The Annenberg Center's 2022 Global Communication Report, released in March,
focuses on the challenges and opportunities of rising corporate activism.

For years, the Annenberg Center for Public Relations at the University of Southern California was the preferred source for information about the "generally accepted practices" of public relations in the United States because of its biennial surveys of public relations practitioners and working journalists. Then, in 2016, the solely US-centered surveys were discontinued and replaced with new, more extensive, annual, online, world-wide surveys of communication professionals, journalists, educators, and students. Their goal, according to the Center's website, was to track and "provide unprecedented insight into the evolution of the global communications industry by analyzing emerging trends." And, that's what they've done.

The Foreword to this year's report summarized the overall pattern that's evolved since then by saying: "Our reports always paint a picture of a dynamic industry. But now the stakes are even higher. Continued political conflict—on top of an extended global pandemic—has created a new reality for the PR profession. Media has become more biased, information has become more unreliable, and opinions have become more extreme. As a result, our society seems to be permanently polarized."

Inevitably, this polarization and the societal discord that follows in its wake has become "a significant risk factor for global business, posing a threat to corporate reputation, employee recruitment, and organizational morale." It is particularly critical now "because activists, employees and customers are demanding companies take a stand on issues that are important to them." In essence, they are trying to force businesses into becoming social and political activists.

It will be the public relations practitioners working for these businesses who will be responsible for leading them through this risky and unfamiliar territory. For that reason, this year's Global Communication Survey focused specifically on the risks and rewards of corporate activism and the special challenges they present to socially conscious communicators.

According to the survey, 93 percent of the professional PR practitioners who responded are already "spending more time navigating a growing list of complex societal topics" and 77 percent of them believe polarization is a threat to their organizations. Furthermore, "three times as many are partnering with activist groups than three years ago," and 73 percent predict they will increase their engagement with social issues this year.

Most organizations cited by respondents to the survey were said to believe that "the benefit of engaging in social issues outweighs the risk." Among the benefits cited were brand reputation, followed by improved employee morale, and the ability to attract new employees. On the flip side, 10 percent of the organizations were reported to have lost existing employees because of their corporate activism, and only 6 percent reportedly lost existing customers.

The bottom line, according to the Report is: "Public relations has never been more demanding or more meaningful."

Read the 2022 Global Communication Report.     

Read more about the evolution of the Annenberg Center's surveys.     

This site was initially created to support public relations courses I taught at Northern Kentucky University.
Now it's used as a supplemental text for scores of university courses worldwide.
It's also frequently used as a reference/refresher by PR professionals, especially those preparing for accreditation or certification exams.

Michael Turney, Ph.D., ABC, Professor Emeritus
Northern Kentucky University

Do you know who Arthur Page was?

Depending on which textbooks you used and the biases of your professors, you may never have heard about Arthur Page in college, particularly if you were in a Communication Department or School of Journalism that emphasized communication and psychological approaches to public relations.

On the other hand, if you went to a School of Business & Management or your instructor once worked in public relations for a major corporation, you may know a lot about him.

Page wasn't as much of a pioneer as Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee, who vie for the title "Father of Public Relations," but he is definitely among "the greats" of the profession.

He came to the game a bit later (1927) and was able to take advantage of what the early trail-blazers had already shared in books and articles. That let him develop a rich new facet of the public relations world.

Lee and Bernays were public relations consultants hired by clients on a project by project basis. They were never part of the organizations for whom they did public relations. Page, in contrast, was an insider, "a company man" who was part of the corporation whose public relations he managed. That put him in a very different work environment with a whole different set of perspectives, processes, and relationships.

He was not only the first-ever Vice President of Public Relations for the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T), he was the first person to ever have such a title in any corporation. He was also the first public relations practitioner to serve as an officer and member of the board of directors of a major public corporation.

Over the course of 20 years, he developed a blueprint for corporate public relations that is still used today. He also brought diverse and once-separate communication and relationship-building functions such as employee information, media relations, community relations, financial and investor services, institutional advertising, communications policy, and even corporate philanthropy together under the umbrella of corporate public relations.

And, he was among the first business leaders and spokespersons to advocate what is today called "social activism by large corporations." He clearly deserves more attention than he usually gets in mainstream public relations classes.

Read more about Arthur Page.     

It's tempting to use acronyms,
but don't bewilder your audience.

Gabrielle Dolan, a best-selling business author, wrote about a problem she calls "our addiction to acronyms" in a recent article in IABC's Catalyst. It's worth reading in its entirety.

I'll admit to sometimes using acronyms, but only in moderation. And, I'm careful not to use them around people who might not understand them. -- What about you?

Dolan starts by disputing the wide-spread belief that acronyms were developed to make communication easier and more efficient. "In the vast majority of cases," she wrote, "I would suggest that they are not."

According to Dolan, the first widely-used acronyms were actually "designed to confuse" readers. They were introduced into the English language during the early years of World War II by the Allied military authorities. "The idea was that when the enemy intercepted a message containing lots of acronyms, it would be difficult to understand."

Therein lies the irony of using acronyms in public relations. Public relations practitioners who are supposed to make messages clear and easy to understand have unwittingly "adopted a style of communication that was invented to make it harder to understand the meaning."

"When you use acronyms you are putting all the onus and hard work on the reader to interpret what you are communicating," Dolan contends. It's actually "just lazy and results in poor communication... It's also annoying for your audience."

She advises that you don't use any acronym unless you're absolutely certain that your audience knows the exact meaning of the acronym you're using. It's not something you can blithely assume. They may no idea what the acronym stands for. Or even worse, they might have a totally different, but equally valid, understanding of what those initials represent.

"Many common acronyms have multiple meanings." AP, for example, is equally likely to stand for Associated Press, Asia-Pacific, accounts payable, advanced placement, automated production, access point, and dozens of other things.

So, the next time you're tempted to use an acronym, stop and ask if it's really the best way to get your point across.

Read Dolan's complete article.     

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Last revised: 4/11/2022