Plank Center Study: Culture Impacts Leadership Cycle among PR Pros

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The study of leadership has a long history, but a cross-cultural exploratory study by The University of Alabama’s 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 of when practitioners begin to learn and exhibit leadership qualities.

The work earned the Arthur W. Page Center Benchmarking Award at the recent International Public Relations Research Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Drs. Elina Ezrikova  and Diana Martinelli used primary qualitative research from PR practitioners and student leaders for the study.

Other investigators who assisted in the study included Drs. Nilanjana Bardhan, from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and Juan Meng, of the University of Georgia, along with Gustavo Becker and Andreia Athaydes, Universidade Luterana do Brasil (Lutheran University of Brazil).

The study indicated that strong technical skills are viewed as the main prerequisite to develop into a PR leader; thus, this dimension seems to be the critical first step for receiving PR leadership opportunities.

Other personal leadership dimensions found to be learned early in life and developed more fully over time include:

  • self-dynamics (first learned through family/peer interactions and through those of school/organizations/groups)
  • ethical orientation (first learned from family/religious values)
  • team collaboration (first learned through family, sports, church and school projects)
  • relationship-building (first learned through interactions with peers, teachers, family members, coaches)

Study participants included 51 undergraduate and graduate students and public relations practitioners. Practitioners ranged in age from the mid-20s to 60s and had a combined 430 years of public relations experience.

With the study centering around six research questions on leadership development, there were six key takeaways:

  1. Leadership learning begins early in life and never really ends. It seems rooted in family, school, clubs, sports and/or church activities across countries.
  2. The stages of leadership development appear to be similar across professions and work fields, with the particular professional expertise/ knowledge being a differentiator.
  3. Formal leadership development and training are more common in the United States, which is consistent with other studies.
  4. A combination of formal and informal leadership development activities may work best. However, informal activities (e.g. role models, experience, self-learning) are most highly valued.
  5. The importance of having or being a mentor seems to cut across all countries and is important at any age and with many types of people—family, peers, teachers, coaches, professionals.
  6. Organizational structure and culture can help foster or hinder leadership development.

For more information on the study, go to or download the complete report.

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 (


Jessika White - 205-348-7250 -


Rand Nelson - 205-348-6416 -

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.