Last night as I was watching a few minutes of TV, I was shocked at what I had just seen cross my screen. It was one of those moments where you just blink your eyes a few times and wonder if you really saw what you think you just saw.

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What did I see?

I saw a commercial about one organization’s supplier diversity program.

The organization was UPMC. And the commercial discussed the evolution of a small, diversity supplier that got started with just $35 in startup money and was given a shot by UPMC. Since being hired by UPMC, that supplier has grown, hired people, and made its community better through its success.

Now, UPMC is a huge healthcare organization. It could use the money and the air time to advertise any number of impressive things, from its leading neurosurgeons to its new, cutting-edge clinical facilities to its competitive health insurance plans. But UPMC decided to invest in promoting its supplier diversity program.


No one outside of UPMC and its advertising agency knows for sure. But, in developing my opinion, I’d like to refer back to one of the reasons for supplier diversity that I wrote about in a 2006 article entitled “Starting A Supplier Diversity Program“: “[Organizations start supplier diversity programs because those] organizations have a diverse customer base. By showing support for the demographic groups of its customers, an organization hopes to strengthen its appeal to them.” I’ll bet that staving off certain recent public relations controversies in the community in order for UPMC to appeal to its customers has something to do with it.

Let’s take a minute to review those controversies…

You see, UPMC recently closed one of its hospitals in a lower-income Pittsburgh neighborhood, funneling patients to one of its other hospitals in a higher-income neighborhood. In addition, UPMC is embroiled with Highmark in a nasty, public feud whereby UPMC healthcare providers will soon no longer be accepting Highmark’s insurance because Highmark has purchased a competing hospital system. Both of these developments have, I don’t want to say “ruined” but perhaps, “tainted” UPMC’s reputation in the community.

So, how can UPMC win back public support? Apparently through publicizing community-oriented efforts like working with diversity suppliers.

What’s interesting to me is that Public Relations, as an organizational function, typically gets a lot of senior executive respect and support. Procurement hasn’t always gotten that same level of respect and support in a lot of companies.

Therefore, a well-done supplier diversity program in a company that values good community and public relations can help a procurement department contribute in a way that senior executives consider strategic – by helping Public Relations accomplish its objectives. Now, think about most procurement departments: supplier diversity activity is a rather small portion of those procurement departments’ overall activity.

It makes you wonder whether you should step back and reevaluate how big of a role supplier diversity should play in your organization, doesn’t it? Growing supplier diversity, in some organizations, could be a very underrated way for Procurement to be viewed as strategic.

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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