Vickee Jordan Adams attributes much of her professional success to being outspoken and backing up her outspokenness with hard work. In her high-powered, high-profile position of senior vice president and director of U.S. Media for the global public relations giant Hill and Knowlton Inc., she knows all too well the importance of saying what you mean and meaning what you say. This is especially important during her frequent meetings with clients, as she helps them design national campaigns to promote a product, service, or, in some cases, an individual.
“I have been a PR executive for more than 23 years and have seen a lot of changes in the industry in general,” says Jordan Adams, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. In those 23 years, she was director of corporate communications at Dow Jones & Co., with media relations responsibility for The Wall Street Journal, The Wall Street Journal Online, Dow Jones Newswires and other operations; senior vice president at Ketchum Public Relations, where she oversaw a team of international communications specialists and built the firm’s global practice; and vice president and manager of communications training for Burson-Marsteller.
What has not changed, she says, is the fact that: “PR and advertising are service industries. If the client wants it, we make it [happen].”
In a recent interview with The Network Journal, she spoke candidly about being a high-ranking minority in an industry that is reputed to be among the least diverse in its upper ranks.
“Pigeon holing” or, in slang terms, being “ghettoized,” indeed exists, she asserts, referring to the terms usually reserved for minority advertising and PR executives who become locked into handling only projects geared to minority markets. “The funny thing is, when white folks get stuck in areas like health care or energy marketing it’s called expertise,” she says. “However, when minority folks stick with an area they are considered ‘limited’ to that specific area.”
Even so, she offers this advice for avoiding the “pigeon holed” syndrome: Avoid accepting, or becoming complacent in, lower-level clerical or service positions; become cognizant of other opportunities both within the organization and externally. “Take educated risks to develop better skills and never quit in anger,” she says. “Document everything, ask questions and always treat the support staff well. They can make or break you.”
The daughter of Vernon Jordan Jr., renowned civil rights advocate and former president of the National Urban League, Jordan Adams recognizes the need for diversity in public relations and advertising. Change must begin in the marketing departments of major corporations, with incentives to encourage excellence in the implementation of minority supplier programs, she suggests.
Last year, New York City’s Human Rights Commission blasted top advertising agencies for their lack of diversity and ordered them to take steps to rectify the situation. The Commission’s admonition is no guarantee of real change, Jordan-Adams contends.
“If it’s only a legal obligation rather than a solid business decision, [then the ruling] hurts everyone,” she says. “Protest and litigation can make a difference, but we’re talking about driving the majority firms to make behavioral changes,” she says.
And that, clearly, is far more difficult than implementing the Commission’s prescription for change.