The Novak Leadership Institute conducts academic research in organizational communication and leadership.


Kim, E. (Anna), Thorson, E., Duffy, M., & Shoenberger, H. (2024). Softening the blow: The power of rhetorical frames used by social media influencers with sponsorship disclosure. Journal of Interactive Advertising, 24(2), 169-183.


This study explores how social media influencers’ endorsements preceding commercials can increase positive response, even when sponsorship is disclosed. The study employed three rhetorical frames (transparency, co-orientation, and downplaying) in a real-world test scenario involving TV commercials for two energy corporations with contentious reputations. A national survey with 644 respondents revealed that each rhetorical frame significantly bolstered positive attitudes toward the featured corporations. These attitude shifts were mediated by reductions in persuasion knowledge and increases in message credibility. The study's findings not only support but also extend existing theories on endorsement effectiveness by integrating the insights from rhetorical theory. It shows that understanding the nuances of ‘how’ a message is delivered, through rhetorical framing, can be as crucial as ‘what’ is being said. This study provides useful guidance for leaders seeking to identify effective message strategies in social media platforms.


Capizzo, L., Nzau, T., Oduolowu, D., Duffy, M. & Brengarth, L. (2023). Permanent scars, improvisation and new paths forward: Communication agency leadership responses to COVID-19. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 29(3), 362-383.


The COVID-19 pandemic shone a spotlight on leadership values and necessitated internal crisis communication for businesses of all types. Through interviews with leaders of public relations and advertising agencies, this study sought to examine experiences of leading and managing strategic communication teams during the pandemic, seeking to understand the evolution of employee expectations and best practices for agency leadership. The study found themes of improvisation and flexibility, transparency and trust, ownership and embodiment, care and empathy, and relationships and resilience. The study is the first of its kind to focus on agencies and internal communication during COVID-19, and it offers theoretical implications for ongoing internal crisis communication and practical implications for agency leaders in crisis.


Willett, J. F., LaGree, D., Shin, H., Houston, J. B., & Duffy, M. (2023). The role of leader communication in fostering respectful workplace culture and increasing employee engagement and well-being. International Journal of Business Communication. Advance online publication.


Although communication is commonly recognized as an indispensable element of leadership, less is known about how leadership communication interacts with workplace respect to affect employee outcomes. This study found that leadership communication was not associated with employee engagement and well-being; however, it was positively related to respectful engagement (generalized respect extended to employees because they are part of the organization) and autonomous respect (individualized respect that recognizes specific achievements). Leadership communication was negatively associated with occupational resilience, while employee engagement and well-being were positively associated with occupational resilience, respectful engagement, and autonomous respect. Our findings indicate that leadership communication contributes to a respectful workplace culture that then positively affects employee engagement and well-being.


Listen to lead author Justin F. Willett discuss the study and its implications for leaders.


LaGree, D., Houston, B., Duffy, M., & Shin, H. (2023). The effect of respect: Respectful communication at work drives resiliency, engagement, and job satisfaction among early career employees. International Journal of Business Communication, 60(3), 844–864.


This study sought to understand how workplace respect affects young employees ages 21-34 across a dozen industries. The authors considered two types of respect—“respectful engagement,” which describes an overall work culture of civility and respect, and “autonomous respect,” which refers to an employee’s feeling that they are respected for their specific standards and actions. They found that young workers who perceived a respectful work culture reported feeling better able to overcome workplace challenges, and they had higher levels of job satisfaction, loyalty, and engagement.


This study was recognized with the 2021 award for Outstanding Article in the International Journal of Business Communication.


Ndone, J., Warner, B., & Duffy, M. E. (2022). Emotional crisis communication: The effects of CEO’s expression of guilt and anger on organizational reputation. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 16(5), 685–699.


This study tested the role of expressions of anger and guilt in crisis communication response strategies and found that the context of a severe crisis calls for expressions of guilt, regardless of the response strategy chosen by an organization. The authors conclude that companies in severe crisis should express remorse even if they deny culpability. “People want to hear remorse even if the company is innocent of wrongdoing simply because, in a severe crisis, expressing remorse shows some humanity.”


Kim, E. (Anna), Duffy, M., & Thorson, E. (2021). Under the influence: Social media influencers’ impact on response to corporate reputation advertising. Journal of Advertising, 50(2), 119–138.


Social media influencers (SMIs) are now a significant element in organizations’ marketing mix. However, there has been little attention paid to how SMIs might change the way people process a commercial specifically designed to enhance corporate reputation. The authors conducted three studies to understand influencer impacts on how people respond to commercials designed to enhance corporate reputation. The first study showed that when a commercial was introduced by an influencer, message attitudes and perceived corporate reputation were more positive as compared to the commercial presented by itself. The second revealed that disclosure of sponsorship of the SMI’s message removed the positive effects, while the third study showed that a narrative or story introduction by the SMI increased perceptions of corporate reputation.