This abstract is summarized by IPR from the original journal article published in the Journal of Public Relations Research.

It was once postulated that there are fewer people of color in the public relations industry because publics would respond less favorably to a racially diverse spokesperson. Dr. Seoyeon Hong and Dr. Maria E. Len-Rios tested this rationale by examining the effect of a public relations spokesperson’s race on perceived credibility and perceptions of a PR crisis’ severity.

The researchers conducted an experiment to test this relationship. The study variables included race of the spokesperson (Black vs. White), spokesperson performance history (prior crisis vs. no prior crisis), and crisis type (sports vs. product recall). Variables were measured using both implicit (reaction time) and explicit (self-reporting) measures.

Key findings include:

  •  Respondents rated the Black spokesmen as significantly more credible than the White spokesmen when there was no performance history.
  • Participant ratings of Black vs. White spokesperson credibility were not significantly different when performance history was provided.
  • When the crisis type was a product recall, a Black spokesperson was perceived to be more credible than a White spokesperson.
  • Reaction times to stereotypic words for crises with no previous history were quicker than crisis with previous history, meaning respondents tend to rely on stereotypes more in crisis situations when they do not have information on crisis history.

Read more about how race affects perceptions of spokesperson credibility and crisis severity.


Hong, S., & Len-Rios, M. (2015). Does Race Matter? Implicit and Explicit Measures of the Effect of the PR Spokesman’s Race on Evaluations of Spokesman Source Credibility and Perceptions of a PR Crisis’ Severity. Retrieved September 08, 2020, from

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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