Interview today with Dmitri Vietze, the founder and CEO of music and tech PR firm rock paper scissors, located in Bloomington, IN. He has a background in community organizing and anti-racist activism.
The PR Mentoring Network is an all volunteer, grassroots effort meant to give PR professionals and veterans a chance to help diversify the PR field and level the playing field for Black people and people of color interested in working in or advancing their careers in the PR field. Through the Network young people who face racism are given the opportunity to request a mentor in the PR field, and PR professionals are given the chance to make a direct connection with one of these young people to forge a professional mentoring relationship. Mentors sign up with their LinkedIn account and volunteers match them with mentees who are looking for a mentor.
The intention is to create new opportunities across cultures by removing obstacles for getting insider knowledge, career advice, and hearing about job and internship openings. Mentors are asked to review anti-racism materials and be prepared to challenge themselves in anti-racist ways and to build an authentic relationship that will lead to both parties learning and building a more diverse network.
Why did your PR firm rock paper scissors decide to start the Network?
When the murder of George Floyd occurred and became a new touchpoint for all Americans to recognize how pervasive racism continues to be, we wanted to do more than take time to listen and learn. We wanted to do more than post a black box on our social media accounts. We wanted to take longer term action that could actually combat the racism that Black people and people of color face every day in America.
Among my own friends on Facebook, I asked what made a white person change to really understand their role in racism and to accept that systemic racism is a reality. The answer most repeated was having a friend or family member who is Black or of color. We decided that within our industry of PR, a mentoring network could create more opportunities for cross-cultural interaction in an authentic way.
What roles do PR professionals play in racism and fighting against racism?
Racism manifests in a variety of ways in all industries, and PR is no different. In my own business, I have noticed that we haven’t received a diverse pool of applicants for internship or job openings. We need to diversify how we are getting the word out about our openings so that we can diversify our workforce, as a company and as a field. Encouraging our team to participate in this mentoring effort means we will already have a network of Black professionals who might like to take on such a role.
As communication professionals, language is a powerful tool for fighting racism as well. Keeping an ear out for how company messaging could affect a variety of groups is a tool we can all use. We can also continue the fight for cultural balance in who gets to be spokespeople, with the media or on conference panels. And if your company is still on the front end of diversifying your workforce, owners or leaders of PR firms or departments can think about how to support Black team members and people of color within our organizations among a mostly white team.
What can a mentor expect if they volunteer?
At its most basic level, a mentor is simply giving insights into the mentee’s career interests, ranging from how PR works to how to start and run a PR firm or department. Mentors are asked to dedicate at least one hour per month on a mentoring session via phone or video calls and to commit to this process for about two years or more. Mentors should be ready to challenge their own beliefs and to work towards anti-racism along the way. And mentors should aim to get as much as they give from the process, whether it is just having a chance to get new ideas from a younger PR student or professional, or putting their feet in the shoes of someone else’s experience while diversifying their network for future hires—or clients for that matter.
What can a mentee hope to get from applying for a mentor?
Mentees get access to a PR professional to learn about the PR field, the types of positions and organizations in the industry, and how to prepare for a career in the field. Mentees can expect to get introductions to colleagues, to learn about internship or job openings as they come across their mentors’ desks, and to have a go to person with industry expertise to have their questions answered.
Why are you personally interested in addressing racism in PR?
I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee for twelve years and then New York City for my teenage years. Racism looked different, but was prevalent in both places. I was always shocked how white people seemed to take it for granted. I’ve never understood how we can accept the treatment of Black people in America given our history as a country, having enslaved Africans to build our economy and infrastructure. The history of my own ancestry, knowing that Jews were persecuted simply for their religion or culture, makes me aware of systemic mistreatment historically.
Though I have white skin, I see Black people’s mistreatment no differently from the mistreatment of Jews, not to mention the mistreatment of women, immigrants, LGBTQ people, any people of color, rural people, people living in poverty… the list goes on and on. Though racism was pervasive in the founding of America as a country, the principles and what has truly made America a great place is freedom and inclusion. I believe that protecting America’s diversity and principles of freedom for all is our only hope. I happen to run a 20-year old PR firm, so why not start close to home?
More information on the PR Mentoring Network can be found here. To become a mentor, complete thisform.