Category: CIS News

Barnidge’s Study on Virtual Reality Investigates Learning from the News

Dr. Matt Barnidge (left) assists a C&IS graduate student with testing the virtual reality news story.

For decades, news has been consumed by readers and viewers around the world in a variety of formats—print, video and radio, to name a few. Virtual reality (VR) technology now gives news outlets the capability of placing their viewers right in the middle of the action, where they can look around and get a 360° perspective of the story.

As a national leader in information sciences education, C&IS strives to be on the cutting-edge of technological advancements impacting the fields of communication and media. Research conducted by Dr. Matt Barnidge (Assistant Professor, Journalism and Creative Media) is studying the effects of virtual reality news stories on learning from the news.

“To the person immersed in the story, it looks like you’ve just been dropped in, like you’re hovering a couple of feet off the ground,” said Barnidge. “We want to know the effects of being in the middle of the story.”

The experiment presents the subjects with one of three different versions of the same news piece, a story on climate change produced by CNN. Subjects either experience the story in virtual reality, view the story in 360° video or read a version of the story that has been adapted by Barnidge into text format. After consuming the story, the subjects are tested on story recall, or the extent to which they remember facts from the story, and cognitive elaboration, or the extent to which they connect facts in the story to other ideas, to determine which news format best promotes learning.

“Are we in the early stages of this? Absolutely, but news follows people,” said Barnidge. ”If this platform develops to the point that everyone has VR, and their social networking, gaming and other online interactions are happening in VR, then the news will follow them there too.”

Virtual reality as a medium is already shaping the way thousands of people interact with one another. Barnidge’s research could help news networks understand how the stories they craft with this technology have an effect on informing their audiences about key issues.

The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit

2019 C&IS Lead Retreat

The College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) develops global leaders who do the extraordinary across the full communication and information spectrum. For one weekend in October, a group of C&IS leaders traveled to Panama City Beach, Florida for leadership development and experiential learning at the inaugural C&IS Student Lead Retreat

The student collective of 46 established and emerging leaders were led by four C&IS faculty and staff members through an interactive curriculum of leadership programming that encompassed communication, diversity and collaboration.

“I loved interacting with different people from my College that I had never met before,” said Maddie Gall (junior, public relations and communication studies). “I now have a community that I can learn from and grow with.”

Throughout the weekend, students connected their leadership experiences in C&IS and became a network of peers who understand their individual and group impact. Group workshops, team building exercises, breakout sessions and personal reflection united the students, all while enjoying the beautiful beaches of the Emerald Coast.

“This retreat lit a fire in me, and I have taken away so much from the workshops and activities,” said Dominique Satterwhite (senior, telecommunication and film). “The trip facilitators were so willing to help us learn and taught us how to embrace the things that may divide us, to help us reach a common goal.”

The mission statement of the Lead Retreat was to develop leaders who do the extraordinary in C&IS and beyond. The retreat’s final activity challenged the students to make a statement of how they would be extraordinary moving forward. All 46 students accepted the challenge to be impactful leaders, whether or not they are appointed to a C&IS leadership position.

“Most students think that to be a leader you must serve in an official capacity,” said Elizabeth Tagg (junior, communication studies). “Anyone can be a leader, and our voices and actions in the small, everyday moments of life can impact others in ways we rarely expect.”

Financial support for the inaugural Lead Retreat was provided by the generosity of C&IS alumni and friends. The retreat’s budget was funded in full as the 2019 passion project for Bama Blitz, The University of Alabama’s annual online fundraising event. Without the support of the extended C&IS network, this retreat would not have been possible.

“We do a lot to cultivate community and inclusion at C&IS, but this weekend served as the first opportunity for me to grasp what that community looks like,” said Tagg. “This experience has been my favorite at UA, I am so thankful for everyone who made it possible.”


To view more photos from the 2019 Lead Retreat, check out the Facebook album here.

UA PRSSA Chapter Wins Big at PRSSA International Conference

The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter at The University of Alabama was honored with multiple chapter and individual awards at the recent PRSSA International Conference in San Diego.

In addition to being named a PRSSA Star Chapter, UA’s PRSSA chapter also received the Teahan National Chapter Awards for Chapter Diversity and Outstanding Faculty Adviser to C&IS faculty member Tracy Sims.

“Our executive board has actively worked to seamlessly integrate diversity and inclusion into our organization’s mission and activities since adding a vice president of diversity and inclusion officer position in 2017-18 and forming a Diversity and Inclusion committee in 2018-19,” Sims said. “It’s wonderful to have those efforts recognized with the Chapter Diversity Award.”

According to the Public Relations Society of America, the Chapter Diversity Award recognizes outstanding commitment to diversity within the PRSSA Chapter, and is judged on activities performed to promote, generate awareness and encourage diversity within the chapter. The Outstanding Faculty Adviser Award is given each year to the faculty adviser who shows outstanding service to the PRSSA Chapter through dedication and creative chapter guidance, effective student motivation, exceptional contributions to public relations education, supportive chapter advocacy and representation within the academic department and with the local PRSA chapter sponsoring chapter and its members.

“I am both proud and honored to be at the helm of this amazing department, talented and giving faculty, and exemplary students,” said Dr. Damion Waymer, Advertising and Public Relations Department Chair at C&IS. “This recognition is external validation for the hard work and investment we put into ensuring that our curriculum is current, rigorous and prepares our students adequately for work in the public relations industry.”

In addition to the chapter awards, three C&IS students were awarded scholarships through the PRSSA/PRSA Foundation: Gabrielle Sirois received the John D. Graham Scholarship; graduate student Gloris Trujillo received the Neumeier Family Leadership Award; and Kathleen McManus received the Lawrence G. Foster Award. These scholarships all carry over $1,000 worth of funding.

“Serving as the UA PRSSA faculty adviser since 2008 has been a true pleasure,” Sims said. “I get to work with some of our best students — such as our three scholarship recipients — as they develop their leadership skills and knowledge of the profession.”

UA’s PRSSA chapter was founded in 1970 and currently boasts over 180 members. This marks the third time that UA’s PRSSA chapter has been named a Star Chapter.

C&IS Alumna Spotlight: Eryn Cooper

I am my own competition.”

Alumna Eryn Cooper (B.S., Telecommunications and Film ’19) is a multimedia journalist at WTVC-TV News Channel 9 in Chattanooga, TN. As a recent graduate of C&IS, Cooper is a storyteller who worked with the ESPN/SEC network, the NFL’s Washington Redskins Broadcast Network and UA’s Tide TV during her time at UA. By networking and using the skills she learned in the classroom, Cooper has fulfilled her lifelong aspiration to be a multimedia journalist.

Read below to see Cooper’s insight into her current career, the lessons she’s learned along the way and how C&IS helped her create her story.

What is your official job title?

I am a “multimedia journalist” — a fancy way of saying an on-air reporter who usually does all of her own shooting, writing, editing, and reporting!

Why did you choose C&IS for your studies?

I have always loved being creative and sharing art and stories with other people. Growing up, I loved to perform in theatre productions and in music concerts. Whether I was acting, writing, speaking, or playing an instrument, I loved to make people feel a certain way. Thus, studying communication made a ton of sense to me!

What lessons from C&IS have helped you in starting your career?

NETWORKING. Making connections in as competitive of a field as media/broadcast is absolutely crucial. I don’t know where I’d be without my wonderful C&IS professors who encouraged and provided networking opportunities all four years of college.

How can students make the best use of their studies?

Every assignment is an opportunity to own and improve on your craft. I always found the assignments we were given in C&IS to be very relevant and have found myself thinking about how helpful they were even now in my “real world” job. Also–form close, real, meaningful relationships with your professors. They can help you in ways you could never imagine.

What advice do you have for students interested in broadcast journalism?

The skills we learn in C&IS are applicable to so many jobs. Know that the program you’re in stands out among others and you are COMPETITIVE. It is common for UA C&IS grads to land elite job opportunities right out of college that are other people’s second or third job. Also–please believe you can achieve anything if you work for it. Being rewarded for hard work is not luck–it’s what you earn from doing your best each day.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is getting to help people through the stories I tell. Whether it’s making someone happy from sharing their triumph, or preventing something horrible from happening to someone else by sharing another’s experience–it feels like what I’m doing matters. Getting a thankful and complimentary text from an interviewee after they watch the story I spent all day working on reassures me I’m in the right field.

What motivates you?

Knowing there is always more to learn. Media and broadcast journalism are fields that are changing and evolving every minute. I am never bored–there is always something to get better at. I am my own competition!

Thank you, Eryn!

Vida Magazine Named Pacemaker Finalist by ACP

The Associated Collegiate Press (ACP) has named “Vida” Magazine as one of 41 Online Pacemaker finalists. The Online Pacemaker award is ACP’s preeminent award, given to the top online broadcast, news and magazine sites. The awards are generally considered to be the highest national honors in their field, and are unofficially known as the “Pulitzer Prizes of student journalism”.

“Being selected as a finalist for an online Pacemaker is such an honor because there were more than 182 submissions nationwide, and to know that this publication is among the best is just outstanding,” said Dr. Kim Bissell, advisor for “Vida” Magazine. “I am always so proud of the students because what they do is really unlike any other student publication: they travel to another country, gather content in all forms, and then produce an entire magazine in about three weeks.”

Every two years, a team of writers, photographers and designers from The University of Alabama’s student body travel to a Latin American country to gather content for a new issue of “Vida.” The second and most recent issue, published last year, focused on four cities in Costa Rica. The first issue, published in 2016, was about the culture of Chile.

“First and foremost, being named a finalist for a Pacemaker is affirmation that makes all the late nights planning, early mornings spent copy editing, and all the worrisome dirt roads to the odd cacao farm or volcano top worth it,” said Mary Kathryn Carpenter, editor of “Vida.” “This magazine was entirely student funded and produced, so to see all our efforts pay off has been extremely gratifying. Our Vida alumni have gone on to become leaders within other student media organizations, do amazing internships across the country and become University employees.”

20 of the 41 finalists will earn Pacemaker honors at the ACP/CMA National College Media Convention at the end of October in Washington, D.C. For more information about “Vida,” visit their website,

Warner Media Recruiter Visits with C&IS Students

This week, Turner Sports recruiter Lauren O’Byrne met with students from The College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) during an exclusive lunch. The lunch was part of a campus visit that included resume critiques and an information session on Monday night.

According to Tiffanie Bittle, Assistant Director for Experiential Learning & Employer Engagement for C&IS, Turner visits universities across the country during the fall to recruit students for internships and entry-level positions available in the spring and summer.

“It’s extremely important for students to immerse themselves in as much industry experience as they can,” Bittle said. “I always encourage our students to engage with as many professionals as possible during an internship, even if they’re not a connection in their direct field of interest, because any connection is a valuable connection.”

C&IS partners with Turner Sports for several experiential learning opportunities, including “She’s Got Game,” a leadership conference for women in sports in Atlanta.

“I think Turner likes to visit with C&IS students, specifically, because our students have a great showing and are very engaged at other Turner-sponsored events,” Bittle said. “This year, Turner offered The University of Alabama 35 sports for ‘She’s Got Game,’ and 28 of those spots were filled with C&IS students.”

During the lunch, O’Byrne explained to students about the various opportunities available in their fields of interest with the company, as well as some of the opportunities available in the other branches of Warner Media Group, including Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.

“Lauren was wonderful and so down-to-earth,” said Jessie George, a public relations accelerated master’s student from Ohio. “I learned about more than just the internship opportunities, but also the post-graduation and pre-professional programs Warner Media offers. It was great to hear direct stories from an employee about the benefits and the culture at the company.”

Everett Holle: A Legacy Worth Repeating

Brigadier General Evertt Hughes Holle holds a trophy with Dean Mark Nelson at the 2015 C&IS Hall of Fame Cermony.
Brigadier General Evertt Hughes Holle with Dean Mark Nelson at the 2015 C&IS Hall of Fame Cermony.


Countless characteristics make a person memorable. Many are remembered for their exceptional sense of humor, their joyful spirit or their encouraging thoughtfulness. These are all things to strive for, but standing out in front of all of these is generosity. Generosity is a personal choice to take from yourself—whether from an abundance or not—and use that gift to enrich the lives of others. This is why generosity immortalizes people.

Everett Holle was a generous man.

“He was a Renaissance man in every aspect of the word,” said Mark Nelson, Dean of C&IS. “He was passionate about making The University of Alabama the premier place for recognizing the achievements of students in communication and creativity, and he did not limit his vision. He understood the value of creativity to enhance the communication arts and the value of an interdisciplinary approach to communication.”

After graduating from The University of Alabama in 1950, Holle enjoyed a 40-year career in the television industry at NBC 13 and achieved the rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. Army. Through his entire career, a part of him always called C&IS home. Though gone, his legacy continues to have a lasting impact and his generosity will influence generations of students at C&IS.

“His generosity was an outgrowth of his family’s ethos,” said Nelson. “They were all generous, compassionate and extremely active in their communities—insistent on improving the lives of those around them.”

Beyond philanthropy, he impacted the lives of those around him by giving of himself. Whether he was dressing up in themed costumes to introduce programming on NBC 13, or interviewing the waitstaff at his favorite restaurant, he loved people and loved getting to know their stories.

Holle’s passion for students, for the University, and for creativity fueled his desire to see C&IS rise to the top in rewarding student excellence. A master at making a statement, he always encouraged C&IS leadership to dream big not small, think national not local. When he first founded the Holle Awards, he refused to offer anything less than a $10,000 cash prize to each of the five category winners.

“As I reflect on it, his insistence to award a $10,000 prize was a vital part in elevating the stature of the awards and signaling to the nation the importance of student achievement in the communication arts,” said Nelson. “Everett knew the benefits of his philanthropy and how to direct his giving to not only assist students but also to make important statements about the value of communication and creativity.”

For years, Holle supported excellence and creativity in communication for students at UA by funding the Holle Awards and providing scholarship opportunities. After Holle passed away in 2017, the Holle Family Foundation board approached Nelson, inviting C&IS to put together a plan for a large gift. The $10 million gift, announced in September of 2019, represents the passion and vision Holle had for C&IS. As the most generous donation C&IS has ever received, the gift will allow the College to establish the Holle Center for Communication Arts. The interdisciplinary Holle Center will support collaboration among departmental units in C&IS and promote creativity in communication and storytelling.

“This gift will accelerate many of our plans for the College,” said Nelson. “Having a center dedicated to the study of creativity and communication distinguishes us from other institutions across the country, and having an endowed chair to lead the center whose research mirrors the spirit and legacy of Everett Holle is imperative.”

Every year, C&IS awards 5 students a $10,000 prize for winning one of the Holle Awards for Excellence and Creativity in Communication. Now funded in perpetuity, these awards provide more than just a jumpstart to the creative careers of undergraduates; they give C&IS and The University of Alabama the opportunity to annually tell Holle’s story and celebrate his generosity. And his is a legacy worth repeating.

A $10 million gift such as this has the potential to impact the College for generations to come, but its significance and grandeur should not overshadow the individual. At the heart of every gift he entrusted to the University, he knew the impact at the personal, student level. To the student, alumnus or friend of C&IS who is reading this, speculating as to why a person would ever be this generous, you should know this: behind this $10 million dollar gift there’s a man named Brigadier General Everett Hughes Holle who leaves behind a legacy of compassionate generosity and who was passionately invested in your potential to do the extraordinary.


C&IS Alumna Spotlight: Ashley Smith

Ashley Smith (Photo by Erin Rose Photo)

Relish in the moment the lightbulb turns on.”

Alumna Ashley Smith (B.S., Telecommunications and Film and Communications ’94) is the founder of GSD Advisory, a marketing advising and strategy company in Charleston, South Carolina. GSD Advisory leverages Smith’s passions and 25 years of experience in connecting consumers and brands across music, sports and entertainment. Prior to launching GSD Advisory, Smith was the Vice President of Brand Marketing for Madison Square Garden overseeing marketing, digital content and customer experience for the MSG portfolio of venues including The Garden, Beacon Theatre, Radio City Music Hall and Chicago Theatre. With a wealth of sports and music industry experience, Smith traces her previous roles at ESPN, Turner Broadcasting, Left Bank Organization, Beyond Music and New Era Management to her days as a C&IS student. Smith now serves on the college’s Board of Visitors and is excited to support C&IS and its students.

Read below to see Smith’s insight into her undergraduate work at C&IS, her current career and the lessons she’s learned along the way.


What is your official job title?

Founder at GSD Advisory

Why did you choose C&IS for your undergraduate studies?

I think you could say that I was destined to study communications. From leading impromptu singing performances as a teenager at family gatherings to hosting my own radio show in high school, I’ve been a communicator my entire life. I was impressed with the School’s facilities and of course the campus overall.

What lessons from C&IS have helped you throughout your career?

Mr. Oakley, in particular, taught me the value and importance of authentic networking. His Rolodex was a true who’s-who of C&IS graduates who were now influential media executives. His ability to maintain and prioritize those relationships is something I learned from and use each day in my career.

How can students make the best use of their studies?

Have fun! And yes, you can take your classes seriously and learn while having fun. Take advantage of your time as a student and having access to all these experienced and brilliant people around you. Schedule as many informational meetings as you can to meet people, ask questions, listen, and discover the variety of ways you can leverage your degree after college.

What advice do you have for students interested in your field?

An entry level position is not a bad thing. Pursue opportunities and consider all doors that open from that first position – and work hard! Speak up with an informed point of view once inside. Let your voice be heard.  Treat everyone you meet with respect and kindness – not only because you should, but also because you never know where a relationship might lead you.

What is the most rewarding part of your job? 

Getting (Stuff) Done. I named my company GSD for that reason. I like to think that I’ve always been the hardest working person in the room, and there’s never a time where that is more important than when you launch your own company. I get the most satisfaction from creating a campaign that motivates consumers to take action. Sometimes you might not like their reaction, yet if it struck a chord, it worked.

What motivates you? 

Ideas – I relish the moment the light bulb turns on; the moment you have a new idea and you know it’s a winner.

Thank you, Ashley! 

C&IS Storytellers: Lars Anderson

Lars Anderson sits in front of an open, brown bookcase.
C&IS Instructor Lars Anderson is a New York Times bestselling author and accomplished sportswriter for Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report

I’ll never forget the moment that I received the most oh-so precious advice of my career—the moment, really, when everything changed for me. I was a young reporter at Sports Illustrated (SI), less than a year removed from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York City. I was walking down the hallway of the 18th floor in the old Time & Life Building in midtown Manhattan, the SI headquarters. That’s when I started talking to Alexander Wolff, an SI senior writer and a writing legend who is literally enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his work covering college hoops.

I asked Alex several questions about writing and reporting. Smiling, he waved me into an office and then the two of us talked for an hour—or, more accurately, I peppered Alex with questions and he answered every last one, revealing his inner-most reporting secrets.

I took notes that day—and I still read those yellowed pieces of paper at least once a year. “The key to writing is reporting, Lars,” Alex said. “I guarantee you one thing: If you use only 10 percent of your notebook on any story you’re working on—no matter what the subject—it will be a special piece. The key is to report, report, report. And then when you are tired of reporting, do some more reporting. And if you ever feel like you are struggling with your writing, then it probably means you haven’t done enough reporting. Quit writing at that point, pick up the phone, and do more reporting. That will solve writer’s block faster than anything.”

I’ve now written nine books, probably more than 1,000 magazine stories, a Showtime documentary, and dozens and dozens of speeches, which I’ve delivered to audiences across the country. Through the millions of words I’ve penned and the thousands of people I’ve interviewed, I’ve never forgotten Alex’s advice he offered on that winter afternoon in 1995 in the heart of New York City.

All writers need mentors, and I’ve tried to become just that for my students at Alabama. I’ve developed some of my own writing and reporting philosophies over the years, and I always open up my playbook to my students.

Here are five writing and reporting tips that have helped me immensely over the years—tips that I dig deep into with everyone who walks into my classroom at Alabama.

1. Read other writers with a critical eye.
This is essential to developing your own writing “voice.” Find writers you admire and think to yourself, ‘Why did they begin the story the way they did? Why did they end the piece this particular way?’ Pay attention to the rhythm, the cadence, and the pacing of their sentence structure. This is what I did, and as you grow as a writer you can take bits and pieces from the style of other writers and eventually incorporate what you like most into your own style. The goal is to one day have readers recognize your own voice without ever looking at the byline.

2. Read your stories aloud.
Back when I was at Sports Illustrated, where I spent 20 years and eventually became a senior writer, I remember walking down the hallway in the Time & Life Building late on Sunday nights and hearing a writer reading his story aloud in his office. It was Jack McCallum, then a senior writer at SI and who has won more awards than to enumerate here, and he always wanted to know what his stories sounded like before he filed to his editor. You’ll be surprised at how many mistakes you catch—and how much you can improve your writing—by simply voicing them to yourself. If you want poetry in your writing, this is the best way to instill it.

3. Be open to criticism.
Let’s be honest: Many writers can be stubborn—even young ones. But when you are just beginning your career, feedback from people you trust is vital. Don’t be afraid to give a draft of a piece to a colleague or a mentor and have them rip it to shreds. I always did this with my books and magazine stories. I never could get enough advice—even as painful to my pride as it could be at times. But to get better, you must be open and willing to really listen to what others have to say about your writing.

I still practice what I preach. I’m now 47 and am working on my tenth book. One of my colleagues at The University of Alabama is editing the manuscript. My only instruction to her: Be positively ruthless in your editing and tell me what I can do better.

4. Empathy is a critical journalistic virtue.
Over the years I’ve written numerous stories that could be classified as “tragedy pieces,” ranging from my book “The Storm and The Tide” on the Tuscaloosa tornado in 2011 to a piece that was included in “The Best American Sportswriting 2018” on the death of Evan Murray, a high school quarterback in New Jersey who died after taking several hard hits in a game in 2015. In reporting these emotional narratives, I’ve always attempted to plant myself in the shoes of the people I’m interviewing, to talk to them with respect, sensitivity, and empathy. Along with possessing the ability to listen, I think displaying empathy at all times is essential to being a successful, respected reporter.

5. Know the value of your editor.
Too many reporters, in my view, have combative relationships with their editors. A good editor will do three things for you: Make your stories better; make you a better reporter and writer; and certainly will make your life easier if you can foster a good working relationship with him or her. Consider your editor a part of your extended family—and do everything in your power to make that a highly functional, honest, and back-and-forth partnership.

Yet none of these five tips is as important as the one that Alex Wolff shared with me all those years ago. “Report, report, report,” he said. If you do that, no matter your writing skill, I can virtually guarantee you one thing:
You’ll have a wonderful, enriching career.

Public Relations Leaders Earn a “C+” in The Plank Center’s Report Card 2019

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Results of The Plank Center’s Report Card 2019 reflect little change in public relations leadership from studies in 2015 and 2017. PR leaders received an overall grade of “C+” in 2019, similar to previous studies, though down a bit overall in the last five years.

The Report Card 2019 was recently completed with responses from 828 PR leaders and professionals nationwide, who evaluated five fundamental areas of leadership linked to outcomes in our field—organizational culture, quality of leadership performance, trust in the organization, work engagement and job satisfaction. While grades overall were little changed from 2017, job engagement, trust and job satisfaction dropped a bit. Even more concerning, previously reported gaps in evaluations grew more:

  • Differences between men’s (45.8%) and women’s (54.2%) perceptions of the organizational culture and the quality of leadership performance deepened. Similar to Report Card 2017, 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.

The consistently average grades, and the sharp and growing differences among surveyed professionals noted above, beg the question of whether improving leadership in the field is a priority in the profession. Numerous blogs, articles and research studies suggest it is important and needed. However, as Bill Heyman, CEO and president of Heyman Associates, and a co-sponsor of the study, reflected, “Talking about needed changes and improvements in leadership won’t accomplish the change. We need more leaders who live and model the changes.”

Report Card on PR Leaders 2019 2017 2015
Leadership performance A-/C+ A-/C+ A-/C+
Job engagement B- B- B+
Trust in organization C+ C+ C+
Job satisfaction C+ C+ B
Culture of organization C+ C+ B-
Overall C+ C+ B-


The Grades

Public relations leaders again received passing grades for their performance, trust in the organization, job satisfaction and work engagement. Respondents also gave a passing grade to the organizational cultures within which they work. Significant gaps in perceptions between women and men, and leaders and employees, still loom large. Based on the scores, leadership in the field remains pretty average and improvement appears elusive.

Leadership Performance: A-/C+                (2017—A-/C+)

Leadership Performance received a split grade because leaders’ and their employees’ perceptions of performance continue to differ sharply. Top leaders (291 or 35.1%) rated their performance (6.09 on a 7.0 scale) about an “A-,” while other employees (537 or 64.9%) rated their top leaders’ performance (4.49/7.0) a “C+.” Scores for leadership performance were slightly lower compared to 2017 (6.14 vs. 4.53), but the size of the gap is similar. Leaders often rate their performance higher than their employees do, but the statistical difference here is dramatic.

“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.”

Job Engagement:    B-          (2017—B-)

The grade for job engagement remained a “B-“ (5.20 on a 7.0 scale), presenting the same grade since 2017. In Report Card 2019, 59.4% of respondents were engaged (vs. 57.2% in 2017); 32.6% were not engaged (vs 35.9% in 2017); and 8.0% were actively disengaged (vs. 6.8% in 2017). As indicated below, scores for engagement have changed modestly over the past five years:

Job Engagement of PR Professionals

  % Engaged % Not Engaged % Actively Disengaged
Demographic 2019 2017 2015 2019 2017 2015 2019 2017 2015
All respondents 59.4 57.2 59.7 32.6 35.9 34.4 8.0 6.8 6.0
Men 62.3 62.1 57.9 31.7 32.5 35.2 6.1 5.4 6.8
Women 57.0 52.9 61.3 33.4 39.0 33.6 9.6 8.1 5.1
Top leaders 68.7 71.7 72.3 25.4 24.5 24.5 5.8 3.8 3.2
Non-top leaders 54.4 50.1 54.2 36.5 41.6 38.6 9.1 8.3 7.2


The more concerning trend reflected in Report Card 2019 is, though percentages are small, the growth of the actively disengaged group among top leaders and especially women. The percentage of actively disengaged top leaders increased from 3.2% to 3.8% to 5.8% in the three surveys. The percentage of actively disengaged women nearly doubled, rising from 5.1% to 8.1% to 9.6%. Meanwhile, the percentage of actively disengaged non-top leaders also gradually grew from 7.2% to 8.3% to 9.1% over the years. Overall, nearly one in 12 professionals (8.0%) was actively disengaged.

Trust in the Organization: C+        (2017—C+)

The overall grade for trust in the organization (4.71 on a 7.0 scale) was a “C+,” down a little from a mean score of 4.76 in 2017. Trust has received the lowest grade among the five subject areas in each of the three surveys. Trust scores in 2019 were consistently lower at each level in the chain of command. Top leaders rated trust (5.17) statistically significantly higher than professionals at other levels (4.42). Female professionals (4.55) continued to be much less trusting of their organizations than male professionals (4.90).

Job Satisfaction: C+             (2015—C+)

Job satisfaction was again graded a C+ as it continued a small decline from 4.94 (2015) to 4.76 (2017) to 4.73 in 2019. By percentage, the numbers changed little from 2017. In 2019, the percent of PR leaders and professionals who were satisfied with their job was 62.1% (vs. 61.9% in 2017); those dissatisfied rose slightly from 24.1% (2017) to 24.4%; and those neither satisfied nor dissatisfied declined from 14.0% in 2017 to 13.5%. The biggest declines in job satisfaction were among top leaders as their mean scores continued to fall from 5.51 (2015) to 5.31 (2017) to 5.11 in 2019. Job satisfaction is significantly higher for men compared to women (4.87 vs. 4.61). However, mean scores for men and women also continued small declines over three Report Cardsurveys.

Organizational Culture: C+            (2017—C+)

Overall, organizational culture received a grade of “C+” (4.94 on a 7.0 scale), similar to previous scores of 4.86 in 2017 and 4.95 in 2015. Top leaders rated cultural factors significantly higher (5.29) than professionals at lower levels (4.73). Men rated culture more positively (5.07) than did women (4.83), who rated two-way communication, shared decision-making and diversity significantly lower than men. Women gave shared decision-making one of the lowest scores in the survey (4.08). The biggest gap between women and men lies in the evaluation of organization’s efforts in valuing and practicing diversity and inclusion (4.99 vs. 5.49). Among organizational types, agency professionals rated cultural factors highest (5.59); the group of nonprofit, governmental, educational and political organizations rated culture lowest (4.76).

“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.

Three Crucial Gaps Remained Wide

Grades for the five areas for leaders remained passing grades in Report Card 2019. Little has changed: leadership in public relations is graded a C+, still pretty average. In addition, three crucial gaps revealed in previous Report Cardsremain: 1) different perceptions between top leaders and their employees, 2) deepened gaps between women and men in all five areas, and 3) lack of improvement in building a rich and open communication system, or a culture for communication. The research has clear takeaways for communication leaders, organizations and the profession. Efforts must be dedicated to improve leadership performance. Only effective actions and communication can help reduce and close the gaps. We need to have real changes happening for strengthened leadership, practice and outcomes for the profession and organizations.

“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 Cardunderscores the continuing gaps and the urgency to act.”

To download and read the Report Card 2019 full report, please visit the Plank Center’s website.



Project Background & Demographics

A 41-question survey was distributed online to 22,809 PR leaders and professionals contained within an extensive database, and 861 completed the survey. Thirty-three surveys completed by non-US-based professionals were excluded, leaving 828 complete responses for final data analysis. The response rate provides a 95% confidence level (+/- 5%). Overall, the results represent the larger population of surveyed professionals. Most participants were senior leaders and managers: 74.7% of the 828 respondents were the #1 (35.1%) or #2 (39.6%) communication professional in their organization, and 92.4% had 11 years of experience or more. More women (449 or 54.2%) than men (379 or 45.8%) completed the survey. The majority of participants worked in public (324 or 39.1%) or private (120 or 14.5%) corporations, followed by the category of nonprofits, governmental, educational or political organizations (254 or 30.7%), communication agencies (107 or 12.9%) and self-employed or others (23 or 2.7%).

About The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations

The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations is the leading international resource working to support students, educators and practitioners who are passionate about the public relations profession by developing and recognizing outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models and mentors. Founded in 2005, the Center is named in honor of Betsy Plank, the “First Lady” of PR. Betsy’s legacy and vision continues on in the Center’s programs and initiatives to advance the profession and public relations education. For more information, please visit

About Heyman Associates

Heyman Associates and its colleagues – Taylor Bennett in London, joint venture Taylor Bennett Heyman in Asia and GK Personalberatung in Frankfurt – bring together nearly 60 years of  experience placing top communications and public affairs talent in executive positions at high-profile  corporations, foundations and academic institutions across North America, Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.