Department of Advertising and Public Relations and Public Relations Organisation International create research venture

The University of Georgia Department of Advertising and Public Relations (ADPR) recently embarked on an innovative joint research venture with Public Relations Organisation International (PROI) Worldwide designed to gather insights into crises across the world.

The ADPR department and PROI created this longitudinal research project to harness the power of international perspectives and strengthen understanding of crises that befall countries worldwide. The research project, led by UGA Crisis Communication Coalition faculty and student scholars uses the latest technology from UGA’s SEE Suite Lab to identify the most significant global crises of the preceding three months. The UGA research team drafts quarterly reports that outline the crises and provides the reports to PROI for their international readership. Concurrently, the UGA research team develops a quarterly survey—sent to PROI’s members—to capture unique global insights about the preceding quarter’s crises. The project analyzes global perspectives to bridge the gap between academic scholarship and professional best practices in crisis communication.

Because the research will continue on a quarterly basis, longitudinal opportunities arise to cross-analyze significant crises and the survey insights on each crisis report. This analysis will identify which crises are covered the most by news outlets, help researchers and practitioners identify key crisis trends across the world, and keep UGA’s ADPR department on the cutting edge of international crisis research and teaching. The team offers insights into preliminary findings on “sticky crisis” issues confronting global business community and communication industry.

“We offer mix-method driven and analytics-enhanced insights for communication executives around the world to dive deeper into and learn from these challenging and complex crisis issues, such as the Missouri Amtrak collision and the US Federal Trade Commission actions on Cryptocurrency fraud,” says Dr. Yan Jin, ADPR assistant department head and Crisis Communication Think Tank (CCTT) director and co-founder. “We hope this type of knowledge generation and intelligence sharing will help practitioners to understand and lead through crisis effectively and ethically.”

PROI is an organization made up of communication firms around the world that collectively push the market standard by setting trends and continuously identifying the communication’s next best practices. The organization is made up of more than 7,000 employees in more than 165 cities and 50 countries.

The ADPR department research team is led by CCTT co-founders Dr. Yan Jin and Dr. Bryan Reber, with doctoral students Jeong Hyun (Janice) Lee and Taylor Voges as inaugural student scholars.  The research team continuously reaches for new and innovative ways to develop joint projects that offer both graduate and undergraduate students unique opportunities to interact with crisis communication professionals on mutually beneficial research. This progressive research project exemplifies the department’s commitment to offering students prestigious opportunities at a Top-5 nationally-ranked advertising and public relations program.

Crisis Communication Think Tank connects academics and PR professionals in a unique program

Crisis communication is one of the biggest challenges facing public relations professionals, but until very recently there were few opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to learn the practical lessons of this increasingly important specialty in an academic setting.

Crisis Communication Think Tank sign
The last in-person Crisis Communication Think Tank with industry professionals and academic scholars took place at UGA in 2019. (Photo: Anna Leigh Herndon (AB ’19))

Now, thanks to a unique program at the University of Georgia, industry practitioners and academic scholars are collaborating to address emerging topics and provide insight for navigating these difficult situations.

The Crisis Communication Think Tank (CCTT), hosted by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, is one of the few PR programs to create a collaboration of practitioners and academics focused on crisis communication topics. Members of the CCTT will collaborate in person at Grady College on April 14 to discuss this year’s theme, Power of People.

“When we sit down at the same table, we talk about issues and unpack the value of what we do for practitioners,” said Yan Jin, the Georgia Athletic Association Professor in Grady College and co-founder of the CCTT. “We find out from them what research questions are most important. And, in turn, it’s very enriching to see practitioners utilize the theory-based research insights we develop to inform their practice in a meaningful way.”

The CCTT is supported by the Crisis Communication Coalition, a Grady College program dedicated to providing research for crisis communication professionals, resources for journalists and education for students. In addition to Jin, other CCTT co-founders include Bryan Reber, the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership and head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, and Glen Nowak, associate dean for graduate studies and research and co-director of the Center for Health & Risk Communication.

“Crisis communication is an ever-growing and nuanced topic, whether you are just learning about it as public relations student or a seasoned professional who deals with crisis on a regular basis,” Reber said. “Many of our faculty specialize in crisis communication research so it makes sense that we take the lead in this conversation and collaboration. Bringing crisis comm professionals and scholars together is also a benefit for our graduate students who are studying crisis communication.”

The think tank hosts approximately 15 PR practitioners, including executives from American Airlines, Cox Communications, UPS and the American Medical Association, together with approximately 15 scholars from the University of Alabama, University of Maryland and Penn State University, among others.

This is the fourth year the CCTT has met and each year it has covered a different topic around one of the program’s core pillars: crisis communication in organizations, public health and emerging technology. A tangible output is produced from each Think Tank gathering, as well. For example, when the CCTT focused on “Sticky Crisis” in 2019, a book collaboration was initiated which resulted in the publication of “Advancing Crisis Communication Effectiveness,” in 2021.

In 2021, a virtual conference was held focusing on global disrupters and artificial intelligence. The output was a video series that is housed on the CCTT resources webpage and used by crisis communication classes around the country, together with other resources the CCTT creates.

This year’s Think Tank and beyond

Jin explains that this year’s theme, Power of People, focuses on the polarized media landscape and discourse. The group will discuss what crisis communication professionals and scholars can do to address some of these challenges through authentic and effective communication.

“Polarization is a problem, and we want to come up with solutions,” Jin explains. “This is an opportunity to join research and practice and unlock the power of collaboration. We want to start the conversation to find common ground.”

The Think Tank also benefits from several international ties including members from Brazil and the Netherlands, and Jin said there is interest in expanding more in the global space.

Educating today’s students for tomorrow’s crisis

One of the greatest benefits of the program is the education it affords students working directly with professionals.

A group of students listen intently to a Crisis Communication Think Tank speaker
A group of Ph.D. students listen to a presentation during the 2019 Crisis Communication Think Tank. (Photo: Sarah Freeman/Dayne Young)

Each year, the CCTT is coordinated by several Ph.D. students and two undergraduates who are selected to serve as crisis communication interns.

One of those original crisis interns was Maria Stagliano, who after graduation, accepted her dream job with Levick, a crisis communication firm in Washington, D.C.

“Without the CCTT and Grady’s encouragement to explore crisis communications as students, I wouldn’t be where I am today in my career,” Stagliano said. “Not many universities offer crisis communications courses or opportunities to engage with crisis communications professionals prior to graduation. Grady’s emphasis on providing students with chances to have experiences and networking opportunities prior to graduation provides them a leg up in the world of crisis communications as future practitioners.”

Stagliano believes that facilitating this collaborative and exploratory environment is a huge benefit to all involved.

She continues: “The marriage of academic and crisis communications in practice is essential to understanding how crisis communications will evolve with time, new technologies, social challenges and more.”

Richard Yarbrough has been an active participant and supporter of the CCTT since its beginning.

He learned about crisis communication when he served as managing director of communication for the 1996 Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and oversaw the response for the subsequent Centennial Park bombing.

“I want to take the benefit of experience and pass it along to the next generation,” Yarbrough said of his support of the program.

Industry Insights: Careers in Crisis Communication

This article was submitted by the Crisis Communication Coalition at UGA. You can learn more about it at: https://grady.uga.edu/crisis-communication-coalition/

The University of Georgia Crisis Communication Coalition hosted the Industry Insights: Careers in Crisis Communication webinar featuring Michael Gray (ABJ ’11), GE senior communications business partner and Grady Society Alumni Board member, Leah Seay, issues management spokesperson at Amazon, and Maria Stagliano (AB ’19), account executive at LEVICK.  Samantha Meyer (ABJ” 13, MA ’14), director of experiential programs at Grady College, served  as moderator on March 23, 2021. Students and faculty alike learned about current crisis communication trends, tips on how to break into the crisis industry, and ways to excel at your crisis communication career. Here are some of the key takeaways from our event.

  1. Crises will follow you anywhere in any career.

No matter what communications route you end up going down, crises will follow. There is the inevitability of dealing with difficult issues that may not have initially come written in your job scope. While it may seem daunting, being able to experience crisis first-hand might lead into an unexpected career in crisis communication.

  1. You can’t go wrong by choosing agency or in-house/corporate.

The panelists for this event came from a wide range of differing backgrounds and career experiences. Each had their own take on what route a recent graduate should take. Gray and Stagliano noted they had a lot of experience writing in different brand voices and working with numerous clients that they enjoyed in agency life. Seay, on the other hand, enjoyed going corporate because she worked in a rotating program working at different parts of the business when she was hired at her first full-time career. All three panelists highlight the importance of figuring out your goals first, then crafting your job search around those goals.

  1. Develop skills now that can help you later.

There are a few skills students can acquire now that will set them up for success while working in communications – especially in crisis. The three panelists stated that having strong written communication skills is absolutely necessary when working in crisis communication. Seay added that learning about media relations in class or in an internship has helped her advance her career. Gray recommended students to learn about how to effectively handle high-stress or crucial conversations with bosses and peers.

  1. Consider your lifestyle when choosing a career.

Whether you are more fast-paced or go-with-the-flow, there is a communications career path for you. Certain careers, like in global corporations or crisis firms, tend to appeal to people who prefer a high stress lifestyle. Smaller agencies or businesses might lend a more laxed work environment. When researching for job positions, consider the post-graduation life you want to live and focus on opportunities that compliment your lifestyle in a realistic way.

  1. Become familiar with current events – especially crises.

Staying up to date with the news is vital in having a successful career in crisis communication. Stagliano recommended students to be aware of current events and trends nationally and globally in order to stay on top of potential and emerging crises in your industry.

  1. Treasure your work-life balance.

With the pandemic showing us the importance of self-care, all three panelists noted that having a healthy work-life balance is key in having a positive attitude in the workplace. They recommend allotting a certain time each day to take to yourself, whether it’s to stretch, go on a walk, or workout.

Watch the entire webinar here and subscribe to the College’s YouTube channel.

Follow the Crisis Communication Coalition for more crisis communication insights and upcoming events.

Crisis Communication Think Tank Webinar with industry experts

The University of Georgia Crisis Communication Think Tank, part of the UGA Crisis Communication Coalition (CCC), joined the Museum of Public Relations in New York City jointly to host a webinar panel, “Sticky Crises and Industry Trends,” on Thursday, Nov. 19. Timothy Coombs, Richard Levick and Carl Turner were panelists with Taylor Voges as moderator.

Sticky crises are more complex and challenging than the typical crises that take a less reactive and more proactive approach to handle, according to the panelists. The practitioners and scholars discussed issues, such as Black Lives Matter and the MeToo movement, and how organizations are handling these crises. They examined the current polarization of American society and how sticky crises have shaped the media – especially in the past four years.

“It’s not a technology revolution; it’s an information revolution,” said Levick. “I’m not sure if everything is sticky, but everything is life and death.”

Coombs is the Abell professor in liberal arts in the Department of Communication at Texas A&M University and a leading crisis communication scholar. Levick is chairman and CEO of Levick, a public relations and crisis communications firm in Washington, D.C. Turner is chief brand strategy officer at Klick Health, the world’s largest independent health marketing agency. Voges is a second-year doctoral student in UGA’s Grady College.

Students made up a large portion of the attendees and showed their interest in crisis communication.

“I thought that the webinar was intriguing and diverse. All those presenting brought different ideas and viewpoints to the table that I had not thought of. I also enjoyed that they didn’t shy away from sensitive subjects,” said Douglas Matthews, a fourth-year advertising major.

Bryan Reber, the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor of Crisis Communication Leadership and coordinator of the Crisis Communication Coalition, was one of the program planners.  “Tim, Richard, and Carl explored important issues facing organizations today in this crisis prone era.  They were thoughtful without being afraid to explore provocative subjects,” Reber said.  “This was a wonderful first event for us to co-sponsor with the Museum of Public Relations.  We are planning future collaborations.”

Shelley Spector, Founder and Director of the Museum of Public Relations and President of Spector Communications, helped plan this program with the Grady College. “It was an honor for the Museum of Public Relations to work with this all-star team of crisis management experts,” said Spector, “The panelists examined crisis communications from both the theoretical and practical aspects, and effectively introduced to the PR world the idea of the ‘sticky crises.’ There was a tremendously positive response to this webinar, and I hope we can produce the next one early in the New Year, to reflect back on 2020, the year with history’s ‘stickiest’ crises.”

The CCTT plans to hold another webinar jointly hosted with the Museum of Public Relations on February 26, 2021 at 6:00 pm EST. The topic will be “Sticky Crises and Health & Risk Communication.”  A video recording of “Sticky Crises and Industry Trends” is available to watch here.

Four students selected as Yarbrough-Grady Fellows for Fall 2020

The University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication has named the Yarbrough-Grady Fellows for fall 2020: Laura Burr, Sophia Haynes, Sarah McRae and Grant Mitchell.

The Yarbrough-Grady Fellowship is a position that offers four students distinct opportunities to work with Grady College throughout each academic year.

Burr and McRae work with the Crisis Communication Coalition (CCC), the home for research on crisis communication leadership and practice in Grady

Burr (R) and McRae (L), interns for the Crisis Communication Coalition, enjoy a socially distanced coffee together as they work during fall semester.

College. Burr serves as a social media coordinator and promotes content for the CCC, while McRae coordinates the annual Crisis Communication Think Tank in spring 2021, CCC webinars and writing for online blog posts.

Haynes and Mitchell support Grady College’s external relations team to help strategize public relations initiatives and create content for the college’s website and social media channels. Haynes focuses on graphics production and crafts visual content, while Mitchell focuses on public relations and writes articles and news releases.

The Yarbrough-Grady Fellowship is funded by Dick Yarbrough (ABJ ‘59), an alumnus of Grady College who has funded Grady student success for many years. In addition to the fellowship, the C. Richard Yarbrough Student Support Fund has provided stipends to hundreds of Grady students for more than a decade.

Burr, Haynes, McRae and Mitchell have all found success at UGA with diverse experiences in academics, leadership and professional roles.

Burr, from Bishop, Georgia, is a fourth-year student majoring in public relations with minors in Spanish and fashion merchandising. Last year, Burr served as the editor in chief of the UGA Pandora Yearbook. She spent the summer as an internal and executive communication intern with Barings. Burr plans to begin her career at a public relations agency following her graduation in May 2021.

Haynes, from Johns Creek, Georgia, is a third-year student studying journalism and is an intended graphic design major. She serves as a photojournalist and designer for The Red & Black and is a former vice president of the Aperture Club. Haynes also conducts freelance design and photography in her spare time. As her graduation in May 2022 nears, Haynes hopes to bring her love for design, photography and writing together into a career.

McRae, from Peachtree Corners, Georgia, is a fourth-year student majoring in public relations and global health. She works as a brand marketing intern for Kitty and Vibe, a swimwear company in New York City, and as a copywriter for Body Awareness Studio, a Pilates studio in Atlanta. McRae wants to work in a creative industry, such as food, art or fashion, after she graduates in May 2021.

Mitchell, from Milton, Georgia, is a fourth-year student studying public relations with a certificate in new media and minors in political science and leadership in student affairs. He is the executive director of the UGA Student Government Association’s First-Year Programs and a director for the campus nonprofit Shop with a Bulldawg. He worked this past summer as a public relations intern at See.Spark.Go and as the summer Yarbrough-Grady Fellow. Mitchell hopes to pursue a career where authentic and inclusive communication can uplift all people.

“I am honored to be able to fund fellowships at Grady College at the University of Georgia,” said Yarbrough. “I can never repay my alma mater for what it has meant to me.  I am so impressed with the quality of the students there today and hope that perhaps the fellowship will give the recipients a learning opportunity they might not have been able to receive otherwise.  The only thing I ask in return is that when they are able that they give back to the next generation that will succeed them.”

The Yarbrough-Grady Fellows are excited to grow their skills for future careers and help propel Grady College to new heights.

Crisis communication experts debate Samsung Galaxy Note7 global response

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.