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Interview to Juan Meng, PhD.
Associate Professor in Public Relations and Department
Head of Advertising and Public Relations at University of Georgia
Dr. Meng’s research specialization includes public relations leadership, leadership development, diversity and leadership in PR, and global communication. She teaches PR foundations, integrated AdPR campaigns, special project courses, and PR ethics, diversity and leadership at UGA. She is the founder and director of UGA‘s Go Global Choose China program. She also founded the College’s Cooperative Education 3+1+1 programs with Shanghai Normal University and Shanghai International Studies University. Meng serves on the national advisory board of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and PR Daily at Ragan Communications. She is an elected member of the Arthur W. Page Society and currently serves as the research vice chair on the executive committee of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Educators Academy..
Prof. Meng, you are a member of the national board of advisors of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Can you share with us which topics you are studying and from which point of view?
One of my earliest projects sponsored by the Plank Center, which is also the largest global study of public relations leadership conducted in the field, was completed in 2014 with an international team of 28 scholars. We investigated the concept of leadership in public relations and the quality of public relations leaders. Based on this very comprehensive international research project a scholarly book was published, Public Relations Leaders as Sensemakers: A Global Study of Leadership in Public Relations.
Another signature research project is the biennial Leadership Report Card study (free access here), first launched in 2015 to track the changes, trends, improvements, and/or gaps in public relations field. The results of the 2021 Report Card is just released and the free report is available here. In each Report Card, we examine five topics in the field: 1) organizational culture, 2) PR leaders’ performance, 3) job engagement, 4) trust in the organization, and 5) job satisfaction.
Since 2018, I have also worked on The North American Communication Monitor (NACM). NACM is the first survey of its kind in North America to explore the status quo, qualities, and trends of communication and public relations practice in Canada and the United States.
How can these topics have an impact on PR and Communication Professionals?
I have a strong belief that the concept of leadership in public relations and communication management is largely under-examined and unmeasured.
The Leadership Report Cards helped us identify significant gaps between leaders and followers, men and women, junior professionals and senior executives in almost all issues we investigated. For example, non-leaders rated their top leaders’ performance significantly lower than leaders rated themselves. Women in public relations are less engaged, less satisfied with their jobs, less confident in their work cultures, and less trusting of their organizations, if compared to their male colleagues. The 2021 NACM helped us identify different digital ethical challenges faced by public relations professionals. For example, young professionals (i.e., those 29 and younger) are more ethically concerned about distributing organizational information through their private/individual social media accounts. Senior professionals (i.e., those 60 and over) have more ethical concerns about using big data mining techniques to gather personal data.
Findings revealed in these research projects help us acknowledge the complexity of leadership itself, the importance of adaptive leadership in response to changing environments, and leadership performance in our profession can and should be enriched, especially as the entire world is still adjusting itself to establish the “new normal” after the pandemic.
You are also working on a book titled “PR Women with Influence: Breaking through the Ethical and Leadership Challenges”. What advice would you like to give to women working in this field?
The profession of public relations in the United States has been criticized for lacking diversity and inclusion. This scholarly book reveals trends and challenges about women and leadership in public relations. We must acknowledge that career advancement and leadership development continue to be challenging for women, esp. women of color, in public relations over the decades.
Through a 3-year project, Dr. Marlene Neill and I investigated several key topics: 1) situational barriers to women’s leadership advancement in public relations, 2) women’s leadership development and participation opportunities in public relations, 3) the meaning of having influence to women in public relations, 4) the crucial roles of mentoring and sponsorship in leadership advancement for women in public relations, and 5) the supporting network for balancing work-family integration. There are lots of thoughtful responses and rich insights from the women executives and practitioners we interviewed and surveyed.
We call for joint efforts from multiple entities. At the organizational level, the talent management system shall make a conscious effort to create an environment of commitment to mainstream gender equality within the organization and along the leadership pipeline.
For female professionals, esp., the juniors, we need to actively seek mentoring and networking opportunities. Junior female professionals could benefit particularly from mentoring as it can increase their visibility and access to high visible assignments and key senior executives. Visibility, opportunity, and advocacy are essential components to leadership advancement and they are closely tied to mentoring and sponsorship. To make significant progress, we need to bring united collaborations from multiple entities to push for real change for the profession, not just in the United States, but also globally.