D. Parke Gibson’s Lasting PR Legacy

February 1, 2016

In honor of February being Black History Month, I’d like to share part of an article that I wrote for the February 2008 issue of Tactics on D. Parke Gibson, a prominent African-American PRSA member whose influence on the profession can still be felt today.

For the article, I interviewed Ofield Dukes, APR, Fellow PRSA, a distinguished PR professional, educator and journalist, who received the Gold Anvil, PRSA’s highest individual award, in 2001. Dukes passed away in December 2011 at age 79.

What follows is an edited excerpt:

Established in 1990, the D. Parke Gibson Pioneer Award is PRSA’s highest individual honor presented to a PR professional who has contributed to increased awareness of public relations within multicultural communities and participated in promoting issues that meet the needs of these diverse communities.

D. Parke Gibson, for whom PRSA named the award, was a pioneer in multicultural public relations. He was the founder of the first Black-owned PR firm, D. Parke Gibson International, in New York in 1960.

“He had the respect of so many people, especially the young African-Americans, because he was, indeed, a pioneer,” says Ofield Dukes, APR, Fellow PRSA, president of Ofield Dukes & Associates in Washington, D.C., and a 2000 recipient of the D. Parke Gibson Pioneer Award. “At that time, there were very, very few African-Americans operating their own business in communications.”

Says Terrie Williams, president, The Terrie Williams Agency in New York: “D. Parke Gibson forever changed the face of public relations; not simply its appearance, but its voice and vision.”

Williams, a 2001 recipient of the D. Parke Gibson Pioneer Award, continues: “We cannot fully appreciate the significance of his risk, but it is because of his fearless drive and passion that I can stand here. I am able to do what I do and achieve what I have because D. Parke Gibson helped lead the way.”

In 1969, Gibson published “The $30 Billion Negro,” an examination of the consumer strength of the African-American community. Divided into three sections — a history of the market, ways to predict the market and how to develop the market — the book explained that, to utilize the resources of the African-American population, large corporations must alter communications strategies to appeal to this increasingly affluent community. (Macmillan published the revised edition in 1978 as “$70 Billion in the Black: America’s Black Consumers.”)

As Dukes notes, during the 1960s, many corporate executives still regarded PR professionals as publicists. Gibson, however, was providing strategic insights at the highest level. For example, through his newsletter and counsel, Dukes says Gibson was instrumental in getting corporate executives to better understand Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Gibson was a PRSA member from 1966 to the time of his death from a heart attack in 1979. He was 49.

Celebrating Black History Month

In celebration of Black History Month this year, PRSA has invited PR professionals to offer their views and ideas for achieving greater racial and ethnic diversity in the profession, as well as share what Black History Month means to them.

You may find these pieces throughout February on the PRSAY blog.

John Elsasser

John Elsasser is the editor-in-chief of Strategies & Tactics. He joined PRSA in 1994.



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