Research: Millennial Communication Professionals

Millennials are often criticized for the different values, qualities and skills they bring to work. However, a new study by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and the Institute for Public Relations of millennial communication professionals (MCPs) confirms their generational differences but concludes some differences (e.g., millennials’ strong values for diversity, transparency and social responsibility) will help advance and enrich the profession.

The study also reveals a talent management ecosystem organizations can use to attract, engage, develop, retain and gain from top millennial talent.

A survey of 420 MCPs and 420 professionals who manage them (MGRs) revealed sharp differences in perceptions about millennials’ workplace values and attributes, engagement, leadership capabilities, and recruiting and retention drivers.

Workplace values and attributes. More than 80% of MCPs said they’re ambitious and passionate about work, but only half of their managers agreed. MCPs rated themselves much higher than MGRs did in work centrality, rewards and recognition, risk-taking and work-life-social values. The biggest differences were in work centrality—ambition, passion for work and professionalism—and work-life-social values like diversity and social responsibility, as MCPs consistently rated themselves higher than their managers did.

Workplace values and attributes

  MCPs      MGRs
Ambitious about making progress and gaining new opportunities 83.3% 51.7%
Passionate about work 82.7% 47.6%
Willing to take risks at work 50.1% 41.6%
Value diversity of people at work 73.9% 62.9%
Supportive of social causes and socially responsible companies 63.9% 58.3%


Leadership capabilities. Almost three quarters (70.9%) of MCPs said they are ready to lead. They rated their capabilities much higher than did MGRs for their communication knowledge, vision, team leadership skills, ethical orientation, strategic decision-making and relationship-building skills, and readiness to lead. Fewer than half of their MGRs agreed, citing deficiencies in all areas, especially ethical orientation (47.6%) and readiness to lead (49.0%).

Leadership Capabilities

  MCPs    MGRs
Demonstrate a strong ethical orientation and professional values 76.9% 47.6%
Ready to be an excellent leader in communication 70.9% 49.0%

Engagement in Job and Organization

MGRs rated their own engagement in the job (83.1%) and the organization (74.4%) significantly higher than MCPs rated their work (72.8%) and organizational (59.3%) engagement. However, MCPs with less than one year on the job were as highly engaged as MGRS; the level dropped sharply for those with 1-3 years of experience before returning to year-one levels after seven years.

“Millennial communicators come to the job excited and enthusiastic,” said Bruce K. Berger, Ph.D., co-investigator of the study and research director for The Plank Center. “But those qualities soon fade for some who leave the organization due to poor cultural fit, supervisory issues, or better opportunities.”

Recruitment and Retention Drivers

Two-thirds of MCPs said job decisions were driven most by reputation (68.1%), culture (67.2%), and location (67.4%), among nine drivers. More than 60% said key retention drivers were culture (63.8%), work-life-social approaches (62.4%), and development opportunities (61.6%), among 14 factors. MGRs’ perceptions of recruitment and retention drivers for MCPs were significantly lower for most factors.


I was attracted to the organization because it…              MCPs    MGRs
Had a fine reputation 68.1% 57.1%
Is a very socially-responsible organization 57.9% 50.9%
Offered opportunities for growth and development 62.4% 55.2%
Has a very open and positive culture 67.1% 60.9%
Is a great location (geographically) 67.4% 58.3%


To retain employees, my organization…                    MCPs    MGRs
Supports a work-life-social approach 62.4% 55.7%
Has a very open and positive  culture 63.8% 61.2%
Engages in socially-responsible programs 55.2% 53.8%
Provides growth and development opportunities 61.6% 62.1%


MCPs said meaningful career planning, more mentoring and equal pay for men and women would increase retention rates.

Bringing the Positive Differences to Life with a Talent Management Ecosystem

According to Berger, the generational differences are real, but so are some bright hopes and qualities within them. “MCPs see the world differently—from context to connectivity to crisis—but they are digital natives with great passion for leadership and strong values for transparency, social responsibility, diversity and community—all touchstones for our profession today. We can draw from these skills and values to enhance practice and build a brighter future,” Berger said.

Data modeling of the findings revealed a five-process talent management ecosystem organizations can use with MCPs to:

  1. Recruit top millennial talent by contextualizing and personalizing their job and career.
  2. Engage quickly by capitalizing on their excitement, energy and values.
  3. Develop their basic job skills and plan strategically and systematically for the long term.
  4. Retain them by combining traditional salary, benefits and performance awards with a focus on work-life-social issues (e.g., flex time, social responsibility and diversity).
  5. Gain the benefits of the enriched ecosystem—high performance, leader readiness and a more open, mentoring culture.

“The key is to contextualize and personalize actions in each process in the ecosystem,” said Juan Meng, Ph.D., University of Georgia and co-investigator for the study. Contextualize refers to how things fit into company strategy and culture, helping organizations meet goals. Personalize refers to how steps tie into an MCP’s personal role and career, supporting individual aims.

To personalize engagement, for example, organizations can provide a mentor, deliver regular feedback, assign leadership for a small project and involve MCPs in a community project. To contextualize engagement, organizations should align each job with company goals and strategy, provide a financial tutorial and require leaders to model engagement. “Organizations lean heavily on context, but the combination of the two is far more powerful, said Meng.”

“Millennials will be leaders in our field for the next 3-4 decades,” said Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., President and CEO of IPR. “Our study shows that a talent management ecosystem enriches the development of this generation’s bright hopes and values, benefiting individuals, organizations and the profession.”

The complete study can be found via this link.


About the Study

Researchers affiliated with The Plank Center developed and tested two online surveys. The first was targeted to MCPs to examine self-perceptions about workplace values and attributes, engagement, leadership capabilities and development, and recruitment and retention drivers. The second survey was targeted to their managers, who shared their perceptions of MCPs and these topics. Appropriate panels of 420 MCPs and 420 MGRs were purchased from Qualtrics, and respondents represented diverse organizations. Survey questions were validated in previous studies.

About The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations

The University of Alabama Board of Trustees established The Plank Center in 2005. Named for public relations leader and UA alumna, the late Betsy Plank, the Center develops and recognizes outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models and mentors to advance ethical public relations in an evolving, global society through a variety of initiatives (

About the Institute for Public Relations

The Institute for Public Relations is an independent foundation dedicated to the science beneath the art of public relations™  and focused on research that is immediately applicable in communications practice. Its research is available free at and provides the basis for the organization’s professional conferences and events.

Our Mission

The Plank Center’s mission is to help develop and recognize outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models and mentors to advance ethical public relations in an evolving, global society. The Center works to achieve its mission by:

Advancing knowledge of leadership values and skills in the profession;

Supporting research, teaching, service, and professional educational efforts that help develop diverse, responsible and trustworthy leaders;

Bridging the interests and vision of the practice and education; and

Collaborating with other groups and associations to nurture the ethical and effective practice of public relations.