Plank Center Research


The Board of Trustees at the University of Alabama (UA) established the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations in 2005. The Center’s mission is to help develop and recognize outstanding leaders and role models in public relations education and practice.

Leaders exert significant influence on the success, future and image of their profession. Yet, only a few PR studies have explored this important topic. One goal of the Center is to build a research-based foundation of knowledge regarding the values, qualities and dimensions of excellent leadership in PR. Here’s a complete list of the Center’s research.

Mentoring Research and Best Practices White Paper

Because of the importance of mentoring in all fields, including public relations, this white paper draws from more than 100 sources, including scholarly research articles, books, magazines, media outlets, business organizations, educational institutions, professional development companies, non-profit organizations, blogs, websites and trade publications.  The work’s ultimate goal is to help grow and diversify the public relations profession. To do so, the paper includes insights gleaned from the literature, educational takeaways, steps to create mentoring programs, evaluation processes, and mentoring research strengths and weaknesses. Drs. Diana Martinelli and Elina Erzikova found that “in both college and workplace mentoring, it is clear that the setting of goals, development of trust, and patience in and commitment to the process are fundamental to success.”

Download the Mentoring White Paper (PDF)

2017 Report Card on Public Relations Leaders

In 2015 the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and Heyman Associates produced its first Report Card on PR Leaders. Leaders earned passing grades for the five areas examined—leadership performance, job engagement, trust in the organization, work culture and job satisfaction—but crucial gaps highlighted areas for improvement.

Nearly 1,200 PR leaders and professionals in the U.S. recently completed the same survey. Grades for leadership performance and trust were unchanged in 2017, but slipped for work culture, job engagement and job satisfaction. The overall grade for PR leaders fell from B- to C+. Gaps between leaders’ and employees’ perceptions of the five areas remained wide, while gender differences deepened.

Download the Entire Leadership Report Card (PDF)

Public Relations Leadership Development Cycle: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

The study of leadership has a long history, but this cross-cultural exploratory study by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations is the first known attempt to understand the process and various stages of leadership development in public relations specialists. Featuring participants from Brazil, China, India, Russia and the United States, the study details and provides insight into similarities and variances across cultural boundaries while outlining the timeline of the leadership development cycle in terms of when practitioners begin to exhibit certain qualities.

Download the full report on the Leadership Development Cycle (PDF)

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.

Click here for the complete findings of the millennial study.

Racial and Gender-Based Differences in the Collegiate Development of Public Relations Majors: Implications for Minority Recruitment and Retention

Because of the importance of recruitment and retention of future practitioners at the college level, this project was designed to examine the collegiate development of public relations students, from an educational and social perspective, to uncover any differences based on race and gender. The study helped identify areas of need, concern and opportunity that could help improve the development of underrepresented groups, which will lead to them potentially entering the profession and advancing to management positions. Based on the findings from this study, the research team will draw conclusions and provide academic and professional recommendations that will assist in the recruitment, mentoring and retention of potential underrepresented students, which will in turn hopefully lead to an increase in diversity among practitioners entering the field.

Download Racial and Gender-Based Differences in the Collegiate Development of PR Majors (PDF)

Diversity & Inclusion Trends and Research Highlights

Why is the PR industry so far behind where it needs to be with D&I? Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan’s research showcases D&I trends throughout the 1990s and 2000s. How has the conversation shifted? The research highlights emerging themes and offers suggestions. The common denominator is leadership and leaders need to step up.

“Knowing where to look and knowing how to recruit and retain a diverse workforce are among the most critical steps in improving diversity. Diversity training, mentoring and organizational changes are also essential elements. And perhaps most important, those in leadership positions must become advocates for diversity.” (PR Coalition, 2005, p. 1)

Download Diversity & Inclusion Trends and Research Highlights (PDF)

Diversity & Inclusion: A Summary of the Current Status and Practices of Arthur W. Page Society Members

To help the public relations industry embrace a diverse and inclusive culture for recruitment and retention of talent, this study aims to understand the Arthur W. Page Society members definition of diversity and inclusion, their best diversity and inclusion management practices, in particular, the practices related to recruitment and retention of talent from under-represented groups, how they evaluate their D&I initiatives, and what makes those best practices work. This study is based on a quantitative survey of 82 members. Follow-up qualitative in-depth interviews were also conducted with selected Page members who have been effectively implementing their “best practices” activities/actions for D&I.

For more findings on the D&I study, click here.

Millennial Study: Perspectives on Integrating the Newest Generation of Top Talent into PR & Communications

How do you attract, manage and develop the next generation of PR leaders? Researchers, Dr. Juan Meng, Holley Reeves (doctoral candidate) and Dr. Bryan Reber, interviewed millennial PR professionals and the executives who hire and manage them. Several key themes emerged — relationships are key; workplace diversity is embraced; leadership development is expected; technological savviness is innate; and social responsibility is a workplace enhancement.

Leadership Report Card

The first Plank Center Leadership Report Card on communication leaders highlights a Grand-Canyon-sized gap between leaders’ evaluations of their own performance and those of their employees. Leaders earned high marks for work engagement, but lagged in job satisfaction, work place trust and culture.

The grades are based on a survey* of 838 U.S. public relations executives and managers that was conducted by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and Heyman Associates. Survey participants rated the performance of their top PR leader and the quality of their work place culture, and then evaluated their own levels of work engagement, trust in their organization, and job satisfaction. Grades were assigned based on mean scores for professionals’ responses. Click here for the full report card.


Global Leadership Study

The Plank Center, and sponsors Heyman Associates and IBM, conducted the largest study of leadership in public relations.

  • Nearly 4,500 practitioners in 23 countries completed an online survey in nine languages.
  • The Global Leadership study explores key issues in the profession, how PR leaders manage them and how we can improve the preparation of communication leaders for an uncertain and complex future.

Click here for more findings on the Global Leadership Study.

Global Leadership Study from Plank Center

A Global Look at Leadership in Public Relations: Minding the Gaps, Creating the Future from Plank Center

Additional Research:

The document below provides abstracts for many of the 20 leadership studies carried out. The Center provided grants for some of the projects; others were carried out by additional professors and graduate students from various colleges and universities, and by Center board members.



Resources of Interest

The Plank Center is committed to helping you expand your skills and advance the practice of public relations.