Over the last few years, there have been a number of PR nightmares for leading corporate brands. Let's recall when H&M came under fire for an advertisement featuring a young, Black boy in a green hoodie bearing the words "coolest monkey in the land." Or, remember when Dove tried to depict a Black woman turning into a white woman? It's tone-deaf advertising campaigns like these that will continue to happen unless the industry becomes more inclusive and diverse because, let's be real, only a woman of color can truly challenge the status quo and demand for our voices to be heard in the room. That's why it's deeply important that Black women in the PR industry come together to educate and empower one another to reach the top of the corporate ladder.
Netwerk to Networth (N2N) is a female-led and fed, collaborative event series by The PR Girl Manifesto and Personally Rachel Group. Co-founded by Rachel Gordon and Fatou Barry after meeting on Instagram, N2N is designed for "purpose-driven women where attendees can learn from each other and connect on an authentic level." Since kicking off back in January in New York City, the tour — whose sole purpose is to provide tangible career advice from some of the leading women in art, tech, media and communications directly to college students and young professionals — has catered to roughly 350+ attendees and secured sponsorships from Samsung, Red Bull, Ciroc, DevaCurl, Boxed Water and more.
I had the pleasure to speak with Gordon and Barry on why they created Netwerk to Network, what important skill every publicist should possess, and how Black PR professionals can bridge the gap of diversity in the industry.
- Check out our exclusive interview with Rachel Gordon and Fatou Barry below.
Photo: Netwerk to Networth
21Ninety: How did the concept for Netwerk to Networth come to be? What inspired you each to create a community for women in the PR/Communications industry?
Rachel Gordon: Fatou and I have bred in the same circles, both being from the Northeast and being in the PR/Communications industry. So we've always followed each other on social and supported each other from afar. She has a platform, called The PR Girl Manifesto, which we ended up partnering and doing a takeover on their Instagram — and it was really amazing! I loved doing it. And at that point, we realized how much synergy there is between our brands and our missions. One day, she was like, "Hey, I want to get on a call." So we put some time on our calendars. She was like, "I really want to do this event that tells a story about women collaborating in a really genuine way." I was like, "I love it!" She went on to say, "I'm thinking our home cities, New York and Philly." And I told her that I think we just do the whole U.S. She was like, "This is crazy, but I'm with it!" So we just started playing. Of course, she had her respective team from The PR Girl Manifesto and her agency, AB Media Group. And I had mine PR Group so we just fused the team and it grew from there. It's been a crazy-crazy nine months.
Fatou Barry: When we met in New York, that was the first time we met outside of calls and video chats. I always think that that goes to show the power of being able to collaborate with other women, or just what can happen when you take that first step to work alongside someone who, you may not know in real life, but you know that there's energy there that would flow. I think that's why we're both such big advocates of women reaching out to each other on the internet — slide in there DMs, or comment on that person's picture and set up that meeting because you really never know.
Photo: Netwerk to Networth
21N: Netwerk to Networth embarked on a national tour to provide tangible career advice from some of the leading women in art, tech, media and communications — why is it important to not only educate Black, female professionals but to empower them as well?
FB: When in this age — well, we've always been in this age — where women can do anything. But I think it's time for us to uplift women of color. It's important for us to be producing events like Netwerk to Networth, it's important for us to be pouring into the next generation or just our fellow colleagues and peers. One acknowledgment, or one "I got you, let me know show you" can take a person so far. And I think people underestimate how effort really empowers others to do their best. So for us, it was important that we didn't just do this tour to reach women of color that we in our own backyard and communities, but actually traveling with this tour to tap into those demographics in each city that we've been too.
RG: To go off on that — It's important that we didn't just empower individuals, of course, we want you to come out and be inspired but we realized very quickly that we were empowering creativity and we were empowering actual collaboration. After we had our first events in New York and Philly, we noticed that a lot of these women who came to the events alone are not working on projects with each other that they met. So that was really cool for us to see women join forces and foster their creativity.
21N: In addition to co-founding Netwerk to Network, Rachel, you founded the PR creative agency, Personally Rachel Group. And Fatou, you are the founder of PR Girl Manifesto. In your opinion, what’s the most underestimated skill or tactic to being a successful publicist?
FB: Man, I feel like I can go on and on . Honestly, what I've come to find really helps people is the value of relationship building and networking across. The PR industry looks a lot different than what it used to be, so I think people are always interested in who's at the top but they really should be networking with people who are around them. So for example, the reporter that you may need in a year might not be in that position right now, but they're being groomed and cultivating towards that. So I think being able to hone in on the community and network across is something that is underestimated as a skill, which is ironic because PR is all about building relationships. But you'll find that a lot of people don't know how to cultivate relationships that could actually help propel their goals and their client's goals.
RG: I think just also knowing what PR is because I think it's very misconstrued. Fatou and I talk about all the time about people who come to us saying, "Hey, I need a publicist." And then the asks are not aligned with the job description at all. For me, I'm now shifting from being a publicist to positioning myself a creative agency due to what my real passions are. The PR industry is so ever-changing, it's important that you know what you want to do and you're understanding what that is. Instead of calling yourself a publicist, but you really want to do events, then you're making sure that you're marketing yourself properly so that people understand what it is that you do and how you can serve them.
Photo: Netwerk to Networth
21N: Last year, Fortune asked Black PR professionals what it’s like being a person of color in the PR industry. The article stated: “Like entertainment, tech, and many other industries, the communications sector has a diversity problem, with too few people of color — and far too few diverse individuals in high-ranking positions.” What do you think is the key to bridging the gap in leadership for Black professionals in the PR industry?
FB: We definitely have got to speak up. Just to apply you with an anecdote, I've been in situations where I've worked on something internally and someone else took the credit for it, or someone else was the face for it, just because the client didn't feel comfortable with African Americans spearheading or being the lead on it. I think that, sometimes, we don't want to shake the table. We want to hold our position or make sure that everything goes smoothly, so we don't say anything. But I definitely think more women of color in this industry need to be more vocal in their roles. To get into these rooms or to get into these spaces, I think we've got to have conversations. Two years ago, we hosted a webinar with a diverse group of PR professionals who were both African American and white. And our non-person of color said something that was really interesting — she said, "I don't know these struggles. As white women in this industry, it's my job to speak up and it's my job to advocate for my fellow Black, PR counterparts." Depending on what agency you're at, it really is an issue that almost feels like we're segregated.
RG: I completely agree with that Fatou said. I think it's about being in the room and speaking up. And the other thing I would say is — for those who are already in the room, sometimes there's that underlying feeling of if I let another Black woman into the room, I'm no longer going to be valued. It's really easy to use the word "inclusive" to a white person, but we don't talk about how Black people need to be inclusive to each other when we're in these spaces. So for me, regardless of how far I climb, I'm always going to reach back. Anything that I do has to align with that. Just being cognizant of that and moving with that in mind very intentionally is something we can all do to change what the issue looks like.
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Tribe - we did it, we’ve officially wrapped up our 2019 #netwerktonetworth tour. Can’t think of any other place more fitting to end our tour than LA. Thank you to Los Angeles for showing us so much love during #N2NLA, we shared so many special moments this weekend. Much love to our friends at @WeWork for hosting us for another amazing Happy Hour, the amazing Chef @lallaminala for providing attendees with delicious bites, and our friends at @Ciroc + @lapintapomegranate for making sure our cups stayed filled! __ 🎥 @dvvinci
21N: I know you both just wrapped your national tour, but what we expect to see from you and Netwerk to Networth in 2019?
FB: We're big on innovation, I think that's something that blended itself really well, we just enjoy trying new things. So I think there's a lot in store for Netwerk to Networth — we've definitely already started planning our 2020 tour. So our ultimate goal is just trying t do better than what we've done before. Trying to provide more value. Trying to provide a better experience. That way, when people come to our events, they can really feel that we strive to provide them with the best experience possible. So we're looking at programming, we're really looking at everything that we've done on this past tour down to see what gaps we can fill and how we can elevate the experience for attendees.
RG: We're going to be announcing where we're touring in 2020 in the next month. And in addition tour stops, we're going to be doing more programming so that there are more opportunities to get the full experience. Like Fatou said, innovation is big. We're never going to put on the same event twice so we can provide a valuable and tangible experience for our attendees.
21N: Do you have any final words of advice or encouragement for WOC professionals struggling to find success in the PR/Communications industry?
FB: For me, the best advice I can give to give to someone is knowing how to do the work. I feel like people look at timelines, but if you're really able to do the work and continue to align yourself with things that make sense then you will see the rewards. PR is not an overnight thing. You reap what you sow. It takes years of dedication and it takes years of hard work to establish relationships, to get press hits, to have a network that you can rely on. So understand that the path contributes to your success.
RG: I have a very similar sentiment. I would say, "do the work comma for real!" What we've found, even on this tour, is that a lot of people are really excited about an idea but they don't have the work ethic to back it up. So I would say really, really do the work. And that will put you in rooms and have your name come up in conversations.
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