The quality of leadership at PR firms appears to be on the rebound, according to The Plank Center’s Report Card 2021.

The Report Card 2021 gave PR leaders an overall grade of B-, up a notch from the C+ they received in the 2019 and 2017 versions. Grades also ticked up slightly in four of the survey’s five areas: job engagement (from B- to B), trust in the organization, job satisfaction and organizational culture (all of which rose from C+ to B-).

The grades for the fifth category, leadership performance, reflect a marked difference between how top leaders see their own performance and how other employees rate them.

While top leaders, who made up 43.3 percent of the survey’s respondents, gave themselves an A- for leadership performance, other employees only rated them as a C+. Both of those scores have held steady since the Report Card’s first edition in 2015.

Planck Center's Report Card

That disconnect is evident in several other areas as well. While 72.8 percent of top leaders described themselves as “engaged” in their jobs, that number drops to 55.6 percent for those who are not in top leadership positions. When it comes to job satisfaction, once again 72.8 percent of top leaders described themselves as “satisfied,” with employees one level below top leadership showing a job satisfaction rate of 57.4 percent and just 53.3 percent of those two or more levels down saying they were satisfied with their jobs.

The divide between how male and female employees grade the PR industry persists in some areas and is narrowing in others. Female respondents give their organizations a lower trust score (4.96 out of a possible seven) than do male respondents (5.19). Women are also less willing to rely on their organizations to keep promises (4.95 vs. 5.20) and to trust them to take the opinions of employees like them into account when making decisions (4.77 vs. 5.12).

However, the gap between male and female employees when it comes to job engagement has shrunk. While the engagement rate for female employees plummeted from 61.3 percent in 2015 to 52.9 in 2017, the last two Report Cards have shown healthy jumps—to 57 percent in 2019 and 60.1 percent in 2021. Male respondents registered a 62.6 percent engagement rate in 2021, up from 62.3 in 2019.

“Progress in diversity in many senses in public relations remains slow,” the Report’s authors note. “These gaps won’t magically disappear. They require action, and the power to act resides in the minds, hearts and hands of current leaders at all levels in organizations.”

The Plank Center Report Card was based on a 42-question survey that was distributed online and completed by 536 public relations leaders and professionals in the U.S.