The Rodney Dangerfield of PR


“Employee communication is the Rodney Dangerfield of PR.”

That’s the assessment of Bruce K. Berger, Ph.D., the Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama. While researching the latest literature on best practices in employee communication, I came across his excellent speech delivered in October 2011 to the PRSA International Conference. In it, Dr. Berger makes a compelling case that in spite of all the research proving the business value of employee communication — and there has been much in the last 10 years — it still gets no respect.

Dr. Berger argues that employee communication in most companies is “utter folly” because they “continue to act against their own self interests by perpetuating failed communication programs that drive employee distrust and
cynicism and reduce engagement and commitment.”

He adds: “We know what needs to be done to create cultures for communication, but too many organizations just don’t do it. They fail to move from KNOWING to DOING.”

I’ve chosen to make employee communication my career because I believe in its potential to change and drive organizations. I’m passionate about it (despite agreeing with Dr. Berger that employee communication is decidedly not as sexy as media relations or crisis communications). From the beginning, though, I had to dig deep for research that bears out employee communication’s value. Well, we have the research, so now there’s not much excuse for organizations that fail to actually do something.

Read Dr. Berger’s lecture here. It’s only 10 pages and worth every minute if you believe, as I do, that employee communication is the most important communication in which an organization can engage.

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks for passing this along because I wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. Truly interesting and helpful stuff.

  2. Robert, i just came across your blog and also agree that here is some real value in the piece you researched. I have watched internal comms over the past 18 years which is just about its lifetime as a dedicated business function. In achieving that status it has also become stuck. Taking Dr Berger’s defining dimensions 1 and possibly 2, I tend to view internal comms as a compensation for the failings of managers to do the job themselves and for the senior team to attempt to micromanage the organisation.

    This may also be the reason why, despite the growing amount of evidence to support the effective role of employee communication, organisations just don’t do it. Managers don’t willingly change their behaviour. The senior team will still revert to communication activities if they think their business strategy is not working (shout louder, communicate with more novelty to refresh the workforce, etc.)

    Now in the current economic climate the budgets for internal comms have been slashed – naturally (as it is number three in priority order to quote Berger) and you just can’t help thinking that the justification for doing so is that employees should be glad they even have a job!

    Folly? you bet.
    Incidentally I tend to advocate the the role of the internal comms manager as consultant and enabler.

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