The History of African Americans in Public Relations

Public relations plays a major role in the business industry. The process of communicating and interacting with the consumer base has been an essential goal for corporations and small businesses alike for centuries. But before PR pioneers such as Bayard Rustin, Ida B. Wells, and Patricia Tobin - just to name a few, diversity in PR was practically nonexistent. In today's marketing industry it could potentially cripple a business to ignore an entire demographic of people, but there was a time when CEO's and business owners didn't see the value of earning the trust and business of a minority. This month Leading Lady PR is celebrating Black History by honoring the public relations pioneers that paved the way for diversity in the business industry and in turn they changed the course of history. 

    There are names most of us have heard: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Sojourner Truth. Each one of them played a major part in history, using their voices and standing up for what they believed in, even if their words were in direct opposition to the popular opinion at the time. That's how black public relations began, advocating for freedom and civil rights. They needed to empower the community to unite, and in order to do that, they needed to build a relationship with communities of every color. Bayard Rustin was a civil rights organizer and activist who advised Dr. Martin Luther King and helped organize the legendary March on Washington in 1963. Along with briefing King before meetings, Rustin also handled the press and helped inform the masses of what will be known as the "I Have A Dream" speech. 

    Before Rustin made his mark, another African American PR icon became the "Princess of the Press" fighting for women's suffrage and abolishing lynching. Her name is Ida B. Wells and she was a journalist, abolitionist, and feminist who used her voice to help change America's public opinion for both women's rights and civil rights. Wells started earning her royal nickname by writing articles about the racial injustice running rampant in the South and she eventually came to own multiple newspaper titles. Not only that, but her writing drew the attention of Frederick Douglass, who funded one of her publications. 

    Following in the greatness of Ida B. Wells, Patricia Tobin took the lead in PR starting her own business due to the lack of opportunities for African Americans in the business industry. Tobin and Associates opened doors for the next generation of leaders to come to the forefront and communicate with the masses. Tobin was dubbed the "Queen of PR" for a reason. As the founder and former president of the National Black PR Society, she paved the way for not only African American journalists and PR students but for women of color as well. Tobin's success in PR grew due to her focus on building strong relationships with the African American community. Working with names like Spike Lee and brands like Toyota are just a couple of Tobin's successes that helped to cement her as a public relations pioneer and African American legacy. 

    Public relations has been around for a while. The need to connect with your audience and build strong relationships with the consumer base has played an important role in more than just business. The names I mentioned here are just a few of the public relations pioneers included in the list of African American activists, leaders, and game changers who used their voice and their pens to promote equality and change the popular opinion of America. Their choice to use their words to unite us and usher diversity into the business industry is a choice that we at Leading Lady PR will forever be grateful for. As a business owned by a woman of color, LLPR is proud to walk in the footsteps of all those who paved the way for us, and all people of color in America.