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PR Journal


Special Issue: Ethical Stakeholder Engagement
Guest Editor: Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D., APR
Co-published by the Arthur W. Page Center

Title: Ethical Stakeholder Engagement

Author: Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D., APR, Pennsylvania State University.

Abstract: This is the introduction article for the Public Relations Journal special issue on ethical stakeholder engagement. An overview of stakeholder engagement is provided along with a summary of the articles, five lessons learned from the research, future research suggestions, and a list of topic related references.

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Keywords: engagement, ethics, stakeholders

Title: Approaching Ethical Crisis Communication with Accuracy and Sensitivity: Exploring Common Ground and Gaps between Journalism and Public Relations

Authors: Lucinda Austin, Ph.D., Elon University and Yan Jin, Ph.D., University of Georgia.

Abstract: Through 40 in-depth interviews with media professionals, this study explores: 1) how media professionals approach ethical crisis communication and stakeholder engagement and 2) media professionals’ views of organizational crisis communication. Findings revealed participants’ descriptions of ethical approaches, major ethical tenets they practiced, and levels of ethical obligations or guidance. Participants spoke of ethical approaches as rule-based, balanced or utilitarian, or situational. Most followed major ethical guidelines for crisis reporting, such as respect, objectivity/neutrality, sensitivity, empathy/compassion, accuracy, timeliness, verification of facts/sources, honesty, and transparency, with a strong focus on public interest. Participants mentioned obligations and guidance from their own moral compasses, organizations or newsrooms, schooling, professions, and communities and stakeholders. Findings indicate that crises represent unique situations for ethical communication and stakeholder engagement. Participants suggested that relationships with public relations professionals in times of crisis could be improved by receiving more complete, timely, and accurate information from organizations.

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Keywords: crisis, engagement, ethics, media, social media, stakeholders

Title: From Principle to Policy to Practice? Diversity as a Driver of Multicultural, Stakeholder Engagement in Public Relations

Author: Dean E. Mundy, Ph.D., University of Oregon.

Abstract: This study, based on findings from a survey distributed to PRSA members, explores the role diversity plays in public relations practice today and the extent to which an organization’s diversity values contribute to ethical stakeholder engagement. A 2005 report issued by the PR Coalition called on public relations to take a leadership role in strengthening the importance of diversity in American life. These findings suggest that practitioners still support that role, but there remains a steep disconnect between the importance of diversity in public relations and what that means in everyday practice. Diversity as a core organizational value—as evidenced through policies and programs—is crucial to organizational success; conveying those values to stakeholders is also an important part of public relations’ ethical responsibility. The communication strategies and tactics used to do so, however, are limited and indicate missed opportunities for public relations practice generally.

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Keywords: diversity, engagement, ethics, LGBT, stakeholders, values

Title: Exploring the Role of the Dominant Coalition in Creating an Ethical Culture for Internal Stakeholders

Author: Shannon A. Bowen, Ph.D., University of South Carolina.

Abstract: Through 28 elite interviews with CEOs (6) and CCOs (22), this study examined the role of leadership and internal communication in building an ethical communication climate and ethical organizational culture. Internal communications is viewed as central to creating organizational culture that creates positive engagement for internal stakeholder or employees. Based upon a review of the literature and these research findings, results indicated that CEOs should use authentic leadership style. Importantly, CCOs can enhance the role of ethics in the organization by enacting a conscience counselor role on ethics for the dominant coalition, creating ethical discussion around the core values of the organization, and creating stakeholder engagement in internal relations around ethics through discussion, modeling exemplar behavior, and reward or incentive systems. Attention to these activities helps to foster an organizational culture that is ethically engaged and optimally strategic and proactive, rather than simply equating ethics with matters of legal compliance.

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Keywords: engagement, ethics, internal communication, leadership, stakeholders, values, authentic

Title: The Role of Ethical Leadership in Internal Communication: Influences on Communication Symmetry, Leader Credibility, and Employee Engagement

Authors: Linjuan Rita Men, Ph.D., APR, Southern Methodist University.

Abstract: This study examines the contribution of ethical leadership to internal communication effectiveness by examining the influences of ethical leader behaviors, such as fair treatment, role clarification, power sharing, people orientation, integrity, ethical guidance, and concern for sustainability, on symmetrical internal communication, perceived leader credibility, and employee engagement. Results showed that ethical leadership as an antecedent factor plays a critical role in nurturing the symmetrical communication system of an organization, which in turn engages employees. Ethical leader behaviors also help establish leader credibility (i.e., trustworthiness and expertise) as perceived by employees. Symmetrical communication mediates the influences of power sharing and people orientation on employee engagement. Significant theoretical and practical implications of the study findings are discussed.

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Keywords: employee, ethics, engagement, leadership, credibility, stakeholders

Title: New Rules of Engagement in Public Health and Health Care Public Relations

Author: Jennifer Vardeman-Winter, Ph.D., University of Houston.

Abstract: The purpose of this study was to explore ethics that are unique to public health/health care (PH/HC) public relations, as the field is an increasingly politicized, collaborative, regulated, and socially mediated communication environment. Eighteen practitioners from the PH/HC industry were interviewed about ethical dilemmas and resolutions in their jobs. Traditional ethics were confirmed, and unique ethics like sustainability, cultural accountability, and compliance emerged. As many of the ethics blur together in how they address practitioners’ concerns today, the ethics were categorized according to ethics of knowledge, ethics of protection, and ethics of engagement. Theoretical implications are suggested, particularly around how the health context provides deeper meaning for theories of stakeholder engagement, issues management, and postmodernism. Practical and pedagogical implications are also addressed.

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Keywords: engagement, ethics, health, social media, stakeholders

Title: Ethical Community Stakeholder Engagement in the Global Environment: Strategies and Assessment

Authors: Lan Ni, Ph.D., University of Houston, Qi Wang, Ph.D., Villanova University, Maria De la Flor, MA, Communica PR Consulting and Renato Peñaflor, MA., IMASEN.

Abstract: Given the importance of and challenges in stakeholder engagement in the global context, this study examines the perceptions of local community members on the stakeholder engagement strategies of multinational corporations (MNCs) operating in Peru as well as the relationship outcomes of such engagement. A survey with 300 local community members in Cajamarca, Peru was conducted. Results indicated that among the different engagement strategies, symmetrical/ethical communication is the most critical whereas mediated communication is the least effective in increasing the effectiveness of stakeholder engagement for both stakeholders and organizations. In the process of stakeholder engagement, uncertainty reduction plays a more important role than anxiety reduction in increasing perceived control mutuality and trust. Appropriate stakeholder engagement strategies and stakeholders’ anxiety and uncertainty management significantly predicted organization-stakeholder relational outcomes.

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Keywords: community, engagement, ethics, global, stakeholders, strategy