LONDON — BME PR Pros founder Elizabeth Bananuka has launched The Blueprint mark to promote racial diversity in the communications industry, and unveiled the first agencies to receive the award.

Manifest is the first to secure Blueprint status, while advisory firm Blurred and Leeds-based tech agency InFusion Comms are the first to be awarded Blueprint Ally status.

To achieve the standard, agencies sign up to 23 commitments – from recruitment to working culture – aimed at promoting ethnic diversity from work experience to board level, with their applications marked by an independent panel. Agencies must secure more than 70 points to secure Blueprint Ally status and 101 to secure Blueprint status. The mark must be renewed every two years and can be removed if organisations are considered to be in breach of its terms.

Bananuka told PRovoke that the premise for the Blueprint had come out of a series of workshops over the past 18 months with a broad range of more than 40 people in the PR industry with different perspectives, where a ‘kitemark’ had emerged as one of the strongest ideas to tangibly drive forward diversity within agencies.

“We leaned into the uncomfortable and have had difficult conversations,” she said. “What I love about this group is that we are here to root for talented BME PR professionals, and it’s a safe space, but everyone has been tested. It’s been incredible.”

She said the timing for the launch had given pause: “We were always going to launch on 18 June but when we signed off the final consultation, Covid had just hit and we thought it might be a crazy time. But now of course the conversation and landscape has changed dramatically.”

Bananuka said the Blueprint was an intentionally high standard: “We made it deliberately hard to get, because you have to be authentic, it’s not about tokenism. We want agencies to commit to everything from doing more diverse work to the imagery they use for clients and driving change in their own supply chain.”

She added: “The Blueprint diversity mark isn’t here to pander to those that have just realised Black Lives Matter but to shine a light on those committed to ethnic diversity from entry level to boardroom. I cannot think of a better recipient of the first Blueprint status than Manifest nor of the first Blueprint Ally status than Blurred and InFusion Comms. I hope many more in the sector do as they do and stop talking about diversity and start doing something about it.”

Agencies pay to apply for the mark and income generated from the Blueprint will be used to support the work of BME PR Pros, including upcoming leadership scheme The Xec and #CareerHack, aimed at 18 to 25-year olds from Black, Asian, mixed race and ethnic minority backgrounds who are keen to enter the sector.

The Blueprint diversity mark will be administered and managed by Blueprinted, a new business led by Bananuka, with a Black, Asian and mixed race team. The new website includes a page to donate to selected diversity charities. 

Julian Obubo, brand strategy director at Manifest London said: “What our industry desperately needs is a heavy dose of accountability in order to upend the dismal record around diversity and inclusion. The Blueprint diversity mark is a much-needed step to encourage and facilitate high standards and responsibility. We are pleased to have attained full mark status and we consider this a stepping stone to motivate us to work harder to be more accountable to ourselves and our industry.”

Blurred CEO and founder Nik Govier said: “Having been through the process we can tell you it’s tough: 22 pages of font point ten of toughness, and rightly so. But it was never something we were not going to do. Because not trying because it’s too hard, or not trying because we might fail is simply not in our DNA. And that’s also not the road to betterment.” 

InFusion Comms MD Sara Hawthorn added: "The Blueprint diversity mark process requires you to analyse all aspects of your business and, aside from anything else, is an incredibly valuable tool to identify the work ahead of us. Becoming a Blueprint Ally is the start of our journey, not our destination. It's clear that this is a framework and system designed to make real change and applying for the mark is necessary for any agency genuinely committed to supporting Black PR pros.”

The diversity mark is part of a series of initiatives to be rolled out by Blueprinted and BME PR Pros over the next two years aimed at promoting ethnic diversity in PR and comms, including a series of webinars for comms pros. The standard is open initially to UK communications agencies and will open to in-house teams from 2021. It could also be rolled out to other marketing disciplines and internationally.

The Blueprint launch coincides with a new research report published by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) which finds Black, Asian and ethnic minority pros lack opportunities and face unfair treatment compared to their White colleagues. The report, ‘Race in the PR Workplace: BAME lived experiences in the UK PR industry’, is calling on PR business leaders to change practices and cultures to “unleash talent and create a fair and equal workplace for all”.

The research charts the experiences of 17 BAME practitioners and highlights common themes including being afraid to make mistakes; being unable to be their true selves; having to work harder for fewer opportunities; racism; being judged to a different standard; and of a lack of support when they speak up.

Organisations applying for The Blueprint sign up to the following commitments:

Recruitment

  • We ensure our job descriptions are fair and objective and aim to remove conscious and unconscious bias.
  • We specify the minimum criteria for each role advertised and will interview all candidates that meet the requirements.
  • We always have a minimum of two people on a recruitment panel and, where possible, we include a Black, Asian, mixed race or ethnic minority colleague.
  • We provide detailed, constructive feedback after interviews for all candidates.
  • We only work with recruitment consultants that are actively committed to diversity and can, and will, put forward candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds for interviews.

Nurturing talent

  • We have objective and transparent pay rise, promotion, training and development policies.
  • We review each employee’s client work to ensure staff have equal opportunity to work on big clients and award-winning campaigns.
  • We offer each Black, Asian, mixed race and ethnic minority member of staff the opportunity to be mentored by a fellow member of staff from a similar background.
  • We are actively committed to, and working towards, no gender or ethnic pay gap.

Commitment

  • We are committed to ethnic diversity across all levels from boardroom to work experience, and will capture and track data to show the impact of our commitment.
  • We are committed to ethnic diversity across all levels, and our senior management team and staff from across the business have attended The Blueprint diversity workshop training.
  • We are committed to ethnic diversity across all levels and diversity and inclusion training is mandatory for all staff.
  • We are committed to ethnic diversity across all levels with all members of senior management responsible for ethnic diversity recruitment, retention and promotion targets.
  • We publish our diversity data each financial year.

Culture

  • We are committed to an inclusive social culture, including our social activities.
  • We have a zero-tolerance approach to racial discrimination, harassment (including third party), victimisation, bullying, intimidation and microaggressions and will not hesitate to take disciplinary action (up to and including dismissal) if required as detailed in our code of conduct.
  • We have trained HR staff and all those with line management responsibilities to support staff from different backgrounds and cultures.
  • We regularly survey and consult with employees to seek their feedback on the inclusivity of our working environment.

Work

  • We aim to create work that is inclusive and recognises diverse audiences.

Company

  • We publish our diversity and inclusion commitment statement on our website, and ensure all our clients and customers know the standards to expect.
  • We request the diversity policies of all suppliers and aim to work with companies with a track record for supporting diversity.
  • We have a client charter issued to all clients.
  • We understand The Blueprint kite mark can be withdrawn from us should we breach its terms.