By Grace Austin

For over a decade, The LAGRANT Foundation has worked to achieve a shared goal of creating diversity in the workplace. During this time, The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF) has donated over $1 million to ethnically diverse students interested in the media industry. In addition to scholarships, TLF has placed students in internships with global marketing agencies and helped them discover job opportunities. Since its inception, TLF has secured more than 200 internships and jobs in advertising, public relations, and marketing.

LAGRANT COMMUNICATIONS was founded by President & CEO Kim L. Hunter in 1990. An integrated marketing firm, LAGRANT targets African-American and Latino consumer markets. LAGRANT counts Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, Harley-Davidson, and Guardian Life Insurance as current clients. With a majority of its employees from underrepresented backgrounds, LAGRANT is innovative not only in its philanthropic endeavors but also in its business model.

An advocate of education, Hunter founded The LAGRANT Foundation in 1998 and serves as its chairman. A prolific fundraiser, Hunter has raised more than $3.7 million in ten years. A majority of fundraising contributes to an annual TLF scholarship of $135,000. This scholarship helps 20 exemplary undergraduate and graduate students prepare to enter one of the nation’s most constantly evolving industries.

“The scholarship was great for a number of reasons. Obviously financially it was a huge help. It paid for my entire year of schooling. Without that, I can’t say I would have the time to intern. I’ve actually had two internships this semester because I didn’t have to focus on work. It really allowed me to focus on my studies,” said Nicole Hamilton, a junior at California State University at Long Beach who is majoring in journalism with a minor in marketing.

In addition to scholarships, TLF involves internships, career development workshops, mentoring and fellowship programs.

“We partner with a few companies, including Verizon and FedEx, to talk about careers, what it takes to be in the industry, and resumé and interview advice. We do that year-round throughout the country, targeting major cities with diverse populations,” said Senior Programs and Outreach Manager Ericka Avila.

TLF is also engaged in outreach, providing information and actively recruiting diverse candidates for agencies and corporations. The internship program is a mutually beneficial partnership, for interns receive opportunities with companies like American Express, Fleishman-Hillard, and Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, while the program also serves as a pipeline for participating organizations, offering qualified diverse candidates either in college or who have recently graduated.

Each scholarship recipient is also partnered with a mentor, an essential part of professional and career development. Mentors meet bi-monthly to discuss progress and to offer guidance to mentees.

Said Avila about the mentoring experience: “Our goal is to diversify the industry. We want to make sure that students get all of the proper guidance they need. So if it’s a student that wants to do PR, we want to partner them with PR professionals, and so on.”

Fellowships have been the most recent addition to the many initiatives offered by TLF. Made available through a grant from Harold Burson, the founder and chairman of Burson-Marsteller, one of the largest PR companies in the world, the program picks one student each year to participate in a coveted month-long fellowship at the prestigious firm.
New York University graduate student Danielle Chase became the first fellowship winner in November 2011.

“I am proud to call myself LAGRANT Foundation’s first Harold Burson Fellow. Mr. Burson was one of the first industry leaders to recognize and prioritize the need for a diverse workforce,” said Chase. “There is an incredible need for diverse talent in advertising, marketing and public relations, and the LAGRANT Foundation is working to fix that problem. LAGRANT has given me an opportunity that I may have never obtained on my own.”

TLF overall has expanded tremendously within the past few years. Initially offering ten scholarships, more financial backing and new initiatives like the fellowship program and internships have been made available through the increase in dedicated donors. The organization hopes to capitalize on these changes through a two-pronged approach: Helping current students while keeping track of scholarship recipients and people placed through the organization to make sure they are continuing to be impactful in marketing, PR, and advertising.

“I think it’s really important for companies to understand the need for diverse candidates in the workforce. If you look at the public relations and advertising industry, in 1998 less than 5 percent of managers in PR were of ethnic minority groups,” said Avila. “If you look at the statistics now, things are changing. People are starting to wake up, so if they can continue to do something about that and partner with organizations like The LAGRANT Foundation, I think that’s going to make a big difference.”