Topic: Organizational Change, Internal Activism

Authors, Title and Publication

Luo, Y., & Jiang, H. (2014). Effective public relations leadership in organizational change: A study of multinationals in Mainland China. Journal of Public Relations Research26(2), 134-160.


Organizational change is prevalent as organizations try to adapt to a changing environment and jostle for competitive advantage. Employees often resist changes because they fear unpredictable outcomes. Hence change management remains a key organizational challenge. Public relations departments and professionals are often perceived as the change agents because they have the communication knowledge and skills for organizational change and can resolve conflicts emerging from change.  For example, the literature suggests that PR departments and professionals may (a) communicate the reasons for change to employees, (b) motivate employees to enthusiastically attend to change initiatives, (c) establish and reinforce shared visions about changes, (d) exert upward influence on organizational change-related decision making and conflict resolution, (e) collect employee feedback to adjust change implementation, and, (f) effectively create alliances and coalitions for change.

This study explored the role of public relations leadership during organizational change in three multinationals in Mainland China. Based on 40 in-depth interviews, the findings suggested that the leadership of public relations unit or function during organizational change was demonstrated through coaching middle management to manage employee emotions, providing communication training to middle management, communicating and reinforcing shared visions for change, and managing the conflicts between middle management and top management regarding change rationales, planning, and procedures. The leadership role of PR managers was enacted through consulting the CEOs’ communication styles, exerting upward influence in change management, and acting as a different voice when decision making for change was questionable.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should empower and trust public relations leadership during organizational change. Public relations practitioners can help improve employee communication during organizational change by 1) coaching management to manage employees’ negative emotions; 2) counseling the CEO’s communication; 3) communicating and reinforcing shared vision for change; 4) resolving conflicts; and 5) acting as an internal “third party endorsement” for management decisions for change.

Location of Article

The article is available online at:  (abstract free, purchase full article)


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

Leave a Reply