Yolanda Caraway, often described as a change catalyst, has over 30+ year’s experience with policy-making, public affairs, as well as with national and international political matters. Often sought after to coordinate major activities for the Democratic Party, as well as private organizations, her list of professional achievements showcases years of organizational ability and management expertise.
We set out to talk with Yolanda and the first topic we discussed was the evolution of multicultural public relations.
Yolanda, the face of multicultural public relations is constantly changing. As someone who has been working for so many years in this area, how have you kept up, and what trends have you noticed?
“This year, I celebrated 33 years in business. And as I witness a time when keeping doors open is no easy feat, I stand proud of the work we have done, the work we continue to do, and certainly the work lying ahead. Yet, I am most proud of our ability to be strong enough to face the multitude of changes in the public relations field, yet flexible enough to adjust, adapt and lead some of the changes. Thirty-three years in this business has taught me a great deal.
“I started out either by working as a subcontracted firm to some of the larger PR companies who wanted to target African American consumers. Or I was hired by Black organizations to help them reach the Black press, which was primarily Black newspapers and magazines, — Ebony and Jet were the staples — radio stations and some local TV public affairs shows. Although BET was launched in 1980, the programming consisted of music videos and reruns of old comedies. Their first news show was in 1988 — BET News with Ed Gordon.
“TV One was founded in 2004. Generally, my scope of work was to write and distribute press releases by mail or fax, make follow-up calls and book live or recorded radio interviews.
“Back then, the term ‘multicultural PR’ didn’t exist. We called it ‘specialty media’ and generally, during the early eighties, the primary focus was on reaching Black consumers. During that time, many Black public relations firms came into existence. Most were affiliated with Black ad agencies and there were only a few stand-alone firms.
“Simultaneously, while Hispanic consumer outreach existed, it didn’t become a major part of most public relations plans until the mid-eighties and the formation of the Hispanic Public Relations Association helped to increase interest. Asian American public relations outreach was pretty much absent in most corporate PR strategies, and unfortunately still is in too many.
“In the early nineties, with the emergence of much more Black, Hispanic, Asian American and segmented media outlets, along with more diverse PR agencies, the term ‘specialty PR’ became ‘multicultural PR’.
“America is changing. Multi-cultural and multi-ethnic audiences have grown in size, spending power, and media outlets. As of now, Black Americans make up 13.4% of the population and have an annual spend of over $1 Trillion. Hispanics are the single largest and fastest-growing ethnic group at 16.7% and spend around $1.5 Trillion. Asian Americans are 5.6% of the U.S. population with a $1.2 Trillion annual spend. Finally, as an aside, women are 50.8% of the population and spend around $6.4 Trillion in US consumer spending.
“Some time ago I was interviewed for a business publication on the future of multicultural marketing. We talked about the fact that 30 years ago many mainstream agencies — much to their detriment — ignored the power of the minority spending dollar and were left playing catch up. That is where we stepped in to fill the void. I started as an event planning company — and have had the opportunity to plan and execute some historic events. After planning many events with ‘public relations’ as part of the strategy for several Democratic National Conventions, the NAACP Image Awards, and others, it became clear that our niche was really the Black community. I did not abandon events and still have not, but I expanded my focus greatly to guide clients through the intersection of Black and mainstream cultures.
“In fact, I expanded even further as we moved from the nineties into the 21st century to include Latinos, Asians, women, the LGBTQ community — what I still often refer to as ‘every group except straight, white men’. Again, the terminology evolved and today it’s often referred to as ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ PR.
“What I have seen is that most clients say they value diversity and inclusion, that they care about having a corporate culture that reflects a diverse consumer base or constituency. And my experience is that this is generally true. What is often missing is the actual know-how. How do we reach and talk to diverse communities? How do we market to young, affluent Black Americans?? The answer is quite simple — relationships. Remember the business is about public relations.”
Yolanda, thank you for sharing. It is interesting to learn about your path