University of Gothenburg
Professor Pang
Photo: Svenja Hix

Connections between academia and industry are a two-way street

Augustine Pang, professor in Communication Management at Singapore Management University visited JMG in October. He also participated in the European conference Crisis7, which JMG hosted in the meantime. Svenja Hix, one of JMG's master's students in political communication, asked Professor Pang some questions about challenges and future research in crisis communication.

As a visiting researcher at JMG, Augustine Pang has collaborated with professors Bengt Johansson and Orla Vigsø. Among other things, he presented his research at a seminar for JMG's researchers.

Here is an excerpt the interview that master's student Svenja Hix did with Professor Pang.

Could you tell us about your recent research and the crisis communication challenges you have found?

Recently I gave a talk here at JMG, titled ‘Political Leaders in Crisis: How do they repair their image – or not?’. After several years of studying political scandals, I see three major challenges that political leaders are facing at this time. The first was that we are living in a so called ‘post-truth era’ when no one wants to hear the truth anymore, when the truth can be altered and people present alternative facts as well as other versions of reality.

The second challenge is what I call ‘stakeholder activism’. What it means is that people are becoming more active in responding to what other people say. This stems from two phenomena: woke-culture, where people are becoming more aware of what is happening around them, and the cancellation or resisting of what political leaders say or do.

The third challenge is an idea posited by Professors Bengt Johansson and Orla Vigsø at JMG, and they call it the ‘new publicness’. The new publicness is characterized by the idea of increasing polarization and of a 24/7 news cycle which leads people to question what the truth is.

Yes, that is definitely very interesting. Have you considered the role that digital and social media play in that context?

I think that is an excellent question. Social media plays a big role in how political and business leaders respond now. It does not necessarily alter the substance of what they communicate, but it alters the form in which they communicate. So firstly, they must communicate quickly, previously they would have maybe a couple of hours to think about their answers, now, during the height of crises, they have to respond almost immediately. Secondly, it is the channel of communication that matters. Previously, they would rely on proxies to help them communicate but right now their presence on social media is very important. People want to hear political leaders speak in their own voices.

Thirdly, I believe, the speed and the channel of communication will make them think more clearly about how they want to connect with their audiences. My sense is that they will act instinctively to what comments come into play. So, there will not be a lot of strategic thinking but rather they will be responding to critical comments. And that could pose a danger for them. For example, if they respond to a poor comment on social media, they may say something they will regret later on. This is another subject we can study: How they first react and then how they react subsequently when they have had more time to think.

So how do you think researchers should face these challenges?

I think a starting point is to observe and know what is happening around us. Secondly, to understand what is going on in each of the phenomena we observed, and thirdly to spend some time reading up and studying a little bit.

We have to be relevant according to the times, and to be relevant one must be in touch with what’s going on around us. I also take on the additional role of connecting with industry practitioners. That, to me, is my way of learning. So besides of understanding what is going on and what has been written about, I also want to hear from industry people. What would they do in a certain situation? They have things that can teach us because they are facing it on a day-to-day basis. We, as researchers, have the luxury to theorize, to think, to read, to study, but they are the ones who are facing it day in, day out. So, their insights are very important. We in academia need to understand what people do on the outside, and they can appreciate what we do. It is a two-way street.

I also believe that everyone can teach me something. I end every day with the question: What did I learn today? I can learn from everyone I come in touch with, it doesn’t matter who, it can even be a stranger in the street doing something that is meaningful. Sometimes I learn one thing, sometimes it’s many things. I enjoy the time at JMG and I am very appreciative that the department agrees to host me.

Do you also want to visit JMG?

JMG welcomes guest researchers who are connected to our research focus.

Read more about JMG's Visiting Research Fellow Programme here.