Do public relations practitioners perceptually share ingroup affiliation with journalists?

Abstract: Upwards of 200 studies over the past hundred years have reported on the relationship between public relations practitioners and journalists. However, no experiment has compared the group members’ perceptions when seeing their roles in action. Inspired by frameworks of social identity theory, intergroup deception, and the black sheep effect, we test how public relations practitioners and journalists respond to a crisis communication media interview. In our experiment, a company spokesperson either answers questions or engages in stereotypical “spin,” which journalists historically consider one of the most offensive public relations strategies. Results indicate that public relations practitioners align with journalists in their perceptions of a spokesperson’s trustworthiness and the organization’s trustworthiness across treatment conditions. Practitioners also manifest the black sheep effect, disliking their group representative engaging in deception. Furthermore, we explore whether the effects on perceptions of trustworthiness are moderated by psychological identification with their respective industry. Discussion concerns the theoretical and practical ramifications of the groups sharing ingroup affiliation, contrary to prevailing notions of acrimony.