There are a lot of organizations and resource groups available for PR pros.
But one org that may not have been on your radar is the National Black Public Relations Society (BPRS). I recently caught up with Kisha Barton (@KBartonPR), who currently serves as president of the NY chapter of BPRS to learn more about the organization and how she plans to turn things around and add value to new members after the chapter’s three year hiatus.
Hashtags + Stilettos (H+S): How would you describe the Black Public Relations Society of New York to someone who was hearing about it for the first time?
Kisha Barton (KB): The Black Public Relations Society of New York (BPRS-NY) is a multicultural professional organization dedicated to mentorship, career advancement, corporate partnership, entrepreneurship, brand innovation, and leadership in the public relations and communications industries. The New York chapter (BPRS-NY) has quickly become a great resource for New York companies and organizations seeking diverse talent as well as for BPRS-NY members who are looking for companies that value diversity and inclusion.
We provide our members with tools for career advancement, insight on marketplace trends and networking opportunities. We host interactive panels, workshops and webinars with professionals from different industries who share insights and expertise for public relations campaigns, career strategies, diversity issues, social media, media relations and more.
H+S: Can you describe your role as the President of BPRS-NY in more detail? How long have you been in this role? What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
KB: As president of BPRS-NY, I work with the executive board and board of directors to create the long and short-term strategies for the organization, as well as the research and development of current and new offerings for our members. In addition, it is my responsibility to valuate the organization’s staffing needs, anticipate and plan for membership recruitment and retention and oversee efforts to provide superior service for our members.
In 2011, BPRS-NY re-launched after a three-year hiatus. It was a great opportunity to meet like-minded professionals who had a genuine interest in restoring the reputation, goals and mission of this needed and invaluable organization. I was elected interim president in 2012 and was subsequently elected president for the 2013-15 term.
My daily activities include: creating, communicating, and implementing BPRS-NY’s vision, mission, and overall direction, in addition to creating and implementing the strategic plan that guides the direction of organization. I search for opportunities for expansion, new members, market trends, new industry developments and standards, and so forth. As president of BPRS-NY, I represent the organization in civic and professional association responsibilities and activities in the local community, the state, and at the national level.
H+S: New York is a huge market for PR, so why do you think BPRS-NY membership numbers have been low? Lack of awareness? How many members do you have now?
KB: We have worked tirelessly to rebuild the chapter’s reputation, brand, membership, and relationships following the hiatus. In less than a year, we have a strong network of 80 paid members and a reach of 600+. Our more notable events included an entertainment PR panel discussion; “Intimate Conversation with Terrie M. Williams;” and “Re-Branding Your Image by Karen Taylor Bass.”
H+S: What plans does your team have to bring the chapter’s membership numbers up?
KB: The BPRS-NY team is constantly strategizing new ideas to attract and retain members. We recently launched a webinar series for busy PR professionals who would like to participate in the knowledge sharing but are unable to attend our events.
We also updated our website (www.bprsny.org) to provide more value, including a membership portal, PR and media directory, media list services, and much more.
Our fall guest speakers include top PR professionals such as Peter Shankman, founder of Help A Reporter Out, celebrity publicist, Nicole Garner, and other visionaries in the communications industries.
H+S: What is the biggest misconception about BPRS? What do you plan to do about it?
KB: The biggest misconception about BPRS-NY is that it is only open to Black professionals. We are a multicultural organization open to anyone in the communications industry. We facilitate events with a variety of guest speakers and [welcome] professionals from [all] backgrounds.
H+S: What are your short and long term goals for the organization?
KB: My short-term goal for the organization is to increase membership by 20 percent. A larger membership means that we can provide more value to our members and corporate partners. With the help of corporate sponsorship, I hope that we will be able to offer an educational certificate program and a high school mentoring program in the future.
H+S: What do you want people to know about BPRS?
KB: If you are a professional, we want you to know that BPRS-NY wants to help you to achieve your career goals in public relations through networking, mentorship and professional development.
If you are a corporation, we want you to know that BPRS-NY is the premier organization to find diverse, skilled, and exceptional communications talent.
H+S: What types of activities and benefits should new members expect under your leadership?
KB: Engaging members in one-on-one conversations about their career goals and how BPRS-NY can help them is important to the organization’s success. Our sense of accomplishment comes from the achievement of our membership. We rely on our members to tell us what they need so that we can improve our services, and thereby increase our value as an organization.
H+S: Since you’ve been president of the NY chapter, what’s been your proudest moment?
It has been an honor and privilege to work with a great leadership team. The team works diligently to ensure our members have the best services.
My proudest moment was hosting the entertainment PR panel in February 2013. We were able to bring three exceptional Black celebrity publicists to our members for the first time ever. It was a sold-out event. College students drove from Maryland to attend. The team worked really hard to coordinate the event and I was truly amazed by the feedback we received.
H+S: A few years ago there was an issue with PRSA closing or dropping most of its diversity initiatives, citing a lack of participation. And they’ve historically had a lack of diverse faces on their board. What are your thoughts on this?
KB: Professional development and networking opportunities are important to everyone. Unfortunately, there was an obvious void for professionals of color, which is why BPRS-NY has been received very well.
H+S: What challenges do African Americans face in the communications industry? Opportunities?
KB: Diversity is still an ongoing issue for minority professionals who work in the communications industry. All professionals need increased exposure to good communications practices, mentors, and career guidance counseling in public relations.
H+S: Why do you think African Americans haven’t been visible in leadership roles in the industry?
KB: I think because we represent a small percentage of the industry it often seems as if African American leaders are not visible. I disagree.
We feature African American leaders on our website and as guest speakers. But, we need the African American communications community to support the organization and each other as a whole. It is important to show support for the leaders who have paved the way for us.
H+S: In addition to your role at BPRS-NY, you also have a full-time job, where do you work?
KB: I work at Ogilvy [and I also] own my own public relations firm called kbartonPR. At kbartonPR, we cultivate effective PR campaigns, Entertainment & Lifestyle Marketing, Event Design, Branding & Development, Cross- Promotions & Sponsorships.
H+S: Who or what inspires you?
KB: I have been fortunate to have strong women around me. My mother instilled in me that failure is not an option. She was a grassroots leader, a mother, and teacher and just never seemed to let things stop her from reaching her goal. I want to be that same type of leader, who not only encourages people to learn but also sets an example that inspires others to want to help the next generation of future leaders.
H+S: Do you have any mentors in the industry? If so, what impact has their presence had on your career?
KB: Yes, I have a few mentors in the public relations industry. Many years ago I learned an important lesson from Terrie Williams, who was my first PR role model and really became my most important mentor. She shares tips and her expertise on how to be successful in this industry. She told me to look at each day as a new opportunity to be your very best. She is a visionary and I try to live her message every day.
H+S: What are your thoughts on mentors or sponsors in PR? Are they necessary to get ahead?
KB: I truly believe that you should have a mentor and a sponsor, starting in college. Mentors should help guide you down the path of success by providing their expertise and time. It is an opportunity to learn from someone who has experienced the good and bad of working within the PR industry. In the working environment, sponsors are beneficial because they are the liaison between you and the leaders of the company. They are your cheerleaders and speak highly of your expertise and how you can be an asset to the organization.
H+S: If someone was interested in following in your footsteps career-wise, what advice would you give them?
KB: I have been blessed with great opportunities. My first piece of advice is to be humble. Appreciate what others do for you and help others. I am an avid reader. Reading is not only crucial to writing, as a public relations professional, but it is vital to keeping your finger on the pulse of technology, social media trends, and best practices.
H+S: What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?
KB: The biggest lesson that I have learned in my career is to never give up. Surround yourself with successful and ambitious people and continue to strive for the best.
H+S: What’s the best and worst business advice you’ve ever received?
KB: The best business advice I ever received was to plan, prepare and then facilitate. Be prepared and always have a back-up plan. I have been fortunate enough to not have received any horrible business advice. Somehow, things seemed to work out.
H+S: What is one big goal you hope to accomplish over the next year? Five years?
KB: One of my goals within the next year is to complete my bachelor’s degree in Marketing. Working full-time, running a non-profit, and going to school takes a lot of sacrifice. It is all worth it!
In the next five years, I hope to have my master’s degree, shift kbartonPR into an international company and remain actively involved in BPRS-NY.