AEJMC panel discussion focuses on ethics in the profession
David Clementson, assistant professor of public relations at Grady College, was an invited speaker at a panel teaching other public relations professors how to help their students get good jobs in the industry.
About 180 public relations professors from across the U.S. attended.
Clementson outlined a series of nine detailed and creative class assignments as part of a project which equips PR students for entering the market for internships and jobs.
“Our goal in the classroom should be to confidently and comfortably ease students into the professional world of public relations,” Clementson said. “This can include a holistic approach to preparing students with the proper toolkit and expectations while also alleviating their emotional concerns as the process can induce anxiety.”
Clementson also proposes incorporating an ethically-minded focus into the curriculum. The overriding aim, according to Clementson, is to empower students to rise above the potential competition by demonstrating to prospective employers that the applicant is prepared for ethical quandaries that inevitably arise in the competitive and challenging public relations industry.
“Clementson’s classroom project smartly combines an emphasis on getting good jobs and internships, with ethical best practices,” said Pamela Brubaker of Brigham Young University, chair of the AEJMC Public Relations Division’s Teaching Committee.
Stephanie Mahin of the University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School, also a leader of the Public Relations Division’s Teaching committee, added: “I hope other professors will consider employing ideas like Clementson’s project into their curriculum, as we try to do what we can to make teaching a little easier amidst all the pressures on us and the exceedingly competitive realm of PR where ethically-minded professionalism is needed now more than ever.”
“It is an impressive series of strategies to calm the nerves and prepare the professionalism of public relations students entering the workforce,” said Nneka Logan of Virginia Tech, who moderated the panel.
Joseph Stabb, APR, of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, a leader in the AEJMC Public Relations Division who helped organize the panel, added: “Through our ‘Great Ideas for Teaching,’ we strive to help public relations educators employ the best teaching in their classrooms. Today’s panel put the spotlight on innovative ways we can embolden students getting the most out of their diploma with good jobs upon graduation.”
Clementson was one of three presenters from across the U.S. who were invited to present their teaching strategies at the event, which was held virtually via Zoom on Feb. 25. The symposium was hosted by Amanda Weed of Kennesaw State University and Stabb, and was moderated by Logan.
AEJMC’s PR Division is the largest organization of public relations educators in the world. The division has more than 400 members from institutions of higher learning in the United States and about two dozen countries around the world.
“Just because someone looks calm, doesn’t mean they are honest, and if someone is fidgeting and doesn’t make eye contact, it doesn’t mean they are not telling the truth.” —David Clementson
“This research showed that words trump behavior,” said David Clementson, co-author of the research and assistant professor of public relations at Grady College. “Deceptive demeanor has its limit when we get to serious scandals. The general public will lock into verbal sincerity and will not be as easily led astray by nonverbal impressions.”
The research evaluated responses from more than 800 people who were randomly assigned to watch one of four videos, all involving a reporter and a company spokesperson responding to a racial scandal. The videos included the following scenarios:
The spokesperson delivers the message using normal best practices of crisis communication while appearing calm and confident.
The spokesperson delivers the message using normal best practices, but appears uncooperative, is fidgeting and avoiding eye contact.
The spokesperson delivers an unclear, evasive and dodgy message while appearing calm and confident.
The spokesperson delivers an unclear message and appears uncooperative, is fidgeting and avoiding eye contact.
The researchers asked the respondents to comment on the video they watched agreeing or disagreeing on whether the message was favorably accepted, if there would be negative word-of-mouth comments about the company after the message was delivered and whether the company was to blame for the crisis based on the corporate response.
Clementson said the best approach for company spokepersons when responding to a crisis is to appear sincere in outward demeanor and also in clear and relevant language. They should have content in the message that acknowledges the problem, apologizes for the damage caused and explains the action being taken to avoid the situation in the future.
Many times, however, legal counsel or others involved coach spokespersons against taking responsibility and avoid answering questions with a lot of detail.
“Sincerity as a demeanor cue is almost always misleading,” Clementson said. “Just because someone looks calm doesn’t mean they are honest, and if someone is fidgeting and doesn’t make eye contact, it doesn’t mean they are not telling the truth.”
Prior to the research, Clementson expected the results to show that if the spokesperson appeared sincere, the company could get away with dodging questions and not apologizing. However, based on the findings, words and not the nonverbal cues were the most important factor.
Clementson said that sincerity in crisis situations is a key to the long-range success of companies, and the same concepts can be applied to politicians and celebrities, as well.
The research was published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology and was co-authored by Tyler Page of the Department of Communication at the University of Connecticut.
David Clementson, public relations assistant professor, won the Top Paper award from the International Association of Language and Social Psychology for his research on the detection of political deception.
The award spotlights research published in the “Journal of Language and Social Psychology.” Clementson’s honors regard his work as the best paper published in the journal from 2018-20.
The paper, titled “Truth Bias and Partisan Bias in Political Deception Detection,” examined how audience perceptions are impacted by political party affiliation. Clementson worked in politics and on campaigns for many years, but personally detested partisanship. After years of research on political deception, he incorporated the element of partisanship that turned him off as a practitioner.
“I finally felt the need to insert party identification onto the screen for viewers, and sure enough the addition of that ‘R’ or ‘D’ affected voters’ perceptions of a politician’s veracity above and beyond the content of what the politician was actually saying in a news interview,” Clementson said.
In the experiment for the research, 618 U.S. voters watched a news interview in which a politician was labeled as a Democrat or Republican. The politician either answered questions honestly or used deception to evade comment. The audience was then asked to identify if responses were honest or if the speaker evaded questions.
Results showed that voters’ ability to identify deceptive language changes when the viewer is presented with the political party affiliation. Clementson says his primary advice for audiences is to consume political interviews and media coverage with discernment.
“I would encourage people to take a breath and exert a moment to appraise the actual content of what people in positions of political power are saying rather than simply taking what you are told at face value without some healthy skepticism,” he said.
The selection for the Top Paper award included a two-step process by six committee members from the International Association of Language and Social Psychology.
One of the committee’s reviewers praised Clementson’s findings by saying: “This study presents a heuristic extension of theory into a tightly conceived methodological form that advances our understanding of political deception and its mechanics.”
Clementson notes that the Journal of Language and Social Psychology is one of the most highly regarded publications in his field for its emphasis on political deception theorizing. For example, political equivocation theory and truth-default theory (which is the star of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book) first appeared in this journal.
“It is a tremendous thrill and extremely humbling to receive an honor internationally for doing what you love,” Clementson said.
Clementson joined the Grady College faculty in 2019 and specializes in public relations and political communication.
‘Tis the season of political messages. They are on every street corner and what seems like every minute of television commercial airtime.
Most political messages also include a political logo: a visual representation of the values, promises and energy the candidate will deliver if elected.
We asked some experts at Grady College what makes an impactful logo and the importance of a memorable logo in political contests. To narrow down the field, we discussed the two logos of the presidential candidates this year—the incumbent, President Donald Trump, and the challenger, Senator Joe Biden.
Those participating in the discussion were:
David Clementson, assistant professor of public relations. Before teaching, Clementson ran several successful political campaigns for Democrats and Republicans. He specializes in political communication research.
Kim Landrum, senior lecturer, advertising and public relations. Landrum teaches courses in graphic communication, messaging strategy and campaigns.
Kristen Smith, senior lecturer, advertising and public relations. Smith teaches courses in introductory and advanced graphic communication and public relations communication.
Joseph Watson, Jr., Carolyn Caudell Tieger Professor of Public Affairs Communication. Watson has more than 20 years of experience in public affairs, campaigns and communications, including serving as a legislative director and counsel for a former U.S. senator. Watson teaches courses about public affairs communications focused on public policy and politics.
John Weatherford, senior lecturer, New Media Institute. Weatherford teaches courses in digital product design and user experience.
Following are the general themes that were discussed.
From a purely visual perspective, the two presidential logos are quite different. The Biden/Harris logo is straightforward and focused, giving almost equal weight to both names. My eye gravitates to the E which is styled like the stripes on the flag. The letters are kerned, or equally spaced, so the overall look is balanced. The Trump/Pence logo lacks the same visual punch due, in part, to the number of elements with two names, a tagline, the election year, star detailing and a stroke. Where does the eye go first? Placed together, the elements don’t have the same finesse as the Biden/Harris logo and the design lacks a visual focus point. The campaign logo for 2016 had significantly more flair with its integrated T&P but it did lack visual clarity and perhaps that is why it was abandoned. Neither logo is particularly inspired but if I had to pick a winner, the Biden/Harris logo is visually stronger. — Kim Landrum
The Trump/Pence logo for 2020 is fine, but it feels a little homemade. There is nothing daring or original in it. I would advise against putting a red box around the words and then adding some stars at the top because it seems rote. But the stranger thing, from a design perspective, is the vast amount of tracking—space between the letters in both men’s names. “Pence” especially looks like something you’d see in an eye exam. There is a message about importance being sent in the size of their names, too. Both names have five letters, but Trump dominates Pence in the logo. By comparison, the type in the Biden/Harris logo is justified—both words are in equal measure on the left and right and even though “Harris” has to be smaller than “Biden” because it has more letters, the names feel like a solid unit and give the impression of an equal team. There is nothing particularly clever or daring about the Biden/Harris logo, either, but that may be part of the point. It looks professional and stable, and the implication is that their ticket will be too. — Kristen Smith
I have always been struck by the absence of a flag or patriotic motif, aside from four small stars at the top in the Trump-Pence logo, but it is important to remember that the current Trump-Pence logo was adopted after an initial design was widely criticized and abandoned by the campaign. The typeface for both is solid as is the use of the red, white, and blue color palette, but the flag motif for the “e” in Biden makes it much more effective in my estimation. Aesthetically, the Trump-Pence logo is just not as attractive. — Joseph Watson, Jr.
The Message is King
From having run successful political campaigns for Democrats and Republicans, I can tell you that I have never put any thought into the color scheme or shapes or font type or any other graphical elements of a candidate’s logo. The only thing that matters, which I learned long ago from one of Dick Morris’s books, is that there must be a message, not just the name and the office and the party. Voters need a reason to vote for you. So, in addition to—and more important than—the candidate’s name should be a slogan or mantra or motto. A succinct message is more effective. For example, Clinton/Gore materials said, “It’s time for a change.” Obama had “Change we can believe in” and “Yes, we can.” Trump took the motto to new heights with the prominent messaging of “Make America great again,” which was also used by Reagan in 1980, Bill Clinton in 1992, and Hillary Clinton in 2008. A logo is worthless without a message giving voters a reason to vote for you. — David Clementson
Comparing the logos isn’t totally fair because the Biden/Harris logo doesn’t have their slogan, “Battle for the soul of the nation” on it. Actually, is that their slogan? It’s at the top of their website. It brings up associations for me with the Battle of Hogwarts—maybe people have other battles that come to mind but the phrase is heavy with struggle and myth and even morality. The Trump/Pence slogan, “Keep America Great” is hard sell this year no matter who you support for president. — Kristen Smith
The Logo Doesn’t Really Matter
Based on the most rigorous and extensive evidence across the social sciences that has been conducted testing on voters’ reactions to electoral campaign stimuli, we can predict undoubtedly that Democrats like the Biden logo and dislike the Trump logo, and Republicans like the Trump logo and dislike the Biden logo. If the color schemes and styles and fonts were altered, their vote choices wouldn’t change. Voters’ likes and dislikes are driven by partisanship and inconsistent attitudes, beliefs, and opinions follow. — David Clementson
Logos in and of themselves really do not impact electoral outcomes. But bad logos that do not reflect a campaign’s brand and serve its objectives and messaging are often indicative of a campaign that is not well executed. Ultimately, you want to select a logo that does no harm to a campaign and does not generate negative coverage or become a story itself as was the case with logos for the Jeb! 2016 campaign, the initial Trump-Pence 2016 logo and the Hillary 2016 logos. Boring is better than a logo that draws negative attention or has to be withdrawn. — Joseph Watson, Jr.
These logos are both perfectly fine and uninteresting as pieces of design. I care about good design as much as nearly anyone, and yet I couldn’t possibly care less about these logos. I find it hard to believe that a single vote will be influenced one way or the other by either logo. — John Weatherford
The fact that the Trump name in the Trump-Pence logo leaves no doubt that this is not a partnership between president and vice-president whereas the closeness in font size between Biden and Harris and the use of the same color in the Biden-Harris logo conveys more parity between the two with the flag motif re-enforcing that Biden is the top of the ticket. — Joseph Watson, Jr.
More Graphics Background (Bonus)
The typeface designer for Decimal, the type used in the Biden/Harris logo, is Jonathan Hoefler along with his team. Hoefler was inspired by vintage watches when he created this typeface. The Obama campaigns used typefaces by Hoefler & Co., also. The Biden/Harris campaign will not stray from whatever style guides have been determined by their design team because that’s what style guides are for—to maintain consistency. By the way, if you haven’t seen the Netflix show Abstract that features him, you should check it out! — Kristen Smith
This is the first time that the Broom Center, named for the academic known as the professor of the profession for having written the most widely used textbook in the field, funded faculty research at the national level.
“The work that Dr. Clementson is doing is vital to everyday practitioners,” said Kaye Sweetser, APR+M, Fellow PRSA who serves as the director of the Broom Center. “Dr. Clementson’s research will help the industry while adding to theory in our field. These two elements were so important to the namesake of our center, and we immediately saw that spirit of Glen Broom in the scholarship making the decision to support it easy.”
The experiment is intended to “assess the effects of public relations spokespeople employing varying degrees of narrative appeals in their media relations messaging,”Clementson said. “My research findings will improve the practice of public relations by exploring whether crisis spokespeople should employ narrative messaging or ‘just the facts’ when relating information to the public amidst scandals.”
Clementson noted that his research would not have been possible without the support from the Broom Center.
“I hope that my research will further the strong legacy of Glen Broom as I advance theory, explicate concepts for public relations and advance the practical applications of crisis communication and strategy through my empirical scholarship,” he added.
Clementson earned his doctorate in communication in 2017 from Ohio State University, and is an alumnus of University of Miami and James Madison University. He has more than a dozen scholarly journal articles, which focus on political public relations and issues of speaker credibility. He is currently on the leadership board for the Public Relations division for the National Communication Association.
The Broom Center, established at San Diego State University in 2012, seeks to invest in the people of public relations who push the status quo. Clementson’s scholarly work helps practitioners identify best practices, and adds to the body of knowledge in the industry.
“When we support rising star scholars like Dr. Clementson, we support the future of our industry. An investment in him pays back the field in orders of magnitude,” Sweetser said.
As Americans prepare for another presidential election in 2020, a researcher at Grady College has found that comments left on social media posts about political interviews can, indeed, influence opinions.
“Comment sections are extremely powerful,” said David Clementson, an assistant professor of public relations at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and the study’s author. “This research found that people will echo the sentiments expressed by anonymous strangers and will share opinions and attitudes about politicians and journalists in accordance with comments expressed by strangers.”
Clementson researched the impact of social media comments posted after watching a staged video of a news interview with a non-partisan political figure and a journalist. The goal of the research was to determine the impact of comments made by strangers on those who viewed the interview.
The study, “How Web Comments Affect Perceptions of Political Interviews and Journalistic Control,” is the first experiment of its kind examining the impact of social media comments in relation to a political interview.
“The study shows that this is a frontier of extreme influence that isn’t getting as much attention as fake news and fake Tweets,” Clementson said.
“If your goal is to influence opinions, it’s a lot more time efficient, and perhaps more impactful, to post a comment than create a website or fake social media account.”
Clementson’s research asked the subjects to view the same mock interview on YouTube, then divided the subjects into three groups: 1. A control group that had no comments beneath the interview; 2. A group that viewed comments accusing the politician of being deceptive or dodging questions; and 3. A group that viewed comments accusing the journalist of being deceptive and biased.
The survey was run twice: once with participants 18- to 60-years-old, and once with adult college students.
The research groups were then asked to post their own comments, which were evaluated for the study.
The survey found that the group of 18- to 60-year-olds were so influenced by the comments that they echoed the comments themselves.
The college student group was not as influenced by the comments – the comments that they typed themselves did not echo the ones they read – but in their responses to survey items they did echo the attitudes of the comment sections that they were exposed to.
The survey also evaluated the extent to which the subjects agreed that the journalist was biased or that the politician was intrinsically deceptive with answers.
The group that viewed comments indicating that the journalist was making the interview tough on the politician, echoed previous comments. However, the journalist was still seen as more trustworthy than the politician.
On the other hand, those who viewed comments implicating the politician for dodging questions, were even more critical of the politician than the first group.
“Media outlets can rest assured that when a comment section impugns the credibility of their journalist, their journalist will probably still have more credibility than the politician, even when the comments defend the politician. The politician stands to lose more from comment sections,” Clementson said.
Comments add a lot to the experience of reading web articles, and make it easier to process confusing political news, Clementson continued. Studies show that in general, comment sections are widely read, even if many people don’t post their own views.
“Viewers and readers may not know what to believe, but comments can help fill in the gaps,” Clementson said.