As fake news and other disinformation regularly infiltrates news sources, and with reputational crises potentially around every (social) corner, building and maintaining trust is the most crucial issue now facing the public relations profession, according to a new study from The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations that examines the state of PR in Canada and the United States.

The org’s newly released North American Communication Monitor (NACM) disclosed key trends and challenges facing the communication profession. Some highlights include:

  • Fake news affects the profession, but many organizations are not prepared to identify and manage it.
  • Top communication leaders are involved in organizational decision making, but that power is not shared with those lower in the hierarchy, especially women.
  • The major threat to job engagement is a lack of performance feedback and recognition, with a significant gender gap.
  • Everyone is stressed, but the sources of work stress vary.
  • Women and men rate their social media and knowledge management skills differently.

With authenticity under attack, new research explores PR’s toughest challenges

“Our goal with this study was to assess the state of the public relations field in North America and identify gaps, or opportunities to enrich the development of communication leaders,” said Dr. Karla Gower, director of The Plank Center, in a news release. “If we know where the gaps are, we can work to close them and to strengthen the overall quality of our profession’s leadership—a crucial strategic asset.”

The study, which joins existing Communication Monitors in Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific, explored diverse topics, including fake news and strategies to deal with it, top issues for the profession in the next three years, the role of providing information to support decision making, leaders’ performance, and professionals’ job engagement, trust in their organization, job satisfaction, work stress, and social media skills and management knowledge.

“The Plank Center has embraced the opportunity to join a truly global network of researchers who regularly take the pulse of communication professionals to identify trends and opportunities,” said Dr. Bryan H. Reber, professor at the University of Georgia and lead researcher of NACM, in the release. “The North American Communication Monitor provides statistically reliable data to demonstrate professionals’ opinions and concerns and uses a nearly identical survey instrument as do the European, Latin American, and Asia-Pacific Communication Monitors. As a result, we are able to compare more than 6,000 responses across regions and cultures, the largest global data set for our profession.”

With authenticity under attack, new research explores PR’s toughest challenges

Fake news is a prominent issue but organizations lack processes to identify and manage it

Communication professionals agree fake news has become one of the most prominent issues in public discourse. More than half of surveyed professionals (57.7 percent) give attention to the on-going debate about fake news and consider it a much-debated topic in their country (68.2 percent). Results indicate governmental organizations across North America are particularly affected by fake news, with 20.9 percent being affected multiple times and 10.1 percent being affected once.

However, despite the high levels of awareness and attention to the debate about fake news, the level of relevance of fake news to the professionals’ daily work, and their concerns about it, are generally low. When it comes to identifying potential fake news, a substantial percentage of respondents (42.6 percent) said their organizations mainly rely on individual competencies and experience. Few organizations have in place policies, technical systems and processes to detect and manage fake news and misinformation.

With authenticity under attack, new research explores PR’s toughest challenges

Nearly half of the organizations (46.3percent) do not share decision making with employees or members

The majority of surveyed professionals (71.9 percent) agree their top communication leader is actively involved in the organization’s decision making (78.1 percent) and demonstrates a strong ethical orientation to guide actions (76.7 percent). However, shared decision-making power receives the lowest rating across various types of organizations. Women rate the shared decision-making power significantly lower than men. A similar perceptual gap is identified along the line of hierarchy: Top communication leaders rate shared decision-making power significantly higher than team leaders and team members.

With authenticity under attack, new research explores PR’s toughest challenges

The major threat to job engagement is a lack of performance feedback and recognition, with a significant gender gap

The job engagement level is relatively high: 62.8 percent report they are engaged in their job. More than eight in 10 of surveyed professionals know what is expected of them at work (86.0 percent), and are in a positive environment where fellow employees are committed to quality work (81.3 percent). Professionals also said they have the opportunity to do what they can do best every day (79.1 percent) and their opinions count at work (75.3 percent). However, some are frustrated by the lack of feedback about their performance on the job (24.6 percent) and lack of recognition for doing good work (15.4 percent).

Though nearly three-quarters of communication professionals are satisfied with their job, the gender gap is big. Women (60.8 percent) report a much lower level of job satisfaction compared to men (70.2 percent).

Sources of work stress vary

One-third of surveyed professionals acknowledge they feel tense and stressed during a normal workday. Generally, the top three sources of stress are limited growth or advancement opportunities (34.3 percent), a too-heavy workload (33.6 percent), and information overload (33.3 percent). Top communication leaders are most stressed by information overload, team leaders by work overload, and team members by their lack of opportunity for growth and advancement. Women are most stressed by lack of advancement opportunities and heavy workload. Men are most stressed by information overload and being constantly available via email, text and phone.

With authenticity under attack, new research explores PR’s toughest challenges

Women and men rate their social media and knowledge management skills differently

Men and women see their knowledge and skill sets differently when coping with the digital evolution and social media. Women are more confident about delivering messages via social media (68.8 percent), identifying social media trends (55.7 percent), and setting up social media platforms (51.2 percent). Men are more confident of their understanding of the legal framework for social media (38.0 percent) and using algorithms to run analytics (35.7 percent).

When it comes to general management skills, men are significantly more confident, compared to women, about their abilities in strategic positioning, such as analyzing overall organizational goals, scenario planning, and linking communication to business agendas. Men also report higher scores on managing human and financial resources.

With authenticity under attack, new research explores PR’s toughest challenges

“The depths and the variety of investigated topics presented by this year’s NACM help us better understand the communication industry in North America. More importantly, our rich results will deliver crucial insights to inform effective practice for communication professionals at all levels, from top leaders to team leaders and team members, as they all need to tackle these challenges now or in the near future,” said Dr. Juan Meng, associate professor at the University of Georgia and lead analyst of NACM, in the release.

Access a slideshow of findings here.

The results are based on responses from 1,020 communication professionals working in different types of organizations (255 in Canada and 765 in the United States). The sample achieved a balanced gender split (50% men and 50% women) for accurate comparisons. The average age of participants was 46.0 years.

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Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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