Employee communications is the real Rodney Dangerfield of PR

Wanted: Talented young professionals for positions in employee communications.

Wanted: Talented young professionals for positions in employee communications. Help companies be all they can be. Build cultures for communication. Inspire trust and transparency.

Trust and transparency are white-hot issues in our field, claims Richard Edelman in a recent issue of Public Relations Tactics. He says consumers and groups want companies to be honest and transparent, but they are failing. Edelman's annual Trust Barometer and many other studies make it clear that many Americans simply don't trust companies.

But doesn't trust in companies begin inside the companies themselves, starting with their employees? We know that trust is closely linked to employee engagement, which drives performance in the marketplace. Yet employee engagement levels are low in many firms, as are levels of employee trust and confidence in their leaders.

This elicits a pressing question: Can companies be trusted by consumers if their own employees don't trust them? I don't know, but it doesn't seem like a coincidence that a number of most admired and trusted companies – e.g., Adobe, FedEx, Google, Microsoft, and Southwest Airlines – are also considered by their employees to be among the best places to work.

Dealing with external trust issues begins inside organizations. However, employee communications receives scant attention in most accounts of the PR battles being waged “out there” for consumer trust and relationships.

This outward focus is also reflected in communications resource allocation and in the work preferences of some young professionals. In annual surveys of seniors in my classes, employee communications is the bottom feeder among work preferences, while social media, media relations, special events, and sports marketing are the high fliers. Students say employee communications is important work, but it's just not sexy.

I urge them to take their passion to employee communications. It's a difference-making work arena “in there.” It's a place for PR architects to help build cultures of communication – the kind of trusting and engaging workplaces they and their colleagues want. In doing so, they will also help their companies win the battles for trust and mindshare out there.

Bruce Berger, Ph.D. is Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama and a member of the board of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Previously he was VP of PR at Whirlpool. His column focuses on PR students, young professionals, and education. He can be reached at berger@apr.ua.edu.

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