Report Card Gives PR Leaders a C+

Grad students panic when they get a C+. PR leaders should be equally concerned.

Based on the 2019 Report Card just released by Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, PR leaders received an overall grade of “C+”, reflecting little change from two previous studies over the past five years. In addition, job engagement, organizational trust and job satisfaction dropped a bit.

“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 Juan Meng, Ph.D., co-investigator and associate professor at University of Georgia. “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.”

Key concerns:

  • Differences between men’s (45.8%) and women’s (54.2%) perceptions of the organizational culture and the quality of leadership performance deepened.
  • 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.

Unfortunately, leadership in the field remains pretty average; improvement seems elusive. The urgency to act is now.

“Talking about needed changes and improvements in leadership won’t accomplish the change,” said Bill Heyman, CEO and president of Heyman Associates, and a co-sponsor of the study. “We need more leaders who live and model the changes.” 

While every communication conference today discusses the importance of organizational culture, the Report Card gives leaders a C+.

“Organizational culture is driven by leadership,” said Bryan H. Reber, Ph.D., research director at The Plank Center and professor at University of Georgia. “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 purpose of this biennial report is to assess leadership in PR and identify enrichment opportunities,” said Bruce K. Berger, Ph.D., co-investigator and professor emeritus at the University of Alabama. “If we identify the gaps and work to close them, we strengthen our profession’s leadership—a crucial strategic asset. This Report Card underscores the continuing gaps and the urgency to act.”

PR Leaders: Please read the 2019 Report Card and make a personal commitment that by the next “grading period” you’re not going to be satisfied with a C+.

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