As the only living African American inducted into the Public Relations Hall of Fame by the Philadelphia Public Relations Association, David Brown feels both pride and disappointment.
“The organization is the oldest in the country and the fact that I’m the only one, that means that there are so many other people who should have been acknowledged,” said Brown, a professor in the strategic communications department.
Now, Brown is hoping to get more people of color inducted into the Hall of Fame as the faculty adviser for the Black Public Relations Society.
“The dominated culture will be the ones that make the rules unless people like me get involved,” Brown said.
Growing up, Brown saw the impact public relations had on his community, so he decided to work with organizations that rarely had enough money to stand out in a broad market.
He said public relations can also raise awareness about social issues, like immigration reform and affordable healthcare, as well as help communities.
“Not just a community in the sense of geography, but people who are vulnerable, at risk and in trouble,” he added.
Since then, Brown has had an interest in the field, specifically in the nonprofit sector, rather than working in corporate or agency settings.
Early in his career after he graduated from Duquesne University in 1984, Brown had the opportunity to either work for an alcoholic beverage company, or to work with people suffering from addiction. He worked for an agency who was working to market a new malt liquor product. The agency focused specifically on marketing to the African-American community, which the agency saw as the target audience for the product.
“I have people in my family and in my circle who have been afflicted by alcoholism,” he said. “It just didn’t feel right for me and that for me was the beginning of my journey.”
Brown left the agency to start his own company, the Marketing Collaborative, an agency for nonprofits that focuses on issues like health care, smoking and gambling addiction.
He works for nonprofits including Philadelphia Academy and Lancaster General Health System. He also holds community workshops to teach the nonprofits’ members about public relations and advertising.
“Since they are a nonprofit, they already have a social mission built in, but I also guide them because sometimes you receive big grants that can compromise that,” he said.
Asha Wescott, a senior public relations major and president of Temple’s Black Public Relations Society believes it’s important to give students the opportunity to be in a professional setting.
“It gives students who feel overlooked in the industry a chance to stand out and their voice be heard,” Wescott said. “Professor Brown is amazing, he has given the organization a whole new platform, we are now nationally known because of him.”
As part of his Public Relations Management and Case Problems class, Brown has his students work with local nonprofits by assigning them each an organization.
“I want them to be able to develop a proficiency in writing, but find a way to develop their own moral compass in what they are doing once they leave here,” he said.
Brown said he hopes to help create a diverse public relations industry that reflects the diversity of the city, because growing up he didn’t have many role models of color.
“More students are going into it now with a much different view of what diversity is and are more comfortable in their own skin,” Brown said. “When I was coming up, I was very aware that I was the only African American in the room.”
“Because I am conscious about it, I want to make sure other people know how to have these other experiences and be forced out of their comfort zone,” he added. “I want to be able to mentor different types of people.”
Madison Hall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.