Source credibility is a key component of public relations communications – with “expertise” identified as an important factor in studies of persuasive theory. So it is not surprising that organisations seek the endorsement of academic authors.
But they should be mindful of any ethical considerations in doing so. The Center for Media and Democracy reports concern over the funding and relationships between authors of a review of soft drinks and obesity in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (subscription).
This review challenged any links between soft drinks and obesity – but its credibility is questioned by the fact that it was funded by the American Beverage Association. Other claims are that the authors have close links with the industry and their conclusions are always favorable to the beverage companies.
In fact, there is an inherent Catch 22 here – if the academics produce reports that favour the sponsoring organisation, they are accused of lacking objectivity and being too close to a particular industry. If their work is critical, the funding organisation (whether this is corporate or government) is unlikely to be too keen on the findings.
Given this question over credibility – perhaps public relations practitioners should counsel against the lose-lose situation of funding academic research.