Clementson teaches professors how to help PR students get internships and jobs

AEJMC panel discussion focuses on ethics in the profession

David Clementson, assistant professor of public relations at Grady College, was an invited speaker at a panel teaching other public relations professors how to help their students get good jobs in the industry.

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) Public Relations division hosted the symposium Feb. 25, entitled “Great Ideas for Teaching.”

About 180 public relations professors from across the U.S. attended.

Clementson outlined a series of nine detailed and creative class assignments as part of a project which equips PR students for entering the market for internships and jobs.

“Our goal in the classroom should be to confidently and comfortably ease students into the professional world of public relations,” Clementson said. “This can include a holistic approach to preparing students with the proper toolkit and expectations while also alleviating their emotional concerns as the process can induce anxiety.”

Clementson also proposes incorporating an ethically-minded focus into the curriculum. The overriding aim, according to Clementson, is to empower students to rise above the potential competition by demonstrating to prospective employers that the applicant is prepared for ethical quandaries that inevitably arise in the competitive and challenging public relations industry.

“Clementson’s classroom project smartly combines an emphasis on getting good jobs and internships, with ethical best practices,” said Pamela Brubaker of Brigham Young University, chair of the AEJMC Public Relations Division’s Teaching Committee.

Stephanie Mahin of the University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School, also a leader of the Public Relations Division’s Teaching committee, added: “I hope other professors will consider employing ideas like Clementson’s project into their curriculum, as we try to do what we can to make teaching a little easier amidst all the pressures on us and the exceedingly competitive realm of PR where ethically-minded professionalism is needed now more than ever.”

“It is an impressive series of strategies to calm the nerves and prepare the professionalism of public relations students entering the workforce,” said Nneka Logan of Virginia Tech, who moderated the panel.

Joseph Stabb, APR, of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, a leader in the AEJMC Public Relations Division who helped organize the panel, added: “Through our ‘Great Ideas for Teaching,’ we strive to help public relations educators employ the best teaching in their classrooms. Today’s panel put the spotlight on innovative ways we can embolden students getting the most out of their diploma with good jobs upon graduation.”

Clementson was one of three presenters from across the U.S. who were invited to present their teaching strategies at the event, which was held virtually via Zoom on Feb. 25. The symposium was hosted by Amanda Weed of Kennesaw State University and Stabb, and was moderated by Logan.

AEJMC’s PR Division is the largest organization of public relations educators in the world. The division has more than 400 members from institutions of higher learning in the United States and about two dozen countries around the world.

Words matter most when responding to a crisis

When responding to crisis situations, what is said matters more than nonverbal cues, according to new research by the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The study, “(In)Sincere Demeanor and (In)Sincere Language in Crisis Communication,” evaluated the perceived sincerity of messages during a crisis, examining company spokespersons’ use of language and non-verbal cues.

“Just because someone looks calm, doesn’t mean they are honest, and if someone is fidgeting and doesn’t make eye contact, it doesn’t mean they are not telling the truth.” —David Clementson

“This research showed that words trump behavior,” said David Clementson, co-author of the research and assistant professor of public relations at Grady College. “Deceptive demeanor has its limit when we get to serious scandals. The general public will lock into verbal sincerity and will not be as easily led astray by nonverbal impressions.”

The research evaluated responses from more than 800 people who were randomly assigned to watch one of four videos, all involving a reporter and a company spokesperson responding to a racial scandal. The videos included the following scenarios:

  • The spokesperson delivers the message using normal best practices of crisis communication while appearing calm and confident.
  • The spokesperson delivers the message using normal best practices, but appears uncooperative, is fidgeting and avoiding eye contact.
  • The spokesperson delivers an unclear, evasive and dodgy message while appearing calm and confident.
  • The spokesperson delivers an unclear message and appears uncooperative, is fidgeting and avoiding eye contact.

The researchers asked the respondents to comment on the video they watched agreeing or disagreeing on whether the message was favorably accepted, if there would be negative word-of-mouth comments about the company after the message was delivered and whether the company was to blame for the crisis based on the corporate response.

Clementson said the best approach for company spokepersons when responding to a crisis is to appear sincere in outward demeanor and also in clear and relevant language. They should have content in the message that acknowledges the problem, apologizes for the damage caused and explains the action being taken to avoid the situation in the future.

Many times, however, legal counsel or others involved coach spokespersons against taking responsibility and avoid answering questions with a lot of detail.

“Sincerity as a demeanor cue is almost always misleading,” Clementson said. “Just because someone looks calm doesn’t mean they are honest, and if someone is fidgeting and doesn’t make eye contact, it doesn’t mean they are not telling the truth.”

Prior to the research, Clementson expected the results to show that if the spokesperson appeared sincere, the company could get away with dodging questions and not apologizing. However, based on the findings, words and not the nonverbal cues were the most important factor.

Clementson said that sincerity in crisis situations is a key to the long-range success of companies, and the same concepts can be applied to politicians and celebrities, as well.

The research was published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology and was co-authored by Tyler Page of the Department of Communication at the University of Connecticut.

Clementson research receives Top Paper honors from International Association of Language and Social Psychology

David Clementson, public relations assistant professor, won the Top Paper award from the International Association of Language and Social Psychology for his research on the detection of political deception.

The award spotlights research published in the “Journal of Language and Social Psychology.” Clementson’s honors regard his work as the best paper published in the journal from 2018-20.

The paper, titled “Truth Bias and Partisan Bias in Political Deception Detection,” examined how audience perceptions are impacted by political party affiliation. Clementson worked in politics and on campaigns for many years, but personally detested partisanship. After years of research on political deception, he incorporated the element of partisanship that turned him off as a practitioner.

Clementson’s notice of his top paper honors.

“I finally felt the need to insert party identification onto the screen for viewers, and sure enough the addition of that ‘R’ or ‘D’ affected voters’ perceptions of a politician’s veracity above and beyond the content of what the politician was actually saying in a news interview,” Clementson said.

In the experiment for the research, 618 U.S. voters watched a news interview in which a politician was labeled as a Democrat or Republican. The politician either answered questions honestly or used deception to evade comment. The audience was then asked to identify if responses were honest or if the speaker evaded questions.

Results showed that voters’ ability to identify deceptive language changes when the viewer is presented with the political party affiliation. Clementson says his primary advice for audiences is to consume political interviews and media coverage with discernment.

“I would encourage people to take a breath and exert a moment to appraise the actual content of what people in positions of political power are saying rather than simply taking what you are told at face value without some healthy skepticism,” he said.

The selection for the Top Paper award included a two-step process by six committee members from the International Association of Language and Social Psychology.

One of the committee’s reviewers praised Clementson’s findings by saying: “This study presents a heuristic extension of theory into a tightly conceived methodological form that advances our understanding of political deception and its mechanics.”

Clementson notes that the Journal of Language and Social Psychology is one of the most highly regarded publications in his field for its emphasis on political deception theorizing. For example, political equivocation theory and truth-default theory (which is the star of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book) first appeared in this journal.

“It is a tremendous thrill and extremely humbling to receive an honor internationally for doing what you love,” Clementson said.

Clementson joined the Grady College faculty in 2019 and specializes in public relations and political communication.

Clementson awarded grant from Broom Center for theory-driven industry research

Grady College researcher, David Clementson, was competitively awarded a research grant from the Glen M. Broom Center for Professional Development in Public Relations.

Clementson, an assistant professor of public relations, will conduct an experiment to test the effectiveness of narrative appeals used by PR spokespeople.

Some of his recent research has included the effect of comments associated with political interviews published in “Political Psychology” and perceived trustworthiness of politicians based on questions from journalists, published in the “Journal of Communication.”

This is the first time that the Broom Center, named for the academic known as the professor of the profession for having written the most widely used textbook in the field, funded faculty research at the national level.

“The work that Dr. Clementson is doing is vital to everyday practitioners,” said Kaye Sweetser, APR+M, Fellow PRSA who serves as the director of the Broom Center. “Dr. Clementson’s research will help the industry while adding to theory in our field. These two elements were so important to the namesake of our center, and we immediately saw that spirit of Glen Broom in the scholarship making the decision to support it easy.”

The experiment is intended to “assess the effects of public relations spokespeople employing varying degrees of narrative appeals in their media relations messaging,”Clementson said. “My research findings will improve the practice of public relations by exploring whether crisis spokespeople should employ narrative messaging or ‘just the facts’ when relating information to the public amidst scandals.”

Clementson noted that his research would not have been possible without the support from the Broom Center.

“I hope that my research will further the strong legacy of Glen Broom as I advance theory, explicate concepts for public relations and advance the practical applications of crisis communication and strategy through my empirical scholarship,” he added.

Clementson earned his doctorate in communication in 2017 from Ohio State University, and is an alumnus of University of Miami and James Madison University.  He has more than a dozen scholarly journal articles, which focus on political public relations and issues of speaker credibility. He is currently on the leadership board for the Public Relations division for the National Communication Association.

The Broom Center, established at San Diego State University in 2012, seeks to invest in the people of public relations who push the status quo. Clementson’s scholarly work helps practitioners identify best practices, and adds to the body of knowledge in the industry.

“When we support rising star scholars like Dr. Clementson, we support the future of our industry. An investment in him pays back the field in orders of magnitude,” Sweetser said.

Grady researcher studies the effect of comments associated with political interviews

As Americans prepare for another presidential election in 2020, a researcher at Grady College has found that comments left on social media posts about political interviews can, indeed, influence opinions.

“Comment sections are extremely powerful,” said David Clementson, an assistant professor of public relations at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and the study’s author. “This research found that people will echo the sentiments expressed by anonymous strangers and will share opinions and attitudes about politicians and journalists in accordance with comments expressed by strangers.”

Clementson researched the impact of social media comments posted after watching a staged video of a news interview with a non-partisan political figure and a journalist. The goal of the research was to determine the impact of comments made by strangers on those who viewed the interview.

The study, “How Web Comments Affect Perceptions of Political Interviews and Journalistic Control,” is the first experiment of its kind examining the impact of social media comments in relation to a political interview.

“The study shows that this is a frontier of extreme influence that isn’t getting as much attention as fake news and fake Tweets,” Clementson said.

“If your goal is to influence opinions, it’s a lot more time efficient, and perhaps more impactful, to post a comment than create a website or fake social media account.”

Clementson’s research asked the subjects to view the same mock interview on YouTube, then divided the subjects into three groups: 1. A control group that had no comments beneath the interview; 2. A group that viewed comments accusing the politician of being deceptive or dodging questions; and 3. A group that viewed comments accusing the journalist of being deceptive and biased.

The survey was run twice: once with participants 18- to 60-years-old, and once with adult college students.

The research groups were then asked to post their own comments, which were evaluated for the study.

The survey found that the group of 18- to 60-year-olds were so influenced by the comments that they echoed the comments themselves.

The college student group was not as influenced by the comments – the comments that they typed themselves did not echo the ones they read – but in their responses to survey items they did echo the attitudes of the comment sections that they were exposed to.

The survey also evaluated the extent to which the subjects agreed that the journalist was biased or that the politician was intrinsically deceptive with answers.

The group that viewed comments indicating that the journalist was making the interview tough on the politician, echoed previous comments. However, the journalist was still seen as more trustworthy than the politician.

On the other hand, those who viewed comments implicating the politician for dodging questions, were even more critical of the politician than the first group.

“Media outlets can rest assured that when a comment section impugns the credibility of their journalist, their journalist will probably still have more credibility than the politician, even when the comments defend the politician. The politician stands to lose more from comment sections,” Clementson said.

Comments add a lot to the experience of reading web articles, and make it easier to process confusing political news, Clementson continued. Studies show that in general, comment sections are widely read, even if many people don’t post their own views.

“Viewers and readers may not know what to believe, but comments can help fill in the gaps,” Clementson said.

The research was published in the 2019 edition of Political Psychology.