Current department head, Bryan Reber, will retire effective August 1, 2022.
“Dr. Meng adds to the long line of distinguished faculty who have stepped up to lead AdPR over the decades,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College. “She possesses the leadership skills needed for this demanding position, and she’s earned the role through years of strong service to the college. I’m so excited to work with her.”
Meng joined the AdPR faculty in 2012 and is an affiliate graduate faculty member, serving as the founder and advisor of the UGA/SHNU cooperative education 3+1+1 degree program, which recruits undergraduate students of Shanghai Normal University in China to complete their undergraduate and graduate degrees at UGA. Meng’s teaching focus includes public relations foundations, public relations campaigns, PR ethics, diversity and leadership, and global PR. Her research specialization includes public relations leadership, leadership development, diversity and leadership in PR, measurement in PR, and global communication.
She is a graduate of the UGA Women’s Leadership Fellows program, the Office of Service-Learning Fellows program and UGA Teaching Academy Fellows program.
Meng earned Ph.D. and Master of Science degrees from the University of Alabama; a Master of Arts degree from Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio; and a Bachelor of Science degree from Fudan University in Shanghai, China.
“I am honored and thankful for this opportunity. I look forward to working more closely with our talented students, dedicated colleagues, passionate alumni, and other brilliant leaders in the field to continue upholding AdPR’s legacy of excellence in education, research and service.” — Juan Meng
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.
Advancement barriers, gaps in leadership and lack of mentors examined
A new book, PR Women with Influence: Breaking Through the Ethical and Leadership Challenges, explores how women in the profession of public relations and communication navigate through attitudinal, structural and social barriers in advancing their leadership roles. The book is led by Juan Meng, associate professor at the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and co-authored by Marlene S. Neill, associate professor at Baylor University.
Grounded by empirical research, the book illustrates the ethical and leadership challenges women in PR face. Some key highlights include:
Situational barriers to women’s leadership advancement in public relations;
The meaning of building influence to women in public relations;
The strategies to set out principles that uphold the core values of ethical leadership;
Women’s leadership development and participation opportunities in public relations; and
The crucial supporting roles of mentoring and sponsorship in leadership advancement.
The results are based on responses from two phases of research. Phase I involves 51 in-depth interviews with current female executives in public relations and communication and Phase II reflects information and opinions recruited from a national panel of 512 female public relations and communication professionals.
“Our goal with this book is to examine the joint topics of ethics counseling and leadership challenges that woman in public relations and communication are facing,” Meng said. “We hope to enrich the body of knowledge in women and leadership in public relations while advancing our understanding of identity- and gender-based leadership development skills and ethics counseling strategies.”
Barriers in leadership advancement
Women in PR agree that there is a substantial percentage of women (61.9%) serving as direct supervisors at junior and/or middle management levels to fill in the leadership pipeline. However, the pattern of men outnumbering women in senior communication leadership is persistent by ethnicity, as well as across different types of organizations.
As rated by women in PR, the top three situational barriers that influence women’s leadership advancement are:
Double standards in domestic roles and professional demands (58.6%),
Social attitudes toward female professionals (57.4%), and
Workplace structures (57.2%).
Women of color are specifically disadvantaged by race-based stereotypes.
Women in the study highlighted the top three factors contributing to the underrepresentation in top leadership:
Lack of women as role models in high-level decision-making positions (43.4%);
Lack of work-family balance (36.9%); and
Lack of power of authority or control over important resources (35.2%).
Multiple meanings of being a female leader in public relations
The majority of surveyed professionals in the study define influence as the following ways:
Being valued as a trusted advisor (85.7%),
Having career advancement opportunities (84.0%),
Demonstrating expertise (83.0%), and
Having a voice that colleagues and co-workers listen to (82.8%).
Women of color define influence with strong opinions by highlighting the importance of gaining visibility through senior leadership positions.
At the same time, women in PR use multiple strategies to build and enact their influence when providing leadership and ethical counseling. Those widely used strategies include the following:
Inviting questions and building a dialogue (74.0%),
Referring to the core values of the organization (70.1%),
Providing scenarios, discussing potential consequences and providing alternative solutions (69.5%).
Efforts are needed to minimize the gap between leadership development and participation opportunities for women in PR
It is promising that nearly 64% of female professionals agree that their organization has on-the-job training programs to increase competency. Respondents also reported having access to internal and external leadership training and development programs. However, insufficient leadership development resources are particularly noticeable for women in the 31- to 40-year-old bracket.
The gap between leadership development and participation is noticeable. Female professionals reflect that as the line responsibility and the decision-making power increase, their opportunities to participate in leadership initiatives decrease. Four out of ten women don’t think they’ve been given sufficient leadership participative opportunities in organizations’ important initiatives. Quite surprisingly, a substantial percentage of women (41.5%) disagree their organization helps “women like me” participate in one or more professional associations to build networks.
Mentors are important but the numbers are insufficient
Women in PR agree that mentorship does not only provide career advice but also contributes to network building. However, results show that three out of ten female professionals admit they do not have any mentors. In addition, more Black women reported not having a mentor (35.0%), compared with white women (28.6%) and other minority women (28.8%).
“By talking to those successful women executives in PR who were willing to share their personal experiences and provide guidance,” Neill said, “we found one of the most insightful pieces of advice was regarding the role of advocates in career advancement. Senior leaders need to be more willing to identify, mentor and champion young professionals and offer them personal growth opportunities.”
Several factors are sought after when identifying mentors for women in PR including:
On-the-job communications and experiences (29.7%),
Personal connections and networks (24.2%), and
Professional associations (17.8%).
“The depths and the insights from the book can be used to build a roadmap for younger generations and women of color who aspire to move into leadership,” Meng concluded. “Today’s public relations industry is facing enormous pressure to address gender and racial diversity at all levels. We hope our book contributes to addressing disparity, stimulating change, and leveraging the profession to be more diverse, equal and inclusive.”
Juan Meng, associate professor of public relations for Grady College, recently had a collaborative study published in the International Journal of Strategic Communication.
The co-sponsored millennial generation study was done by Meng and the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and the Institute for Public Relations
Titled, “Maximizing the Potential of Millennial Communication Professionals in the Workplace: A Talent Management Approach in the Field of Strategic Communication,” the article provides a deeper understanding of millennial communication professionals’ (MCPs) generational attributes as related to their workplace values, and how such values affect key phases such as recruitment, engagement, development and retention in talent management in strategic communication.
Meng and Bruce K. Berger, professor emeritus at The University of Alabama, recruited two national panels to run comparative analyses with one panel consisting of MCPs and the other panel consisting of communication managers and executives who have direct working and/or supervising experience with MCPs.
“We must recognize these generational differences,” Meng said. “At the same time, it is more important for us to draw from these differences to build an effective talent management system that brings the best qualities out of MCPs to enhance our profession to be more diverse and inclusive.”
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.
(Editor’s note: This feature was originally written by UGA Marketing and Communications)
Juan Meng, an associate professor in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, gives students hands-on learning experiences that help them develop into leaders in public relations.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in economics from Fudan University in Shanghai, China. My first master’s degree, in communication, is from Bowling Green State University with a concentration in organizational communication. Then I went to the University of Alabama to obtain my Ph.D. in mass communication with a concentration in public relations. While I worked toward my doctorate, I also earned my second master’s degree in marketing from the University of Alabama.
I am currently an associate professor of public relations in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. I teach undergraduate courses in public relations research and campaigns as well as graduate courses related to public relations. I mentor some of our graduate students’ thesis and dissertation research. Another thing I enjoy doing here at UGA is directing the Grady College’s Choose China study abroad program, which I founded in 2013.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I enjoy teaching our capstone course, “Public Relations Campaigns” because the content of the course involves the development and presentation of a complete communication campaign for a real organization. Student teams are challenged at various levels in this course, from team collaboration, to problem/opportunity identification, to strategic planning, to creative thinking and to campaign evaluation. It is critical for students to move beyond the “knowing” perspective to the “know-how” process.
As the director of the Choose China program, I enjoy leading a group of students who travel to China each summer and offer them the best opportunities to learn current practices in advertising, public relations, social media and integrated communication from market leaders in today’s China. It feels amazing and rewarding to see students get firsthand knowledge regarding how communication agencies work in that region and how the cultural experience broadens their global view and understanding of international communication.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope my PR students understand the meaning and the role of leadership in public relations practice. I hope their learning journey with me inspires them to be visionary, future-oriented, lead under diversity and transform diversity into competitive advantages, no matter in a classroom setting or in public relations practice.
In 2015 the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and Heyman Associates produced its first “Report Card on PR Leaders.” Leaders earned passing grades for the five areas examined—leadership performance, job engagement, trust in the organization, work culture and job satisfaction—but crucial gaps highlighted areas for improvement.
Nearly 1,200 PR leaders and professionals in the U.S. recently completed the survey again.
Juan Meng, associate professor of public relations at Grady College, was the co-investigator along with Bruce K. Berger, research director of the Plank Center at the University of Alabama.
Grades for leadership performance and trust were unchanged in 2017, but slipped for work culture, job engagement and job satisfaction. The overall grade for PR leaders fell from “B-“ to “C+.” Gaps between leaders’ and employees’ perceptions of the five areas remained wide, while gender differences deepened.
Women in public relations were significantly less engaged, less satisfied with their jobs, less confident in their work cultures, less trusting of their organizations and more critical of top leaders than men. Previous concerns about two-way communication, shared decision-making and diversity were again underscored by men and women.
Commenting on the results, Bill Heyman, CEO and president of Heyman Associates, co-sponsor of the study, said: “Social tensions in our world today have likely exacerbated these issues. We need to be bigger leaders to close these gaps.”
Performance of the Top Leader (A-/C+)
Leaders’ and their employees’ perceptions of the top leader’s performance again differed sharply: Leaders gave themselves an “A-,” while followers gave them a “C+.” The grades were virtually identical to those in 2015. Leaders received higher marks for ethical orientation and involvement in strategic decision-making but earned lower grades for their vision, relationship-building skills and team leadership capabilities. Men ranked top-leader performance significantly higher than women.
“This gap doesn’t necessarily mean leaders are ineffective,” said Meng. “Employees may be upset about other issues in their lives or unhappy with a recent assignment. But closing the gap is important because leaders influence all other issues in our study.”
Job Engagement (B-)
The grade fell from a “B+” in 2015 because fewer professionals were engaged. In 2017, 57.2% of respondents were engaged (vs. 59.7% in 2015); 35.9% were not engaged (vs 34.4%); and 6.8% were actively disengaged (vs. 6.0%). Many more top leaders were more engaged (71.7%) than others (50.1%).
The decline in engagement is largely tied to lower engagement levels among women. In 2015, more women (61.3%) were engaged than men (57.9%). However, in 2017 more men (62.1%) were engaged than women (52.9%). In the non-top leader group, less than half of women were engaged (46.4%), and nearly one in ten (9.7%) was actively disengaged.
Job Engagement of PR Professionals: 2017 vs. 2015
Non-top leaders (all others)
Males (non-top leaders)
Females (non-top leaders)
Trust in the Organization (C+)
Trust in the organization again received the lowest grade and was an issue at all levels. Professionals trusted their organization’s capabilities to compete successfully and achieve its goals, but expressed less trust in their organizations to keep promises and to be concerned about employees when making important decisions. Women were much less trusting of their organizations, especially regarding the value of their concerns and opinions in decision making.
Job Satisfaction (C+)
This grade dropped from a “B-” in 2015 as the percentage of those satisfied or very satisfied with their job declined from 66.7% to 61.9%. The percentage of those dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their jobs rose from 22.1% to 24.1%, while those neither satisfied nor dissatisfied rose from 11.2% to 14.0%. Biggest declines were among top leaders and women. More men (65.9%) were satisfied or very satisfied with their job than women (58.3%). Agency PR professionals were most satisfied compared to those working in companies or nonprofits.
Organizational Culture (C+)
Culture refers to the internal environment, processes and structures that help or impede communication practices. This grade fell from a “B-” in 2015. The CEO’s understanding and valuing of public relations was rated highly, while that of other functional leaders was rated lower. Shared decision-making practices and the presence of two-way communications and diversity were graded far lower. Top leaders rated cultural factors higher than those at other levels. Women rated all cultural factors lower than men—and shared decision-making power a great deal lower. Agency professionals rated culture highest among organizational types.
Three Crucial Gaps Need Attention
The perceptions of top leaders and their employees. Top leaders rated their performance and all other areas significantly higher than their employees. Things look different—and far better—at the top. Leaders may often rate their performance higher than their employees, but statistically the gap is Grand-Canyon sized. Leaders at all levels can benefit from relying less on the transmission mode and more on the reception mode when communicating with employees. Solutions include: 1) increased power sharing, or leader empowering behaviors, 2) strengthened two-way communications, and 3) enhanced interpersonal skills in team work, such as active listening and conflict management skills.
Existing culture and a culture for communication. Issues like the lack of two-way communication, limited power sharing and diversity concerns point to differences between existing cultures and a rich communication system sometimes referred to as a culture for communication. Such a culture is characterized by: 1) an open communication system where information is widely shared; 2) dialogue, discussion and learning; 3) the use of two-way and multiple channels; 4) a climate in which employees can speak up without fear of retribution; and 5) leaders who support and value public relations and internal communications. Culture exerts a strong influence on trust.
Perceptions of women and men in the profession. The gender gap deepened in the 2017 survey in every subject area. Women’s perceptions of their lack of shared power in decision making, insufficient two-way communication, and de-valuing of their opinions are reflected in lower levels of trust in the organization and its culture, less confidence in leaders and declining job engagement.
Progress in diversity in public relations in many senses remains painfully slow. For women in the survey, it appears that being successful in the field is still challenging; the pay gap is real; the opportunity gap is real; and the being-heard-and-respected-gap is real. These gaps require attention and action, and the power to act resides in the minds, hearts and hands of current leaders at all levels in the profession.
“The purpose of this biennial report is to assess leadership in PR and identify enrichment opportunities,” said Berger. “If we identify the gaps and work to close them, we strengthen our profession’s leadership—a crucial strategic asset. The 2017 Report Card underscores the continuing gaps and the need to act.”
Millennials are often criticized for the different values, qualities and skills they bring to work, according to a new study of millennial communication professionals (MCPs) by the University of Georgia, The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and the Institute for Public Relations. Although the new study confirms the generational differences of millennials, it concludes that some differences like millennials’ strong values for diversity, transparency and social responsibility, will help advance and enrich the profession.
Juan Meng, associate professor of public relations at the UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and a Plank scholar, was the co-principal investigator, along with Bruce K. Berger, research director of The Plank Center.
The study also reveals a talent management ecosystem organizations can use to attract, engage, develop, retain and gain from top millennial talent.
“Millennials get trained and then they move on,” said Meng of a typical pattern seen among younger workers in the communications industry. “They could be really engaged for the first year, then their engagement level drops sharply and they move on. We want to see the possible talent management system to identify those effective approaches to help the organizations successfully recruit millennials, develop their leadership skills and retain them as employees for an extended period of time.”
A survey of 420 MCPs and 420 professionals who manage them (MGRs) revealed sharp differences in perceptions about millennials’ workplace values and attributes, engagement, leadership capabilities, and recruiting and retention drivers.
Among the biggest differences of opinions are the following:
• More than 80% of MCPs said they’re ambitious and passionate about work, but only half of their managers agreed. MCPs rated themselves much higher than MGRs did in work centrality (ambition, passion for work and professionalism), rewards and recognition, risk-taking and work-life-social values.
Workplace values and attributes
Ambitious about making progress and gaining new opportunities
Passionate about work
Willing to take risks at work
Value diversity of people at work
Supportive of social causes and socially responsible companies
• Almost three quarters (70.9%) of MCPs said they are ready to lead. They rated their capabilities much higher than did MGRs for their communication knowledge, vision, team leadership skills, ethical orientation, strategic decision-making and relationship-building skills, and readiness to lead.
Demonstrate a strong ethical orientation and professional values
Ready to be an excellent leader in communication
• MGRs rated their own engagement in the job (83.1%) and the organization (74.4%) significantly higher than MCPs rated their work (72.8%) and organizational (59.3%) engagement. However, MCPs with less than one year on the job were as highly engaged as MGRS; the level dropped sharply for those with 1-3 years of experience before returning to year-one levels after seven years.
“Millennial communicators come to the job excited and enthusiastic,” said Berger. “But those qualities soon fade for some who leave the organization due to poor cultural fit, supervisory issues or better opportunities.”
• Two-thirds of MCPs said job decisions were driven most by reputation (68.1%), culture (67.2%), and location (67.4%), among nine drivers. More than 60% said key retention drivers were culture (63.8%), work-life-social approaches (62.4%), and development opportunities (61.6%), among 14 factors. MGRs’ perceptions of recruitment and retention drivers for MCPs were significantly lower for most factors.
I was attracted to the organization because it…
Had a fine reputation
Is a very socially-responsible organization
Offered opportunities for growth and development
Has a very open and positive culture
Is a great location (geographically)
To retain employees, my organization…
Supports a work-life-social approach
Has a very open and positive culture
Engages in socially-responsible programs
Provides growth and development opportunities
Particularly, MCPs said meaningful career planning, more mentoring and equal pay for men and women would increase retention rates.
Bringing the Positive Differences to Life with a Talent Management Ecosystem
According to the study, the generational differences are real, but so are some bright hopes and qualities within them. “MCPs see the world differently—from context to connectivity to crisis—but they are digital natives with great passion for leadership and strong values for transparency, social responsibility, diversity and community—all touchstones for our profession today. We can draw from these skills and values to enhance practice and build a brighter future,” Berger said.
To fulfil the goal of the talent management ecosystem, “the key is to contextualize and personalize actions in each process,” said Meng. “Organizations lean heavily on context, but the combination of the two is far more powerful.”
The full report can be found here: http://plankcenter.ua.edu/resources/research/millennial-communication-professionals-in-the-workplace/
Infographic made by Britt Buzan, The Plank Center, Institute for Public Relations