
I developed the BME PR Pros/PRWeek Mentoring Scheme, got PRWeek on board, secured all the mentors and managed every aspect including admin. I also organised all events and funded the first two BME PR Pros events in 2017.
In 2019 I organised the first BME PR Pros conference with more than 30 Black, Asian, Mixed Race and Ethnic Minority speakers including Liv Little, JJ Bola and Femi Oluwole. We got nearly 180 attendees in and ended up trending on Twitter – we did good. Proud doesn’t cut it.
In 2020 I organised The Pros Winter Series: 77 speakers (including Lord Simon Woolley and Samira Ahmed), 35 events and 12 pieces of exclusive content. We sold 377 tickets and the website had more than 9,000 web hits in 13 days. Not bad, eh?
I initially managed the BME PR Pros website and the social media handles too (yep, I take full responsibility for the Twitter gifs) and still pretty much do.
Through tweets, Insta and LinkedIn posts, my fat fingers (#TypoQueen) have secured more than 450k hits for this little website since 2018 (before you ask: I’ve spent £47 on ads and that was in autumn 2019 – not before and never since).
For all that I am proud of achieving alone, my proudest moments have been expanding the business so that I can employ talented individuals who enrich the quality of what BME PR Pros produces even further. I work with freelancers including Karl Allen (website design and management) and Simba Zvobgo (creative designer).
This year I have also employed the business’ first full-time member of staff, Lisa Yiasemides, who joins as Blueprint Coordinator in September 2021).
I am privileged to have an equally passionate crew of supporters who provide much-needed advice and ad-hoc support when needed including Nyree Connell, Daljit Bhurji and Anouchka Burton.
For events and launches, I hand over the Twitter reigns to social media expert and content
creator Krish Jeyakumar.
Wow, things have been going well then?
Yes! It has been a busy time, in 2020 I launched The Blueprint, a diversity mark that has a rigorous application process. It has been just over a year since its inception and 10 agencies have been successful in achieving either full Blueprint status or Blueprint ally status. Each organisation is doing incredible work to attract, nurture, and retain diverse talent from the inside out.
Earlier this year (2021) I launched The Xec. (‘zeck’) – the first leadership scheme for UK-based Black, Asian, Mixed Race and Ethnic Minority (BME) PR and comms pros.
I’ve gained a lot of grey hairs (thank goodness I can buy my braids in dark brown), but I’m passionate about this diversity / representation thing.
I’m rooting for talented BME PR Pros to get the careers they deserve and for the sector to benefit from their talent, and it is seeing projects like The Xec. come to life that makes the blood, sweat and rants worthwhile (yes, I can be dramatic – I’m a middle child, what do you expect?).
So, are you a company? An organisation? A team? A business? A social enterprise?
We are a company with a tiny, tight-knit team of staff. Blueprinted (home of The Blueprint diversity mark) is our commercial arm and BME PR Pros is, I guess, our not-for-profit arm delivering free or low-cost initiatives aimed at supporting BME PR and comms pros.
And who are you?
I’ve worked in PR since 2006 after six or so years in the charity sector managing events, campaigns, celebrity relationships, and fundraising appeals.
I’ll be frank – though I’m still Elizabeth (sorry, lame joke) – I find talking about myself and my career pretty boring (even though it has been a pretty exciting ride). Also, yes, this website’s by me but I have no interest in it being about me. What I do speaks for itself. Want to know more? Google me – I’m easy to find :).
Are you a diversity expert?
Hmnnnn… “Expert” is a big word. I’m just someone with an opinion and some ideas that’s learnt quite a bit over the last six or so years.
What are your thoughts on diversity?
You really want to know…? This is where I lose friends and alienate people…
Well, I think that there are some pretty crappy initiatives out there that do more harm than good. That a lot of work is tokenistic. That the D&I sector and consultants can be part of the problem. That recruitment consultants are part of the problem. That BMEs should be front and centre of BME diversity initiatives. That diversity in PR and comms isn’t a BME problem but a sector problem.
I don’t believe only people with white skin can write press releases, create creative campaigns, lead teams, run businesses etc etc.
If you don’t get BMEs applying for your jobs, then there’s a problem in your recruitment practices.
If you have a BME retention problem, then there’s something wrong with your working culture.
I could go on but if you need to know more, you can check out this PRWeek UK op piece I did a few years ago.
I’d like to invite you to speak at an event / sit on a panel. Is that something you do?
It depends. On the subject, my capacity, the audience, and the other panel members. I’m not interested in taking part in “why is diversity important” events or panels. I think that debate is older than my copy of Dr Dre’s The Chronic (i.e. c1992). There are numerous articles on the importance of diversity. I don’t see the point of regurgitating what’s out there and keeping the debate stuck in the 90’s.
I’m also keen to avoid creating an echo chamber. I’ve said quite a bit about diversity, and I fear 1/ people suddenly thinking all BMEs think like me and are like me and 2/ becoming the “voice” of BME diversity in PR and comms. I am a voice. Not the voice. I don’t talk for anyone but myself.
Furthermore, talking about BME diversity issues can be exhausting, isolating and downright
depressing and I need to look after myself. Hence a reluctance to speak at events and panels.
Still keen to invite me to speak? Drop me an email with details to: hello [at] bmeprpros [dot] co [dot] uk
Better still, why not invite one of the amazing BME PR Pros profiled on here? Need help being introduced to them? No worries. I’m happy to make an introduction. Again, just drop me an email.
I’ve heard you’ve delivered workshops on BME PR Pros and diversity. Would you come and deliver one at our agency / company?
Hmnnnn.. Not really.
It’s also a self-care thing. Yes, I want to make a difference, but I must also have some kind of work/life balance and my work can be a lot. In 2021 I am determined to have one day off a week and at least two evenings, and to finally take some well-earned time off (yes, even the most passionate workers need a holiday).
The BME work is rewarding but it can be emotionally and physically draining. Working as I have done is simply not sustainable. At times it has impacted my health and wellbeing. Hence the need to establish and maintain balance in 2021 and beyond.
Can we meet for a coffee, lunch, or drinks? Skype chat? I’d like to pick your brain.
I would love to; I just don’t have the capacity right now. Again, my views on diversity are covered in the article I mentioned above.
Further questions? Drop me an email with your queries and I’ll see if I can help/answer them.
Is it possible to become a corporate sponsor? A partner? Collaborate with BME PR Pros?
We only work with partners committed to diversity and a track record for recruiting, nurturing and promoting Black, Asian, Mixed Race and Ethnic Minority PR and comms pros. Think that’s your company? Sure, drop me a line.
Want to make real, long-lasting change, then I’d urge you to check out The Blueprint.
It sounds like you are doing great things, are there any other ways we can be affiliated with BME PR Pros?
I’m afraid not, my logo isn’t for sale.
Can you help me recruit a BME PR Pro?
No, this isn’t a formal service I can offer right now. I share roles across the social platforms on an ad hoc basis as and when I can and for organisations I know, trust and respect.
I’m looking into a jobs board and perhaps a career event, but I can’t guarantee this will happen.
Can I volunteer with BME PR Pros?
I have a team I work with and hire when I need additional support (see answer to first question). I have no interest in exploiting BMEs, so I don’t use volunteers – I pay for additional support when I need it.
I also don’t have the capacity to manage volunteers but, more importantly, I wouldn’t ask anyone to give up their weekends or evenings for the BME work.
I should also flag, a lot of the work I do is “unsexy” admin work (e.g. coding, managing mentor enquiries, uploading content etc). Work that for various reasons that I can’t “volunteer out”.
Can I be a mentor? Or an ambassador? Speak at an event?
I don’t run an ambassador scheme (again, a capacity thing) and I don’t take applications for speakers (I work with my advisors to develop events).
I don’t take applications for mentors and the BME PR Pros / PRWeek UK Mentoring Scheme is currently on hold.
There are several organisations keen to recruit BME mentors including the Taylor Bennett
Foundation and BYP Network. Keen to mentor? Do drop them a line.
So how do I support BME PR Pros? There are a lot of “nos” here.
Simple, do what you can to promote diversity in your organisation and the sector. The more
initiatives? The better. More voices calling out the diversity problem? Even better.
Do what you can so that in a few years’ time BME PR Pros won’t need to exist – and I’ll be able to get some well-deserved sleep.
Ok, I am starting to get it. This is all fairly new to me and my organisation…can you signpost us to resources that will ensure we are taking the right first steps?
No worries – we all have to start somewhere! The Blueprint offers a range of On Point training sessions that are a good place to start. They are delivered by the Equal Group who are diversity, equality, and inclusion experts. If you can’t find a training session to suit your needs, contact hello [at] thisistheblueprint [dot] co [dot] uk, or contact The Equal Group directly.
And if I have more questions?
No problem. Email: hello [at] bmeprpros [dot] co [dot] uk
Elizabeth Bananuka, September 2021