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Let’s Talk HBCUs: Accessing this Untapped Talent Market & Debunking the Myths

February 6, 2023
By Candyce Burke

“Really? You want to go to Morgan State?”

“Morgan is like the 13th grade!”

“There is no diversity. Why would you want to be in an environment with only Black people? The real world isn’t like that!”

“You will never get a job if you go to Morgan. Recruiters aren’t looking there for talent.”

When I chose to enroll at Morgan State University – a public, historically black research university (HBCU) in Baltimore, MD – I was met with many detractors. Looking back on it, I am not sure what bothered me more at the time, the comments themselves or the people who made them.

After graduating in 2020, I noticed that many of my peers who graduated from HBCUs encountered similar misperceptions during their job searches, and some began to lose hope. I realized that changing mindsets towards HBCUs starts with tackling some of the most common myths.

Candyce Burke (above), assistant account executive at FleishmanHillard and Morgan State 2020 graduate.

Myth #1: HBCUs don’t produce top talent.

HBCUs are a market of untapped talent and potential. Recruiting from HBCUs can help companies diversify their workplace, especially in fields like public relations, where over 70% of employees are white. HBCUs are responsible for 22% of current bachelor’s degrees grated to African Americans. While HBCU students represent some of the most talented prospects in the job market, recruitment efforts from companies at these institutions are still inadequate. According to a recent LinkedIn article, the industries that outperform others in recruiting HBCU grads include energy and mining, software and IT services, hardware and networking, finance and manufacturing. The public relations industry should take note of how these industries are attracting and retaining HBCU talent, and work to produce similar results.

Myth #2: There’s no diversity at HBCUs.

HBCUs are incredibly diverse. These institutions were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to primarily serve the Black community and correct for systemic exclusion of Black people from higher education. However, during my time at Morgan State, I met students from Latin America, Africa, Europe, various Caribbean islands and states across the U.S. This opened my eyes to the abundance of diversity within the Black community, and to the beauty in all the cultures and experiences that connect us yet make us so unique.  Diversity comes in many forms, and HBCUs allow Black students to stand tall and take pride in their intersectionality. No matter a student’s gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background or nationality, there’s a place for everyone to feel safe. Personally, this is what made me feel most comfortable at Morgan State – the freedom to be myself.

So, what can companies and their recruiters do to reach diverse talent at HBCUs?

Here are some of my thoughts:

Recruit outside of the box: There are currently 101 HBCUs in the nation. However, many recruiters gravitate to the same ones to find new talent. Connecting and partnering with schools around the country (outside of the typical suspects) can help more students get experience and opportunities, as well as face-to-face interaction with recruiters.

Work on internal DE&I efforts: As a diverse candidate, I would not apply anywhere I didn’t feel represented. On top of having a DE&I plan and initiatives in place to make all their employees feel included, companies should also have diverse recruiters. This would also make applicants feel comfortable asking questions, giving recruiters the chance to explain why the company is a good place for them to start their careers.

Make hiring more accessible and less exclusive: A lot of the best opportunities require an “in” or a connection. Many companies recruit new hires from within their employees’ networks, which can lead to a lack of diversity in their workplace. Instead, companies should reach out to, for example, student-led organizations at HBCUs to recruit talent. Building relationships with HBCU student groups and others within this community garners trust and leads to inclusive and accessible hiring practices.

I am not the only one who wants to see more opportunities for students graduating from HBCUs. And unfortunately, I am not the only one who has heard negative comments about HBCUs based on false stereotypes and misinformation. It is my goal to encourage companies and their recruiters to reach out and explore the fresh faces and rich perspectives that HBCU students offer. This is how I give back to Morgan State and the other 100 HBCUs across the nation.


MLK Day: Bending Our Universe Toward Justice

January 16, 2023
By AJ Bockelman

Many see January as a time to reflect, regroup and consider the work ahead. As we look for inspiration, the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day offers an opportunity to reflect on how we intentionally shape that work so that it centers upon justice and equity.

Dr. King’s legacy is one that sought to lift up people and create the “Beloved Community” he envisioned – despite the deep-rooted racism and discrimination against Black Americans at the time. He courageously called people to the streets in non-violent protest and shared a vision that built the modern civil rights movement.

This year will mark 60 years since Dr. King’s historic 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, and in that time, he has been lionized and regarded as one of the most prominent figures of the civil rights moment. However, it shouldn’t be lost on us that Dr. King wasn’t held in such high regard in his day. He inspired people to speak truth to power in ways that disrupted the status quo. Words were not enough though. Dr. King’s actions accompanying those words led him to be reviled by many, including in the media, and ultimately led to his imprisonment.

Yet despite those setbacks, Dr. King’s steadfast convictions and actions led to change for Black Americans. And by him clearly articulating how we structure our laws and communities, it has led to change for other voices too that have often been forgotten, ignored or targeted. During his lifetime, Dr. King shaped laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since then, his legacy continues to reverberate over decades of progress in civil rights laws that have expanded protections for many people.

And while we still bear witness to the fact that Dr. King’s dream is not yet fulfilled through the injustices and inequities we experience to this day, we can point to change that continues to advance his vision. 

With that, we strive to honor Dr. King’s legacy in how we approach our work at FleishmanHillard all year long. Our DE&I journey is certainly inspired by his legacy. We reflect on Dr. King’s teachings as we continually evaluate how we approach and support our colleagues, clients and communities, and as we seek to broaden our perspectives and understand the lived experiences of others to create an inclusive environment.

As part of our FH4Inlusion work, we’ve engaged in some incredible work with The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change based in Atlanta, where Dr. Bernice A. King, MLK’s daughter, is CEO. We shared details of our work in an earlier blog post. Across our FleishmanHillard headquarters office in St. Louis, my fellow colleagues and I collaborate with leadership to convene thoughtful discussions and activities that elevate diverse voices and create opportunities to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other.

It is hard work, but we must commit ourselves to effect positive change and continue to honor Dr. King’s dream. For me at least, a queer member of Generation X, FleishmanHillard has created a space where I find my voice valued and not just in some niche way. My perspective has been directly impacted by the legacy of Dr. King and I feel a responsibility to continue understanding the lived experiences of others. That is how I personally choose to honor his memory. The collective intention behind this work in our personal and professional lives, and across our communities, is how we will advance justice and equity.

As we celebrate MLK Day and consider the work ahead in our workplaces, communities and broader society in 2023, let us all be inspired and guided by Dr. King’s legacy and teachings. He reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Let’s continue to bend our own universe.


Fintech in 2023: The areas firms should be prioritising

December 6, 2022
By Jaiye Elias

As 2023 nears, it’s important for the fintech industry to air on the side of caution. Take a look at what our fintech experts believe should be priorities for 2023.

The post Fintech in 2023: The areas firms should be prioritising appeared first on United Kingdom.


Healthy Futures: Exploring buying local and sustainability during the cost-of-living crisis

November 28, 2022
By Jaiye Elias

As the food and drink sector undergo various challenges due to the cost-of-living-crisis, the FleishmanHillard UK Food, Agriculture and Beverage team explore the ramifications for brand and communication teams in their new “Cost-of-Living Bites” series.

The post Healthy Futures: Exploring buying local and sustainability during the cost-of-living crisis appeared first on United Kingdom.


Supporting Employees Through a Personal Crisis

October 11, 2022
By Mollie Dreibrodt

When a personal crisis strikes, even employees with the best work-life boundaries can find themselves struggling to stay afloat amidst the storm they’re experiencing. And at some point in your career, you’ll likely be called to support a team member through these murky waters.

Be it a death in the family, severe illness, miscarriage, medical diagnosis, or other event, when things go awry in an employee’s personal life, how you and your organization respond can make a big difference in that individual’s (as well as observers’) employee experience.

Having supported my husband through a cancer diagnosis, reoccurrence, and corresponding treatment twice in the last three years, I’m all too familiar with this. With the benefit of hindsight, there are a few things I’ve learned that can help organizations in supporting their employees through a personal crisis.

1) Synthesize and share benefits information. While your organization may offer a host of benefits that could support an employee through a difficult time, combing through a benefits site to locate or better understand the offering requires the mental capacity that most won’t have in the middle of a life-altering event or diagnosis.

Managers can simplify this process by connecting with HR representatives to understand what benefits are available and most helpful to the employee’s specific situation. Doing this will help engage the right business partner(s) and make an already daunting process seem less overwhelming to the impacted employee.

As you relay options for leave, emotional well-being or mental health support, fertility benefits, employee advocacy programs, etc., take some of the work off the impacted employee’s shoulders by addressing head-on what they’re eligible for, what is needed to use a relevant benefit, and who is their point-of-contact for each benefit.

Particularly for those who are on short- or long-term leave, ensure that you – and the team member – know what documentation requirements exist and communicate any known deadlines for end of coverage, paperwork submissions, etc. to minimize added stress during the actual leave period.

2) Let the impacted employee dictate how much of their situation is shared. I’ve personally found being transparent with team members about my situation as the best approach to ensuring business continuity despite periods of increased absence from work or need for additional flexibility. However, that should not be the expectation of all employees going through a tough time.

If you’re the employee’s manager and they’ve shed light on what’s happening, ask them explicitly when – if at all – it’s appropriate to share what’s going on with other colleagues and/or clients, and what level of detail they’re comfortable with you sharing.

When in doubt, err on the side of caution and stick to “[NAME] is [OUT OFFICE UNTIL WHEN, WORKING A DIFFERENT SCHEDULE FOR THIS TIME PERIOD, ETC.] due to personal circumstances.” and do not budge if probed for more information without explicit permission.

3) Show your humanity. Whether you know details of a teammate’s circumstances or not, small acts of support and kindness go a long way. We spend so much of our lives with our co-workers. If a teammate’s situation is known, silence can cause them to question the work community that they’re investing so much of their time and effort into.

A few of the most memorable human-centric moments I’ve experienced were:

  • Managers who remembered big appointment dates and sent encouraging texts ahead of those.
  • Teammates who took on extra tasks, calls or assignments without grumbling and often at the drop of a hat when a new “bad news” call or appointment popped up.
  • Teammates who sent “thinking of you” cards, texts and emails – I know your time is valuable, so the thought does count.
  • Teammates who supported our family with contributions to fundraisers, meal trains, gas and travel money, etc.
  • Co-workers who asked how things were going instead of assuming I didn’t want to talk about it.

4) Support a slower or flexible re-entry period. For employees who have been on leave or working a sporadic schedule, don’t expect them to be back to 100% on their first day – or week – back to regularly scheduled programming.

As a manager, ensure their workload is still distributed for the first week (or more) of re-entry. If appropriate and assuming the requests have been handled, assure them they don’t need to address the overwhelming amount of unread emails they probably have in their inbox.

Respect that life has likely drastically changed for your teammate and give them the space to process that transformation however needed.

At the end of the day, empathetic leadership and giving grace can go a long way. Balancing work and life is always hard, but when tragedy strikes, priorities will likely skew toward “life.” At a time when more employees are asking for their whole self to be prioritized by their employer, how you respond and support them through a personal crisis can have a major impact on their morale, engagement and perception of your organization as a whole.


Cyber-attacks in the changing world of cyber communication

October 4, 2022
By Jaiye Elias

High-profile cyber-attacks seem to be hitting the headlines even more regularly in 2022. For every incident you see in the press, there are many more that never become public. We’ve spent an awful lot of time responding to ransomware attacks this year, and we have spotted some emerging trends. Cyber-attack tactics All ransomware attacks have […]

The post Cyber-attacks in the changing world of cyber communication appeared first on United Kingdom.


FleishmanHillard UK Analysis: The New Cabinet

September 7, 2022
By Jaiye Elias

As we look at Liz Truss’s new Cabinet, her vision is evident. Important figures who have been loyal to her both during the leadership campaign and her wider time in politics now occupy key positions. There are also some familiar faces who ran in the leadership race themselves, such as Nadhim Zahawi and Penny Mordaunt […]

The post FleishmanHillard UK Analysis: The New Cabinet appeared first on United Kingdom.


Viva Las Vegas: Takeaways from the 2022 NABJ x NAHJ Convention

August 18, 2022
By Fran Weems and Daniela Velazquez

What happens when 5,000 journalists and communicators of color descend on Caesars Palace in Las Vegas? Magic.

From August 3 through 7, Las Vegas was home to the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) Convention and Career Fair. Professionals from across the nation came together for a week of learning and networking, united under the 2022 convention theme, “Changing the Game/Rompiendo Barreras.”

We were there, too. For the first time ever, FleishmanHillard sponsored the premier multiday conference for journalism and communications professionals to explore media education, career development and advancement, and networking and industry innovation.

And for this occasion, what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. Here were our highlights:

Discussing “How Journalists and PR Pros Can Work Together to Catalyze Equity and Change” at our panel

Francesca “Fran” Weems, senior vice president, director of diversity, equity and inclusion and global lead of the Race & Culture team (an offering of True MOSAIC, our DE&I communications practice), moderated the discussion with our esteemed panel, which included: Daniela Velázquez, vice president, Corporate Reputation and a leader on both the True MOSAIC and Race & Culture teams at FleishmanHillard; Russell Contreras, Race and Justice reporter at Axios; Erin Texeira, senior editor, Local Journalism Initiative at FRONTLINE; and Jared Council, senior editor at For(bes) The Culture.

The panel explored the role organizations play as changemakers. As we’ve seen in our True MOSAIC practice counseling clients, consumers are still frustrated with the lack of social progress and looking for company “receipts” around justice and equity. Journalists have the role of telling these stories, but as PR practitioners who center on DE&I, we know that there is an opportunity to work together to evolve the conversation, push for greater transparency and create lasting transformation.

Recruiting and Retaining the Best Diverse Talent

As FleishmanHillard continues its journey to become the most inclusive agency in the world, we know it’s important to follow the wisdom of the hip-hop artist Migos and “walk it like I talk it.” We must not just speak about the importance of DE&I but invest ourselves and our resources to integrate DE&I into the nervous system of our business and make it intrinsic to our work.

To reach our ambition, we have to recruit, grow and retain diverse talent. That’s exactly why Kelly Cheung, senior recruiting specialist, and Janel O’Brien, talent development manager, were on-site at our FleishmanHillard booth. They shared more about our commitment to DE&I, our client work on True MOSAIC, as well as our internship and Alfred Fleishman Diversity Fellowship opportunities.

Uncovering What DE&I Reporters are Thinking

  • Newsrooms are grappling with calling out companies/governments while dealing with their own DE&I issues. Reporters who cover the race/culture beats in newsrooms and who are working to hold other organizations and governments accountable also grapple with knowing their newsrooms are battling the same issues.
  • Communicators have a real opportunity to make the world more equitable. For both journalists and PR professionals, there was a clear focus on catalyzing change by reaching internal and external audiences. There is a shared resentment that newsrooms and agencies have been too slow to diversify while knowing that to be able to tell impactful stories, you have to have teams that look more like the world in which we live and operate.
  • You cannot hire your way out of DE&I issues. You have to create a culture of inclusion to retain and grow top talent.
  • Race should be a basic competency for all journalists and communications pros. We must all understand the role of race and ethnicity in order to inform more nuanced and inclusive storytelling.
  • Ensure you are making DE&I a movement vs. a marketing moment: Some reporters have found that there are more efforts tied to marketing DE&I than actually making real investments. For example, a company may give $50,000 to an HBCU, but spend $500,000 on marketing it. So, that begs the question are they there for change or credit? Reporters want to know about the issues, the roadblocks and if companies are willing to fall on swords in terms of their lack of progress given so many companies are not where they need to be. Reporters aren’t here to celebrate wins but to spotlight items that are working that may be scaled across various industries.
  • Gen Z is looking for levels of authenticity never seen before. Gen Z is aware of their power and have a voice. They are calling out companies for their lack of authenticity and holding them accountable on social media as it relates to racial and social injustice. This is forcing companies to reconsider how they operate and speak out on issues (see related info in FleishmanHillard’s 2021 Authenticity Gap).

As an agency, we look forward to continuing to support organizations that advocate for diverse communicators and grow our commitment to, and investment in, diversity, equity and inclusion.


Tick Tock Tech – All This Talk About Chips

August 1, 2022
By Matthew Caldecutt

The semiconductor industry is back in the spotlight with the Senate and House passage of the bi-partisan “Chips and Science Act,” focused largely on driving domestic production of semiconductor chips. This is in response to recent events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine, which have created major issues in both chip production and the broader semiconductor supply chain. The chips in question are used in a wide variety of products – including motor vehicles, cellphones, medical equipment and military weapons – so shortages have caused price hikes and disruptions in countless connected industries. Communications professionals for semiconductor companies and related industries should pay close attention as these efforts to bolster high-tech manufacturing will begin to drive a steady news cycle.

What is the Chips and Science Act?

The Chips and Science Act is primarily a way to directly pay semiconductor companies for setting up semiconductor fabrication plants – or “fabs” – and making future investments in the U.S. It sets aside around $50 billion for semiconductor companies with $39 billion to build, expand or modernize domestic facilities, and $11 billion for research and development. Another $2 billion will help fund other areas of the semiconductor industry – education, defense and future innovation. In addition to the money set aside immediately following its passing, the act contains an added bonus – investment tax credit for manufacturing.

Is the Chips and Science Act Necessary?

Proponents see the Chips and Science Act as critical given the impact of the current global semiconductor chip shortage on numerous industries ranging from appliances to automotive – many produced in the U.S. Put simply, a stronger U.S. capacity for production could shield the affected companies from other interruptions and possibly spur innovation through close collaboration. At the same time, this could also help to reverse the U.S.’ declining role in semiconductor manufacturing, which has fallen from nearly 40% in 1990 to 12% today, according to a recent report from the Semiconductor Industry Association.

At the same time, there are some who believe that the semiconductor industry has recovered from the dearth of available chips at the pandemic’s height and demand will continue to fall, especially outside of the U.S. According to Gartner, for example, a recession may also further decrease the need for semiconductors, should consumers curtail spending on the devices they power, especially mobile phones.

What do Communicators Need to Consider Before Joining the Chip Conversation?

This development presents opportunities and potential pitfalls that need to be considered when seeking to participate in this news cycle.

On the one hand, attempts to jumpstart manufacturing of any sort will create jobs – high-paying ones in particular – and this is traditionally well-received by the media and U.S. public. Public relations professionals can tap into an array of outlets for such attention – from press where future factories may be located to regional when announcing elected officials’ support for such opportunities in their respective districts. There’s also the opportunity to go further and speak to how the new professionals working at these sites will contribute to tax bases, possibly establishing businesses to support what’s being done there, and more. And, when it comes to the businesses that move in or are established, they, too, can see a halo effect as they draw attention to working with local schools or assisting with a factory being environmentally conscious. In short, there’s something PR-able well before ground is even broken.

And yet, there’s also an obvious need to be cautious with regard to media engagement at this time. The semiconductor industry has experienced price increases as demand outstripped supply, so there’s some notable concern about those receiving these subsidies and incentives given the profits it has made possible. It’s important to be transparent about how the funds would be used – when, where and whom they would benefit as well as how quickly. There was intense lobbying by international companies without a domestic base to their name that has led to concerns about the value of this investment if it’s going to large and established manufacturers who may ultimately not commit to transferring production here. With the passage, it’s time to start speaking to how building here was always the plan and be seen as a partner.

Beyond labor and real estate, there will be a ripple effect of opportunities in other verticals connected to resources the government feels are needed to support the semiconductor industry. There will be research coming from educational institutions, the supply chain itself will be examined, and new sources for critical minerals will have to be identified. And, diversity in hiring will be aided at a number of institutions. Borne of the pandemic, the act sets a new direction for high tech in the U.S. – the creation of multiple “Silicon Valleys” – and a new set of news cycles.


No place to hide for financial services firms as the FCA’s Consumer Duty shines a spotlight on authenticity

July 28, 2022
By Ian Williams

The FCA’s Consumer Duty will help ensure that retail financial services firms’ promises match their actions. Firms that don’t behave and communicate authentically will face ever-increasing reputational challenges. Financial services firms’ marketing is full of phrases like ‘great customer service’ and ‘competitive interest rates’. But when I phone my car insurer the call wait time […]

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