An educational outreach program from the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication seeks to aid students from diverse backgrounds who are looking to launch careers in advertising and public relations by connecting them with career-prep skills and a professional network.
The Myra Blackmon AdPR Academy for Diversity and Inclusion is a four-day boot camp that unites upper-level students from different institutions with working professionals in advertising and PR roles through training and mentorship initiatives.
Since launching in 2017, the program has helped over 150 students from two dozen institutions gain hands-on skills and experience for their future careers.
What’s the need: The majority of advertising and public relations professionals are white or female, according to research from national organizations.
A 2023 report from the American Association of Advertising Agencies found 90 percent of agencies in 2022 were run by white CEOs, with white professionals making up 65 percent of the employee population, compared to 12 percent Hispanic or Latino, 11 percent Asian, 7 percent Black, 3 percent Middle Eastern and fewer than 1 percent of Native American and Pacific Islander.
Further, 2022 research by the Association of National Advertisers found 67 percent of ANA member companies’ marketing departments were female, 32 percent were male and fewer than 1 percent were nonbinary.
A 2023 report from the Diversity Action Alliance, which represents public relations and communications leaders, found 73 percent of employees were white in 2021, with 8 percent identifying as Black, 7 percent Hispanic or Latino, 7 percent Asian, 3 percent two or more races, and fewer than 1 percent Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander professionals.
The academy came together after two former faculty members at the University of Georgia partnered with DeShele Taylor, who served as an industry professional on an advisory board for the college. Taylor, now the program director, works alongside Juan Meng, the department head for advertising and PR at UGA, to organize and orchestrate the event each year.
AdPR Academy seeks to empower all minorities, including ethnic, racial, gender and ability, in starting and succeeding in careers in advertising and PR.
The boot camp: Juniors, seniors and first-year graduate students are eligible, with students either nominated directly by a faculty member or administrator or self-nominated through an online application. In the application, students provide a short video introduction, résumé, letter of recommendation and an online profile.
Empowering Young, Diverse Professionals
Several groups are investing in the success of diverse or minoritized groups within higher education:
- The University of Nebraska at Lincoln offers microinternships and mentoring to underrepresented minority, first-gen and low-income students.
- Apprenticeships at LaGuardia Community College help build diverse talent lines for New York–based companies.
- Break Through Tech offers “sprinternships” to women and other minority groups to promote careers in tech.
Most students are nominated by partner institutions, with each institution given four spots each year, but actual participant numbers vary depending on student availability with the academic calendar, Taylor says. The average cohort is around 30 students.
The 2023 academy took place from Oct. 25 to 29 at a campus shared by three advertising agencies: Fitzco, Momentum and Weber Shandwick. The academy is strategically offered in the fall, allowing students to be ready for internship and job opportunities the following summer.
Students represented 10 partner institutions, five of which were historically Black colleges and universities: Agnes Scott College, Albany State University, Clemson University, Florida A&M University, Georgia State University, Hampton University, Howard University, North Carolina A&T State University, the University of South Carolina and UGA.
During the week, students hear from more than 75 individuals in advertising and public relations from a variety of industries and companies who volunteer their time. Similar to the participants, professionals are diverse in ethnicity, race and gender.
The academy covers the students’ cost of participation, with partner sponsors—such as American Airlines—covering travel costs for eligible students. Hilton provided accommodations for all program participants in 2023, allowing them to spend time in community in one hotel during the trip.
“Every year we go after the resources that we need to make sure that … the cost to entry is not a barrier for their participation,” Taylor says.
Over the four days, students gain expertise on how to interview and network, the daily life and responsibilities of a full-time professional, and some of the tools and platforms used by the industry.
“The curriculum is centered around core skills that any young professional will need entering into PR or advertising right after graduation,” Taylor says. “All of our coursework is specifically taught by working professionals … because we believe strongly that they’re in the marketplace, [so] they understand what’s happening right now.”
Programming includes speed networking, résumé and LinkedIn review, a professional headshot, and a “dine around,” in which students meet with employers over dinner. Students also work in teams of five to complete a case solution for a partner organization, providing a deliverable at the end of the week that is judged and awarded, with cash prizes for first- and second-place winners.
The impact: At the end of the academy, students walk away with a portfolio of work, a polished résumé, a small professional network and a peer network that they can take into the workplace. They also receive a certified credential from UGA, which organizers encourage them to add to their résumés.
A majority of students who participate in the event go on to work in the industry, even if it’s in auxiliary roles such as human resources, Taylor says. “I’ve got a large portion of my alumni that are working in traditional roles, but I’ve got tons of them that are actually entrepreneurs—they started their own businesses, they [have] branched off and gone into photography, or they’re podcasting.”
In postsurveys, 85 percent of students have said that it was a good investment of their time, they would refer the program to a peer and they feel more competent.
Next steps: To date, 159 students from 24 colleges and universities, including 11 HBCUs, have participated.
Recruiting men has proven a challenge for academy leaders, with less than 15 percent male engagement in a typical year, but organizers hope to continue to promote the program and its value to attract young male talent as well.
The program became endowed in 2022, thanks to support from PR professional Myra Blackmon, giving it additional support.
This article has been updated to correct the launch year of AdPR Agency.