Department of Advertising and Public Relations helps with COVID communications curation

The Department of Advertising and Public Relations at Grady College joins the Museum of Public Relations in announcing a major effort to document the PR industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the banner “History Responds: Communications in the Time of COVID,” the PR Museum and its partners are putting out a call for objects and paper/digital materials that document the PR industry’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, both within their own organizations and in the counsel they gave clients.

Bryan Reber, the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership and head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, stressed the importance of this project as an educational guide for decades to to come.

“I think this is a really cool project. Corporations are invited to provide internal Covid-related memos, etc. even if they want it to be embargoed for 30 years before release.  Really a great opportunity for current and future research into employee and other stakeholder communication,” Reber said.

Grady College will be responsible for curating the planning documents for the project.

“The Museum of Public Relations was founded on the belief that PR practitioners can learn from the past, both from its mistakes and from its successes,” said the PR Museum’s co-founder Shelley Spector. “In keeping with that belief, we plan to compile and curate the first in a series of collections documenting how public relations practitioners at agencies, businesses, and other institutions respond to the major societal crises of our time.”

The museum’s initial collection will deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. “While we all hope it will be generations before the world faces a pandemic of similar scale,” Spector said, “we believe lessons learned in recent months will have application in other crises, such as cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, runs on financial institutions, and other widespread disruptions to daily life.”

An advisory council of senior public relations practitioners and academics will curate the donations received. The most telling and insightful material will be preserved in a multi-media repository future scholars, students, and practitioners can consult. The museum also expects its COVID-19 collection to be the basis for future conferences, papers, and exhibits on best practices in serving employees, clients, and consumers during widespread crises.

“We’re asking for items—no matter how modest or mundane—that tell how PR organizations responded to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Spector said. Among the items the museum is looking for are:

  • Research that helped shape COVID planning
  • PR counsel offered to internal or external clients
  • Employee communications addressed to team members
  • Marketing communications directly related to the pandemic, e.g., about product shortages, new offers, or advising customers on alternatives to in-person service.
  • Artifacts such as branded masks and social-distancing signage created to address the pandemic’s impact on key publics, promote safe behavior, and facilitate vaccination.

In addition to Grady College, this curation is a partnership with the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communications, the Page Society, the Institute for Public Relations and the PR Council. The initiative is modeled on a longstanding New York Historical Society program to preserve history as it happens.

Global communications firm Edelman and United Airlines have already joined as Founding Contributors. The Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that businesses emerged from the pandemic as the world’s most trusted institutions as well as the most ethical and competent.

Reber, and AdPR faculty Yan Jin and Karen Russell all serve on the Board of Advisors for the Museum of Public Relations.

To learn more about History Responds: Communications in a Time of COVID and how to donate material, visit https://www.prmuseum.org/historyresponds

University of Georgia Crisis Communication Think Tank hosts webinar with industry experts

The University of Georgia (UGA) Crisis Communication Think Tank (CCTT), part of the UGA Crisis Communication Coalition (CCC), and the Museum of Public Relations in New York City jointly hosted the “Sticky Crisis: Health Communication in a Crisis” webinar on Tuesday, February 23. Dr. Glen Nowak, Michael Greenwell and Karen White were panelists with Dr. LaShonda Eaddy moderating.

By joining the views of practitioners and scholars, the panel explored the unprecedented difficulties the COVID-19 pandemic brought forth on the communication industry. The panelists discussed the importance of internal communication in times of crisis, the urgency for companies to take a stand on social justice issues, the challenges of managing misinformation, and the future implications the pandemic has on health communications.

“This webinar showed– through case histories, analysis and observations by healthcare experts– is that good communication is far more than just an ancillary tactic in public health,” said Shelley Spector, Founder and Director of the Museum of Public Relations. “Indeed, what the participants here proved, was that a thoughtful communications plan is just as important, if not more so, than timely testing and vaccines.”

Dr. Nowak is the Director of Center for Health & Risk Communication and Professor at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Greenwell is the Vice President and CDC Account Executive at ICF, a global consulting and technology services provider based in Fairfax, Va. White is the Executive Director of Corporate Affairs at Amgen Inc., an American multinational biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Los Angeles. Dr. Eaddy is an assistant professor of public relations and strategic communication in the Corporate Communication and Public Affairs division at Southern Methodist University.

The panelists called for an updated outlook on crisis research. They explained the need for practitioners and scholars to work more closely together to improve public relations theories and advice – especially as it relates to health crises.

“Textbooks too often make [crisis response] seem like a recipe,” said Dr. Nowak. In response, White said, “When I was a student at the Grady College, we learned the theory, then the ‘recipe’. But as any good cook knows, there’s always adjustments that can be made to recipes and knowing how to do so very quickly is key. [Never having the same day twice] is one of the things I love about my career.”

The webinar can be viewed above and previous programs can be viewed on Grady College’s YouTube channel here.

The CCTT plans to hold another webinar March 23 at 6:00 pm ET for undergraduate and graduate students to learn more about pursuing a career in crisis communications. The career panel will feature Michael Gray (GE and Grady Society Alumni Board), Leah Seay (Amazon), Maria Stagliano (LEVICK) and Samantha Meyer (Grady Career Center). Register here for the March 23 webinar.

 

New crisis communication book melds scholarly research with practitioner experience

The intersection of professional experience in crisis communication and theoretical research of the complexities of the topic are highlighted in a new book, “Advancing Crisis Communication Effectiveness.”

Edited by three Grady College professors, this book is an education in navigating the challenges that communicators face to protect public health and safety and shield organizational reputations from crisis-inflicted damage.

Crisis communication quote
One insight of many from the new book, “Advancing Crisis Communication Effectiveness.”

The book is edited by Yan Jin, Bryan Reber and Glen Nowak and includes submitted chapters from numerous academic and professional crisis communication thought leaders.  Among the subjects covered are crisis communication for corporations and non-profits, the benefits and pitfalls of using social media to cover natural disasters, dealing with misinformation, navigating media relations during governmental and public affairs crisis and examining situational theories helpful in dealing with crisis.

“This book is very translational because it brings together different theories and a diversity of voices,” said Jin, the UGA Athletic Association Professor in Grady College. “We are able to talk about theory and how it can help our practitioners better explain and predict outcomes, making their work more effective. The academics bring value of theory-based insights and the practitioners bring fresh, current challenges to help scholars identify the next research frontiers.”

One topic covered in the book that is especially relevant today is the discussion of crisis and healthcare. Nowak, the director of the Grady Center for Health and Risk Communication, says health communications is an ever-evolving area as the recent COVID-19 outbreak has proven.

“A lot of the assumptions that we have in the health communications space need to be revisited because it’s hard to come up with a simple formula for how to respond,” Nowak said. “Every single day something happens that you didn’t anticipate. As this book illustrates, we need a lot more sophistication both among practitioners and among academics who are trying to do research that will help practitioners.”

The intersection of an academic approach together with a practical approach by professional communicators is unique and made possible through the collaboration of the Crisis Communication Think Tank. The CCTT is a group of invited scholars and practitioners who are experts on the subject of crisis communication. The group builds domestic and international collaborations to advance crisis communication science and practice on emerging topics.


“This book is one more example of how UGA is at the leading edge of the conversation around crisis communication and research,” added Bryan Reber, the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership. “Between the CCTT and the Center for Health and Risk Communication, we are positioned really well to facilitate these discussions and collaborations.”  

The subjects covered in the book are based on discussions of the group and are authored by several CCTT members including scholars from University of Maryland, University of North Carolina and the University of Amsterdam along with professionals from UPS, and Imagem Corporativa (Brazil), as well as CCTT-affiliated partners such as the Museum of Public Relations, among others. Several additional Grady College faculty and alumni also collaborated on chapters for the book.

Grady College alumnus Dick Yarbrough (ABJ ’59) wrote the forward to the book and discussed how important it is for communicators to be involved with strategic conversation and the decision-making process. Yarbrough was the managing director of communications and government relations for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and gained a wealth of crisis communication experience with the Centennial Olympic Park Bombing.

“This book is a perfect blend of the expertise of highly-qualified academicians and the experiences of communications professionals who have dealt successfully with a variety of crises in their own organizations,” Yarbrough said. “I am encouraged that it will be available to current and future generations of communicators.”

 

When companies are attacked by misinformation, employees may be their best defense

For companies facing a crisis, misinformation—especially on social media—can abound. These days, it’s not enough for a company to simply deny a claim. A team of researchers from the University of Georgia, in collaboration with scholars in the University of Amsterdam and Washington State University, found two ways to combat inaccurate statements and convince a skeptical public. It starts by addressing the misinformation head on and explaining why it is false. And companies can be bolstered by employees publicly backing their employer.

The study, “The Effects of Corrective Communication and Employee Backup on the Effectiveness of Fighting Crisis Misinformation” was led by Yan Jin, the UGA Athletic Association Professor in Grady College and associate director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“Employees’ authentic and supportive words worked really well to significantly strengthen their company’s argument and credibility in debunking misinformation and correcting misperception about a crisis situation,” Jin said, summarizing the research. “To have this, the company has to have healthy, strong relationships with their employees. Strong organization-employee relationships can serve as an effective cushion for a crisis-stricken company to crash land more safely and bounce back more quickly.”

The study examined a fictional scenario where a pet food company was accused of selling contaminated food that made pets sick, and the product was recalled. While there was evidence that the company was not responsible for the contamination, there were social media posts that accused the company of negligence.

Study participants who own pets were presented with the scenario of the pet food recall and the accusations of negligence. They were then shown a variety of responses. From the company, they were shown two types of rebuttals: one that was a simple rebuttal of the claim and a second that offered a rebuttal plus an explanation of why the information was incorrect.

Then approximately half of the study participants were further presented with a response made by employees of the fictitious company, voicing support of the company’s rebuttals, and the other half of the study participants were not presented with any employee response. The study found that the employee statement on their personal social media channels in support of the company significantly strengthened the company’s argument and credibility in combatting the false accusation spread on social media.

The most effective step in refuting inaccurate claims according to the research is for the company to explain that the claims are false and why. More elaboration about why the claims are wrong led to increased credibility for the company through stronger messages and reduced reputation damage for the company.

Jin explains that this research is important in communication theory building and practice because crisis misinformation leads to crisis misperception. This study is one of the first communication research studies to define crisis misinformation as incorrect information about any part of the situation or the organization, including disinformation or misinformation, that is spread to harm the organization if not corrected or refuted. It is also one of the first public relations studies to examine the joint effects of debunking strategies and the presence of employee support on people’s crisis responses to crisis misinformation and a company’s corrective communication.

Co-authors on the study include Toni G.L.A. van der Meer of the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands; Yen-I Lee (Ph.D. ’19) of Washington State University and Xuerong Lu, a current Ph.D. student at Grady College.

The study was published in the Sept. 2020 issue of Public Relations Review.

Grady College’s Yan Jin selected by WhatsApp to research spread of misinformation

WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging platform, has selected a research team including Yan Jin, Georgia Athletic Association Professor in Grady College and assistant department head of advertising and public relations, to analyze how misinformation spreads and its impact on elderly during disease outbreaks.

WhatsApp selected 20 global research projects out of nearly 600 proposals and invested a total of $1 million to investigate how misinformation is spread and perceived.

Jin is part of a team of five researchers, two from the United Kingdom and two from India, who collectively were selected to research misinformation vulnerabilities among elderly during disease outbreak.

“Researchers want their work to create personal impact that helps individuals and communities,” Jin said. “Crisis communications must go beyond protecting the reputation of brands or organizations because public safety and well-being must be the top priority.”

Jin also serves as associate director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication, based at Grady College.

Jin is helping design the experimentation phase of the research with a focus on how different formats of information with varied accuracy level (accurate information vs. misinformation) affect people’s information trust, perceived source credibility and disease severity, and their intention to share such information on social media. The research team seeks to empower smartphone users to skillfully assess the accuracy of information on social media related to disease outbreak.

Based on real-world examples that circulated on WhatsApp during the 2018 Nipah Virus outbreak, the assessment method will use a variety of text elements, imagery and a combination of both to help determine if misinformation spreads more easily through a certain type of information delivery.

Whatsapp logo

The survey will be administered to elderly adults and their children in Bangalore, India, an area that dealt with multiple disease outbreaks as recent as 2018.

“We are basing our language and graphics on content seen in this community earlier this year,” Jin said. “It is important to be culturally authentic so we can best understand how our participants assess the accuracy of information.”

Jin said her team’s goal is to gather knowledge about how people process misinformation and recommend accurate information dissemination strategies to present to WhatsApp. The results will then be shared with public health organizations to help officials more effectively inform citizens of health risks in their communities.

The research team consists of:

  • Santosh Vijaykumar (principal investigator), Northumbria University (United Kingdom)
  • Venkat Chilukuri, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology (India)
  • Yan Jin, University of Georgia, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication (United States)
  • Arun Nair, Health Systems Research India Initiative (India)
  • Claudia Pagliari, University of Edinburgh (United Kingdom)

 

 

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.