Known for his unflappable personality, crisis communication acumen and commitment to helping students, Bryan Reber retires as head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations effective Aug. 1, 2022.
“Bryan Reber possesses all the qualities that make a great department chair: he’s reasonable, flexible, embraces ambiguity and works for the greater good,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College. “But, he’s also one of the most innately likable colleagues, an encouraging voice in the room and a rare leader who always, always tries to get to ‘yes.’”
He has a national reputation for his expertise in crisis communication and was named the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership in 2014. Through this role, he was frequently quoted in national media covering corporate crisis and he initiated the Crisis Communication Think Tank, bringing together industry professionals and scholars to collaborate on crisis issues.
“I had great expectations for the professorship at its inception,” said Dick Yarbrough (ABJ ’59), “and, Bryan Reber exceeded them. Thanks to his efforts, Grady College is turning out a new generation of relevant crisis communications professionals while making Grady a respected leader in the field with practitioners across the globe. I could not be more pleased or proud.”
Karen King, professor emeritus who retired in 2020, worked alongside Reber since he came to Grady College in 2004 from the University of Alabama.
“Bryan has contributed to the department in so many ways,” King noted. “He understands the importance of
culture in an academic department and was generous with his time, talent, support, and even his personal funds. This allowed the department to continue to have a pleasant environment for faculty, students, and alums alike.”
Reber is the author of several books, including the text book, “Gaining Influence in Public Relations: The Role of Resistance in Practice” which he co-authored with Bruce K. Berger, and his most recent book, “Advancing Crisis Communication Effectiveness,” which he co-edited with Glen Nowak and Yan Jin of the Grady faculty.
In all that he has accomplished in shaping the department, building bridges through partnerships, raising money to benefit student experiences and contributing to the betterment of the industry through his work on boards like the Plank Center or induction into industry leadership organizations like the Arthur Page Society, Reber’s key motivator is guiding his students to productive, impactful careers. Whether he is working with undergraduate students serving as Yarbrough Crisis Communication Fellows or graduate students whose goals are to teach, he is dedicated to mentoring the next generation of professionals.
Nicholas Browning (MA ’10, PhD ’15) worked closely with Reber who served as his committee chair for his master’s thesis and later for his doctoral dissertation.
“Bryan is a brilliant scholar and prolific in virtually every facet of academia: research, teaching, service, whatever—he does it all, and he does it all well,” Browning said. “I owe Bryan Reber a lot, and though I can never repay it, I try to pay it forward in the mentorship role I now find myself in. I consider myself fortunate to have been his student, privileged to be his colleague, and honored to be his friend.”
Isn’t that the most any professor can hope for?
Reber plans to enjoy time vacationing with his wife, Sharon, and gardening in his retirement.
Juan Meng assumes the role as AdPR department head effective Aug. 1.
Juan Meng and Bryan Reber will join Karla Gower, Ansgar Zerfass and Bridget Coffing in a panel discussion about the NACM on Wednesday, June 9 at 11 a.m. EST on the Plank Center Facebook page. All are invited to watch this free discussion.
In one of the most unusual years of our lifetime, the 2020-2021 North American Communication Monitor (NACM), organized and conducted by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, disclosed key trends and challenges facing the communication profession.
Grady College professor Juan Meng, associate professor of public relations, was the lead researcher for the report and Bryan Reber, C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership and research chair for The Plank Center, was an author.
Some highlights include:
Seven out of 10 professionals were satisfied with their organization’s communication and management during the COVID-19 pandemic, although the satisfaction level significantly decreased as the scope of the leadership responsibility
Professionals in the U.S. were significantly more likely than their Canadian counterparts to report ethical challenges, and most ethical concerns are related to social media
More than half of professionals confirmed their organization had been a victim of cyberattack or data theft.
Nearly half (49.5%) of surveyed women acknowledged the impact of the glass ceiling in leadership advancement.
While building and maintaining trust remains as the top strategic issue for the communication profession, tackling diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) presents a pressing
Professionals recognize the need to improve competencies, especially in data, technology, and management.
The North American Communication Monitor results are based on responses from 1,046 communication professionals working in different types of organizations (25.6% in Canada and 74.4% in the United States). The sample achieved a fairly balanced gender split (47.7% men and 52.1% women) for accurate comparisons. The average age of participants was 41.2 years.
Bridget Coffing, chair of The Plank Center Board of Advisors, said, “In these unprecedented times and amid a rapidly changing landscape, the global pandemic accelerated trends around ethics, cyber security, and gender and racial inequality. The NACM provides insights into how those trends impacted communication professionals and brought into focus the skill set required to advance authentic, transparent messaging in an age of misinformation.”
This newest edition of NACM, which joins existing Communication Monitors in Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific, explored diverse topics, including COVID-19 and communication professionals’ responses, ethical challenges and resources for communication professionals, cybersecurity and communications, gender equality in the profession, strategic issues and communication channels, competency development, salaries, and characteristics of excellent communication departments.
Meng said: “One of the leading trends revealed by this edition of NACM confirms that change is constant and inevitable. The combined impacts of the pandemic and the digital transformation of communications during times of social and racial unrest call for a strong leadership more than ever to hold your communication accountable while developing new ways of value creation. This edition of NACM offers data-driven insights to explain the difficulties communicators faced, the lessons learned, what core competencies are here to stay, and what new skills need to be acquired and reflected upon.”
Most professionals acknowledged COVID-19 is a heavily discussed topic.
Overall, clear evidence is found that the COVID-19 pandemic is a heavily discussed topic (83.2%). Professionals also confirmed that the impact of the pandemic on their daily work is significant (65.8%) but much higher for professionals in Canada (70.9%). Seven of 10 respondents felt their organizations did a satisfactory job managing changes associated with the pandemic.
Gender comparisons revealed a significant gap. Women perceived the pandemic as a heavily discussed topic, but men reported a significantly higher level of impact on their daily work (70.0% vs. 62.3%). Professionals working in public companies reported a significantly higher level of direct impact. Results also showed a significant correlation between leadership position and perceived direct impact. For example, top communication leaders reported the highest impact of the pandemic on their daily work.
Six out of 10 communication professionals in North America encountered one or more ethical challenges in the past year.
Communicators face ethical challenges in their day-to-day work. Professionals in the U.S. were significantly more likely than their Canadian counterparts to report ethical challenges. When dealing with ethical challenges, most professionals relied on the ethical guidelines of their organization. At the same time, the code of ethics of professional associations and their personal values and beliefs were also important resources.
Ethical concerns related to social media strategies are particularly relevant. Professionals were most concerned about the use of bots to generate feedback and followers on social media.
They were also concerned about paying social media influencers for favorable mentions. In addition, professionals working in public companies were more concerned about profiling and targeting audiences based on big data analyses.
More than half of professionals confirmed their organization was a victim of cyberattack or data theft.
The reliance on the internet and digital communication has made cybersecurity a more prominent issue in practice. Six in 10 respondents confirmed cybersecurity is relevant to their daily work. Nearly one in five experienced multiple cyberattacks. Results showed cyber criminals are attacking governmental organizations (64.0%) and public companies (62.3%) more frequently.
Cyberattacks can take different formats, and the two most common ones are hacking websites and/or social media accounts (39.0%) and leaking sensitive information (37.5%). When engaging communication strategies in fighting cyber criminality, professionals actively worked on building resilience by educating their fellow employees (45.7%), developing cybersecurity guidelines (40.1%), and implementing cybersecurity technologies (42.7%).
Nearly half (49.5%) of surveyed women recognized the impact of the glass ceiling on their leadership advancement.
Almost seven out of 10 professionals (65.5%) observed an improvement in gender equality in their country. However, only half of them (45.6%) believed enough efforts have been made to advance gender equality. Specifically, disagreement arises when comparing perceptions by men (58.1%) and women (34.3%). Consistently, professionals acknowledged the issue of glass ceiling affecting women’s leadership advancement at all three levels: the communication profession (59.0%), the communication department and agency (46.0%), and the individual female practitioners (48.4%). In addition, public companies (62.8%) and nonprofits (63.9%) are criticized for their passive action to advance gender equality.
Approximately half of surveyed women stated they are personally affected by the glass ceiling in leadership advancement (49.5%). Reasons contributing to the glass ceiling problem are multifaceted, and the top two are linked to organizational barriers: lack of flexibility for family obligations (66.2%) and nontransparent, informal promotion policies (65.2%).
While building and maintaining trust remains as the top strategic issue, tackling DEI presents a pressing need for the communication profession.
When ranking the top strategic issues between now and 2023, professionals’ top-3 choices are:
Building and maintaining trust (34.5%),
Exploring new means of content creation and distribution (34.4%), and
Tackling issues related to DEI (34.1%).
As for who is most capable of solving DEI issues, just more than half of respondents believed that organizational leaders carry the biggest responsibility (51.1%). However, only 39.9% of top communication leaders agreed with this selection. Instead, they shift such responsibility to the communication professionals themselves (42.4%).
More than half of communicators of all ages noted a “much or great need” to develop competencies.
The year 2020 taught communicators a variety of lessons including the value of maintaining a flexible skillset. More than half of communicators of all ages noted a “much or great need” to develop competencies. However, about 10% of the youngest respondents (29 years and younger) said there is no or little need for such development.
When assessing the importance and the personal qualification of six core competencies (data, technology, management, business, self-reflection and communication), large gaps were confirmed in data (-15.7%), technology (-12.4%) and management (-10.4%). Professionals working in governmental organizations and nonprofits rated their business, technology and data competencies significantly lower, as did female professionals.
“The NACM provides a substantive look at the issues that affect public relations leaders across the continent,” said Reber, chair of the Grady’s Department of Advertising and Public Relations. “Communication became a freshly appreciated discipline in board rooms as the need for internal and external communication expertise exploded. We learned that senior management is very involved in day-to-day tactics during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. We learned that gender-based pay equity still has to be addressed. And we learned that cybersecurity is a communication issue, not just an IT headache. The survey shines a light on so many areas of importance in our practice.”
About North American Communication Monitor 2020-2021
The North American Communication Monitor (NACM) is a biennial study organized and sponsored by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. The NACM is part of the Global Communication Monitor series. As the largest regular global study in the field of public relations and strategic communication, the Global Communication Monitor series aims at stimulating and promoting the knowledge and practice of strategic communication and communication management globally. The series covers more than 80 countries with similar surveys conducted in Asia-Pacific, Europe and Latin America.
The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations is the leading international resource working to support students, educators and practitioners who are passionate about the public relations profession by developing and recognizing outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models and mentors. Founded in 2005, the Center is named in honor of Betsy Plank, the “First Lady” of PR.
Edited by three Grady College professors, this book is an education in navigating the challenges that communicators face to protect public health and safety and shield organizational reputations from crisis-inflicted damage.
The book is edited by Yan Jin, Bryan Reber and Glen Nowak and includes submitted chapters from numerous academic and professional crisis communication thought leaders. Among the subjects covered are crisis communication for corporations and non-profits, the benefits and pitfalls of using social media to cover natural disasters, dealing with misinformation, navigating media relations during governmental and public affairs crisis and examining situational theories helpful in dealing with crisis.
“This book is very translational because it brings together different theories and a diversity of voices,” said Jin, the UGA Athletic Association Professor in Grady College. “We are able to talk about theory and how it can help our practitioners better explain and predict outcomes, making their work more effective. The academics bring value of theory-based insights and the practitioners bring fresh, current challenges to help scholars identify the next research frontiers.”
One topic covered in the book that is especially relevant today is the discussion of crisis and healthcare. Nowak, the director of the Grady Center for Health and Risk Communication, says health communications is an ever-evolving area as the recent COVID-19 outbreak has proven.
“A lot of the assumptions that we have in the health communications space need to be revisited because it’s hard to come up with a simple formula for how to respond,” Nowak said. “Every single day something happens that you didn’t anticipate. As this book illustrates, we need a lot more sophistication both among practitioners and among academics who are trying to do research that will help practitioners.”
The intersection of an academic approach together with a practical approach by professional communicators is unique and made possible through the collaboration of the Crisis Communication Think Tank. The CCTT is a group of invited scholars and practitioners who are experts on the subject of crisis communication. The group builds domestic and international collaborations to advance crisis communication science and practice on emerging topics.
“This book is one more example of how UGA is at the leading edge of the conversation around crisis communication and research,” added Bryan Reber, the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership. “Between the CCTT and the Center for Health and Risk Communication, we are positioned really well to facilitate these discussions and collaborations.”
The subjects covered in the book are based on discussions of the group and are authored by several CCTT members including scholars from University of Maryland, University of North Carolina and the University of Amsterdam along with professionals from UPS, and Imagem Corporativa (Brazil), as well as CCTT-affiliated partners such as the Museum of Public Relations, among others. Several additional Grady College faculty and alumni also collaborated on chapters for the book.
Grady College alumnus Dick Yarbrough (ABJ ’59) wrote the forward to the book and discussed how important it is for communicators to be involved with strategic conversation and the decision-making process. Yarbrough was the managing director of communications and government relations for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and gained a wealth of crisis communication experience with the Centennial Olympic Park Bombing.
“This book is a perfect blend of the expertise of highly-qualified academicians and the experiences of communications professionals who have dealt successfully with a variety of crises in their own organizations,” Yarbrough said. “I am encouraged that it will be available to current and future generations of communicators.”
Bryan Reber and Juan Meng of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations were among a team of researchers evaluating perceptions about public relations leadership as part of The Plank Center’s Report Card 2019.
The 2019 report was released the end of September and reflects little change in public relations leadership from studies in 2015 and 2017. PR leaders received an overall grade of “C+” in 2019, similar to previous studies, though down a bit overall in the last five years.
“The impression about top communication leaders’ performance hasn’t changed nor improved much in the professional communication community, based on results from our three Report Cards,” said Meng, co-investigator and associate professor at Grady College. “Such consistent but not-so-promising gaps present persuasive evidence that merits serious attention. Improving top communication leaders’ performance shall be a priority. More critically, such changes and actions shall be well communicated to and received by employees in order to close the gaps.”
The Report Card 2019 had responses from 828 PR leaders and professionals nationwide, who evaluated five fundamental areas of leadership linked to outcomes in our field—organizational culture, quality of leadership performance, trust in the organization, work engagement and job satisfaction. While grades overall were little changed from 2017, job engagement, trust and job satisfaction dropped a bit. Even more concerning, previously reported gaps in evaluations grew more:
Differences between men’s (45.8%) and women’s (54.2%) perceptions of the organizational culture and the quality of leadership performance deepened. Similar to Report Card 2017, gaps between top leaders’ (35.1%) and others’ (64.9%) perceptions of all five evaluated areas remained wide.
Women in public relations remained less engaged, less satisfied with their jobs, less confident in their work cultures, less trusting of their organizations and more critical of top leaders compared to men.
Previous concerns of both men and women about two-way communication, shared decision-making, diversity and culture were again present.
The consistently average grades, and the sharp and growing differences among surveyed professionals noted above, beg the question of whether improving leadership in the field is a priority in the profession. Numerous blogs, articles and research studies suggest it is important and needed. However, as Bill Heyman, CEO and president of Heyman Associates, and a co-sponsor of the study, reflected, “Talking about needed changes and improvements in leadership won’t accomplish the change. We need more leaders who live and model the changes.”
Report Card on PR Leaders
Trust in organization
Culture of organization
“Organizational culture is driven by leadership,” said Bryan H. Reber, the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership at Grady College and research director at The Plank Center. “It’s rather disheartening that organizational culture remains only ‘average’ and that women give ‘shared decision-making’ such a poor score. Public relations leaders apparently need to back up verbal support of inclusive cultures with more action.”
The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations is located at the University of Alabama and is an international resource working to support students, educators and professionals.
The first study to examine the state of public relations in Canada and the United States found that building and maintaining trust is the most crucial issue facing the profession.
The North American Communication Monitor (NACM), conducted by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, was led by two Grady College faculty: Bryan Reber, the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership, and Juan Meng, associate professor of public relations. Reber was the lead researcher for the report and Meng was the lead analyst.
The NACM disclosed key trends and challenges facing the communication profession.
The results are based on responses from 1,020 communication professionals working in different types of organizations (255 in Canada and 765 in the United States). The sample achieved a balanced gender split (50% men and 50% women) for accurate comparisons. The average age of participants was 46.0 years.
Dr. Karla Gower, director of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, said, “Our goal with this study was to assess the state of the public relations field in North America and identify gaps, or opportunities to enrich the development of communication leaders. If we know where the gaps are, we can work to close them and to strengthen the overall quality of our profession’s leadership—a crucial strategic asset.”
The study, which joins existing Communication Monitors in Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific, explored diverse topics, including fake news and strategies to deal with it, top issues for the profession in the next three years, the role of providing information to support decision making, leaders’ performance, and professionals’ job engagement, trust in their organization, job satisfaction, work stress, and social media skills and management knowledge.
Reber said: “The Plank Center has embraced the opportunity to join a truly global network of researchers who regularly take the pulse of communication professionals to identify trends and opportunities. The North American Communication Monitor provides statistically reliable data to demonstrate professionals’ opinions and concerns and uses a nearly identical survey instrument as do the European, Latin American, and Asia-Pacific Communication Monitors. As a result, we are able to compare more than 6,000 responses across regions and cultures, the largest global data set for our profession.”
Fake news is a prominent issue but organizations lack processes to identify and manage it
Communication professionals agree fake news has become one of the most prominent issues in public discourse. More than half of surveyed professionals (57.7%) give attention to the on-going debate about fake news and consider it a much-debated topic in their country (68.2%). Results indicate governmental organizations across North America are particularly affected by fake news, with 20.9% being affected multiple times and 10.1% being affected once.
However, despite the high levels of awareness and attention to the debate about fake news, the level of relevance of fake news to the professionals’ daily work, and their concerns about it, are generally low. When it comes to identifying potential fake news, a substantial percentage of respondents (42.6%) said their organizations mainly rely on individual competencies and experience. Few organizations have in place policies, technical systems and processes to detect and manage fake news and misinformation.
Nearly half of the organizations (46.3%) do not share decision making with employees or members
The majority of surveyed professionals (71.9%) agree their top communication leader is actively involved in the organization’s decision making (78.1%) and demonstrates a strong ethical orientation to guide actions (76.7%). However, shared decision-making power receives the lowest rating across various types of organizations. Women rate the shared decision-making power significantly lower than men. A similar perceptual gap is identified along the line of hierarchy: Top communication leaders rate shared decision-making power significantly higher than team leaders and team members.
The major threat to job engagement is a lack of performance feedback and recognition, with a significant gender gap
The job engagement level is relatively high: 62.8% report they are engaged in their job. More than eight in 10 of surveyed professionals know what is expected of them at work (86.0%), and are in a positive environment where fellow employees are committed to quality work (81.3%). Professionals also said they have the opportunity to do what they can do best every day (79.1%) and their opinions count at work (75.3%). However, some are frustrated by the lack of feedback about their performance on the job (24.6%) and lack of recognition for doing good work (15.4%).
Though nearly three-quarters of communication professionals are satisfied with their job, the gender gap is big. Women (60.8%) report a much lower level of job satisfaction compared to men (70.2%).
Sources of work stress vary
One-third of surveyed professionals acknowledge they feel tense and stressed during a normal workday. Generally, the top three sources of stress are limited growth or advancement opportunities (34.3%), a too-heavy workload (33.6%), and information overload (33.3%). Top communication leaders are most stressed by information overload, team leaders by work overload, and team members by their lack of opportunity for growth and advancement. Women are most stressed by lack of advancement opportunities and heavy workload. Men are most stressed by information overload and being constantly available via email, text and phone.
Women and men rate their social media and knowledge management skills differently
Men and women see their knowledge and skill sets differently when coping with the digital evolution and social media. Women are more confident about delivering messages via social media (68.8%), identifying social media trends (55.7%), and setting up social media platforms (51.2%). Men are more confident of their understanding of the legal framework for social media (38.0%) and using algorithms to run analytics (35.7%).
When it comes to general management skills, men are significantly more confident, compared to women, about their abilities in strategic positioning, such as analyzing overall organizational goals, scenario planning, and linking communication to business agendas. Men also report higher scores on managing human and financial resources.
“The depths and the variety of investigated topics presented by this year’s NACM help us better understand the communication industry in North America,” Meng said of the report. “More importantly, our rich results will deliver crucial insights to inform effective practice for communication professionals at all levels, from top leaders to team leaders and team members, as they all need to tackle these challenges now or in the near future.”
The North American Communication Monitor (NACM), an international research project that is one of the world’s largest studies of communication, was recently released thanks to the leadership of two Grady College professors, Bryan Reber and Juan Meng.
Reber, the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership and head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, and Meng, associate professor of public relations, helped lead a group of professors from universities within the framework of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at The University of Alabama.
“It is very exciting to launch the North American Communication Monitor,” said Meng, “It provides and maps the key issues, trends, impact and implications for strategic communication in the U.S. and Canada, and brings a significant part to the Global Communication Monitor Series, which truly is a powerful global initiative. One of the most striking findings about this year’s NACM is the emphasis on building and maintaining trust combined with the ongoing debate over fake news and how it challenges the industry. Solutions have never been easy, but we hope findings from this year’s monitor will provide insights,” noted Meng.
The Plank Center sponsored the NACM, the first survey of its kind in North America, to explore the status quo, qualities and trends of communication management in North America. The survey, which launched in May 2018, addresses topics including how to tackle the challenges of fake news, how communicators provide insights for decision-making, how leadership performance is assessed as well as job satisfaction and personal stress among communication professionals in the United states and Canada.
Karla K. Gower, director of the Plank Center, stated, “Not only will we have a better understanding of the communication industry in North America, we will have a greater opportunity for global comparison on issues regarding integrity and trust in what we see, hear and read.”
The NACM becomes part of the Global Communication Monitor series, the largest regular global study in the field of strategic communication and public relations. The series has analyzed trends in the field for over a decade in more than 80 countries across Europe, Latin-America and the Asia-Pacific region.
Reber explains, “I’m happy the advisors of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations decided to financially support this survey. There are other North American and even global studies of organizational communicators. What makes this study different than most is its methodology. We used a probability sampling method rather than a non-probability method such as the convenience samples that most studies like this employ. In addition, the link to the Global Communication Monitor network will provide exciting opportunities to identify and, I hope eventually, predict trends in organizational communication issues. We look forward to continuing to dig in to the rich data from this survey and to plan for the next one in 2020.”
In November, the latest results and findings from a survey of 1,020 communications professionals were presented at the Institute for PR Research Symposium in New York City by Reber and Meng. The study tracked trends in fake news, issues management, leadership, work stress, social media skills and job satisfaction. The presentation, including results from the survey, can be found here.
Grady College is pleased to announce that Bryan Reber, the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership, has been named the head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at Grady College.
“Bryan comes more than ready for this opportunity, having served for seven years as assistant department head,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College. “He’s been trained by the best, and demonstrates the very best of Grady College. I have long admired Bryan’s level-headedness and deep-seated sense of what’s right, and I will enjoy working with him more closely as we move forward.”
Yan Jin, associate director of the Center for Health & Risk Communication has been named the assistant department head of AdPR.
“I am eager to work with Dean Davis, Yan and our world-class faculty in AdPR to continue to develop a program to which students will be drawn, from which employers will compete to hire and of which alumni will be proud,” Reber said.
In addition to his departmental and teaching responsibilities, Reber also directs the UGA Crisis Communication Coalition, dedicated to the study of crisis communication and strategic response of related issues.
Reber joined Grady College as an assistant professor in public relations in 2004. He was named assistant department head of AdPR in 2010 and was promoted to professor of Public Relations in 2013. Prior to UGA, Reber served as an assistant professor of public relations at the University of Alabama.
He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Bethel College (Kansas), a Master of Science from the University of Kansas and a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri.
As holiday shoppers scurry to buy the newest electronic gadgets, crisis communication experts from the University of Georgia weighed in on communication tactics of one of the most well-known global electronics brands — Samsung.
Bryan Reber, the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and PROI Worldwide Crisis Communication Monitor, recorded the responses of 63 crisis communication professionals in 22 countries to examine the efficacy of the response by Samsung to its crisis surrounding the exploding and burning of its Galaxy Note7 smartphones. Sixty-two percent of the respondents were CEO, president, vice president or director of their organization.
Seven in 10 global crisis communication experts said that Samsung did not use appropriate communication channels when relaying information about the crisis surrounding the Samsung Galaxy Note7 smartphone. More than 80 percent of the polled experts placed responsibility for the crisis squarely on Samsung’s doorstep.
Evaluating Samsung’s crisis response, 74 percent of respondents said Samsung failed to manage early information and thereby was unable to stay ahead of the crisis. Seventy percent of communicators said Samsung failed to provide relevant information on the crisis and did not provide information that would help the public understand the crisis. One crisis communicator said a takeaway lesson should be, “Be brave from the beginning – deal with the truth, take bold actions, accept the reality publicly.”
Seventy-eight percent of global crisis communication leaders expect Samsung’s business to be strongly affected by the crisis. “Samsung needed to be more sympathetic to those impacted by these incidents, and proactive in its response and communications,” said a crisis communication expert from Michigan.
The crisis was exacerbated because it was perceived that Samsung caused it and bears sole responsibility for the crisis and its outcome. “Samsung underestimated the danger involved, especially as it relates to its mobile devices on airplanes,” said a Georgia-based expert.
Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of global crisis experts disagreed with the statement, “Samsung took responsibility as appropriate.” The drip, drip, drip nature of the response allowed the crisis to grow, according to these experts.
“When every time you board a plane, a flight attendant announces that your brand has been banned from flights by a federal regulatory body, you know that your company is in crisis,” said Reber, who also directs the Crisis Communication Coalition housed at Grady College.
The Crisis Communication Monitor uncovered 10 insights or lessons learned from these global experts:
• “Corporate culture impacts the ability to identify pending crises in a timely fashion.” (Expert from Italy)
• “Get all the bad news out at once… don’t have a slow trickle.” (Expert from Canada)
• “Use in-country spokespeople to convey concern and empathy and add a human touch.” (Expert from the United Kingdom)
• “When in doubt, recall/withdraw the product and test, test, test until you find the solution.” (Expert from Australia)
• “Provide more information and deliver it quickly, even if it’s negative. Rip the bandage off and heal sooner.” (Expert from Missouri)
• “Samsung needed to be more sympathetic to those impacted by these incidents, and proactive in its response and communications.” (Expert from Michigan)
• “Express safety and customer satisfaction over regulatory protocols as the reason for action.” (Expert from New York)
• Don’t underestimate the problem. “Samsung underestimated the danger involved, especially as it relates to mobile devices on airplanes.” (Expert in Georgia)
• “Acting promptly and taking responsibility for an issue can help protect a reputation.” (Expert from the United Kingdom)
• “Preparation is key to successful crisis communication.” (Expert from Germany)
The University of Georgia/PROI Worldwide Crisis Communication Monitor is a collaborative project of the University of Georgia Crisis Communication Coalition and PROI Worldwide. The Monitor examines global crisis communication incidents to provide insights to consumers and illustrate best and worst practices for crisis communicators.
The Crisis Communication Coalition is a project of the C. Richard Yarbrough Professorship in Crisis Communication Leadership. To learn more about the Crisis Communication Coalition and the Crisis Communication Monitor, visit crisiscommunication.uga.edu.
PROI Worldwide is the longest-running global partnership of independent public relations agencies. Since its inception in 1970, PROI Worldwide has grown to encompass 75+ partner agencies with 5,000+ PR professionals across five continents, 50 countries and more than 100 cities.