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Diversity as a Young Professional

Published on October 16, 2016, at 11:50 a.m.
By Kennedy Studdard.

For any student majoring in public relations, it is important to recognize that diversity matters. From interests and hobbies to a person’s background and identity, no two people are the same, and everyone has a different path. Some enter college knowing what public relations is, while others declare their major during junior year after changing it four or five times.

As the meaning of diversity changes over time, today’s public relations specialists realize that limiting diversity into one meaning prevents the opportunity to reach a wide range of people, outlets or ideas. With a goal to build mutually beneficial relationships, practitioners understand that accepting change in a constantly evolving world helps a brand stay relevant.

Companies and agencies are quickly learning the importance of identifying all levels of diversity internally and externally in order to progress and stay current.

Image attribution: Nevit Dilmen
Image attribution: Nevit Dilmen

Specifically looking at o2ideas (aka o2), a leading digital, advertising, marketing and public relations agency located in Birmingham, Alabama, the agency makes it a priority to have an open environment where employees can look at diversity across all facets.

But what is diversity?

“Diversity: it’s everything — gender, skin color, disability, heritage, background, age and more,” defined Jennie Sun, account executive at o2ideas.

According to Yvonne Taunton, another account executive at o2, diversity is the variety of one’s day.

“Every day is different, but that’s what makes [working at o2ideas] fun, because you can work on multiple projects through hands-on experience,” Taunton said.

Or for Casey O’Rear, a third account executive at o2ideas, diversity is found in the variety of clients the agency has.

Regarding the company as a whole, diversity means the history and background of an advertising agency founded by Shelley Stewart.

Diverse backgrounds
o2ideas was once a dream by Stewart, an African-American male. He lived through the Civil Rights Movement, and remembers a time where people told him he would never possess his own business. o2ideas-logo

Almost 50 years later, the agency is a symbol for overcoming diversity from a racial standpoint. Everyone in the company acknowledges how o2 came from the ground up, and the company prides itself on understanding what it means to overcome adversity from one man’s experiences. However, that doesn’t mean the company stops the conversation there, and, as young professionals, Sun, Taunton and O’Rear all exemplify what it means to represent diversity in the PR field.

Today’s young professional
Sun grew up in Jasper, Alabama, and graduated from the University of North Alabama in 2012. Taunton and O’Rear both attended The University of Alabama, majored in public relations and graduated in 2012. The takeaway? Each woman began her respective PR journey differently, but they all ended up at o2ideas as account executives.

All of their stories show college students that public relations can also be a diverse major: Each came from a public relations background and ended up at an advertising agency.

Diversity looks at experiences, and public relations is a field that thrives on the experiences of others to help create targeted but relatable messages.

That doesn’t mean that all the experiences are the same, or that the experience will be positive.

As women, there are times when there will be gender discrepancies, or for minorities, there’s always the battle of race and gender. But for today’s young professionals, diversity now looks at age and one’s ability to perform well.

“Being a young female, we’re looked down upon by higher executive males, so you have to work 10 times harder [to prove yourself],” Sun said about the hardships of being a young professional.

“There’s an underestimation of our level of knowledge,” added O’Rear, in reference to a previous experience in the sports industry. “It’s still very male-driven, [and sometimes the dream] still feels very unattainable.”

Taunton shared her experience about being a minority woman and having to deal with race, both positively and negatively.

“Thankfully at o2 I’ve never had to deal with any form of discrimination,” said Taunton. “Unfortunately, while interning post-college, I experienced a situation where I had to overcome adversity because of my race.”

However, all three women remain positive because o2 offers a culture that is very family-oriented and celebrates working together.

“It’s a very collaborative workplace,” said O’Rear. “You interact with everyone in the agency and you’re constantly all working on stuff together, even if you’re not on the creative side. People always have your back.”

The young professionals of the future row-of-professionals
Change continues to push forward and the realm of diversity grows into an overarching umbrella of multiple identities and characteristics.

No one person fits just under one term anymore, and the future looks bright for minorities and women to hold a place at the executive table.

“I believe there will be a time where more African-Americans and other minorities will hold executive leadership roles,” said Taunton. “With our generation overall, we’re not as traditional; we’re more diversified, which opens up more opportunities.”

Reviewing Taunton, Sun and O’Rear’s diverse paths, college students can look up to these women for encouragement when hoping to achieve executive-level positions.

Additionally, each o2 executive ended with several words of wisdom for college seniors and students majoring in public relations.

“Don’t compare yourself to everyone else and their path,” said O’Rear. “It’s going to seem like everyone is living an extravagant life, but that’s not real. Because of social media, our generation has a problem understanding that everything is staged. Just stay positive and remain hopeful because things will fall into place.”

Sun lives by the idea that “everything is going to be okay, even when [being a working, young professional] is slightly scary,” both financially and personally.

Taunton’s main piece of advice encourages students to have confidence and never stop learning.

“Always get involved where you can learn — listening to webinars, having a mentor, taking an additional class to improve your skills — because it’s important to not only understand your industry, but your client’s industry as well,” said Taunton.

Photo provided by Yvonne Taunton
Photo provided by Yvonne Taunton
Photo provided by Jennie Sun
Photo provided by Jennie Sun
Photo provided by Casey O'Rear
Photo provided by Casey O’Rear

Other helpful advice from the o2ideas young professionals:

  • Don’t stop networking! It could lead you to new clients and opportunities. Also connect with someone who can become your mentor and utilize their knowledge.
  • Try agency life before going straight into corporate because it’s constantly moving. But also understand that advertising and public relations can be extremely fast-paced, so you can’t have a panic attack over web banners.
  • Make a five-year plan for yourself so you can stick to your short-term goals. Additionally, always make a “To-Do” list because it’ll help you with prioritizing and organizational skills.
  • Have a great support system that you can rely on, especially for the tough times. And treat your weaknesses as opportunities to improve yourself.
  • Learn that you don’t have to be a hero for everybody. [Public relations] is only your job, not your life.
  • Learn the power of saying no! You’re allowed to unplug, and don’t give in to the FOMO (fear of missing out).
  • Remember that you won’t learn everything in college; some skills will develop once you’re at your internship or job.
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