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Advertising Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Michael Gasser, Adam Butler, Kelly Anderson
Dave Whitsett, and Rowena Tan
University of Northern Iowa

Gasser, Whitsett, Mosley, Sullivan, Rogers, and Tan (1998) showed that, within the general public and among business majors, the profession of I-O psychologist was not well known. The majority of those surveyed had never heard of the term I-O psychologist. This lack of recognition by potential users of the knowledge and services of I-O psychology is a problem for our profession for two reasons: (a) The leaders of a company with a human resource problem certainly will not call us if they have never heard of us; and (b) if employees had a better understanding of our training and credentials, then they might show more acceptance of the interventions we try to initiate. The problem, in a nutshell, is that this lack of recognition results in an underutilization of I-O psychology when there are many human resource problems that I-O psychologists really should address.

One logical solution to this problem is to advertise the field. Gasser, Butler, Anderson, Whitsett, and Tan (2000) showed that we are simply not doing this to the degree we should. For 17 of 19 advertisement strategies examined in the survey, most I-O psychologists reported that they had never used the method. The two advertisement strategies that had been used at least once by a majority of I-O psychologistsguest lecture in a business class and one-on-one conversationare not the most efficient means for sending out a message to large numbers of potential users of what I-O psychology can offer. In this study, we chose to examine the influence of mailing written brochures to a sample of potential clients. While there are arguably much more effective means of reaching large numbers of people, this advertisement strategy is financially viable for all I-O psychologists, whereas other strategies, such as advertising in the mass media, are often not.


Design: In this study, 2 groups of 50 participants were surveyed. Both groups were randomly selected from a listing of business leaders provided by the chamber of commerce of a community with a population of approximately 100,000 in Iowa. Members of the experimental group were sent a letter, addressed to them, that contained a one-page description of the services offered by a small consulting group, staffed by some of the authors, called Midwest Management Consulting (MMC). MMC had been in existence for 5 years at the time the study was conducted. All previous advertisement for MMC had been done by word-of-mouth. No formal advertisement strategy had been enacted. In addition to the information on MMC, a one-page description of the field of I-O psychology was included. The description of the field of I-O psychology (see Appendix) was taken in part from an official brochure produced by SIOP. The other groupthe control groupreceived no letter from Midwest Management Consulting.

Two weeks after sending out the letters, an undergraduate research assistant called both groups and administered a survey over the phone that assessed recognition of the field of I-O psychology and Midwest Management Consulting.

Participants: Of the 50 participants called in the experimental group, 27 were contacted and agreed to complete the survey for a response rate of 54%. 81.5% of this sample were men. The average age of this sample was 49.7 years with a standard deviation of 6.78. Members of this sample ranged in age from 35 to 65. The sample was well educated, with 77.8% of this sample reporting having graduated from college or receiving a post-graduate degree. Twenty-four of the 27 participants were Caucasian.

Of the 50 participants called in the control group, 22 were contacted and agreed to complete the survey for a response rate of 44%. 63.6% of this sample were men. The average age of this sample was 50.04 years with a standard deviation of 9.61. Members of this sample ranged in age from 33 to 64. This sample was also well educated, as 81.8% of this sample reported having graduated from college or receiving a post-graduate degree. Nineteen of the 22 participants were Caucasian.

Survey and Results

Each member of the two samples completed the survey by phone. Participants were asked several questions regarding their impressions of MMC and I-O psychology and desire to use the services that were described in the brochures. Two questions in the survey were pertinent to the issue of recognition of I-O psychologists and generated enough responses to make comparisons. Participants were asked if they had ever heard of a profession called industrial-organizational psychologist? 22.2% of the experimental group and 22.7% of the control group responded yes to this question. Participants were also asked if they had ever heard of a company called Midwest Management Consulting. 59.3% of the experimental group and 18.2% of the control group responded yes to this question.


1. This strategy of sending out a brochure to a sample of potential users of I-O psychology, using a description of the field derived from an SIOP brochure, did not increase the name recognition of I-O psychology over what was found in a sample of people never exposed to our mailing. For both groups, the large majority of business leaders in the community we examined had never heard of the field of I-O psychology.

2. This strategy did increase the name recognition for the consulting firm we operate that offers the basic services industrial-organizational psychologists have to offer. Unfortunately, this greater name recognition that was reported has not yet translated into increased usage by the potential clients targeted in our advertisement. In the 6 months following the advertisement, none of the consultations for which we have been contacted has come from the clients targeted in the advertisements. All consultations have resulted from word-of-mouth advertisement by previous clients.

What to Do

By itself, sending out mailings as a method of advertisement may simply not have enough impact to create the name recognition the field of I-O psychology needs. It is possible that this method would have more impact if the materials mailed were designed by advertising specialists. Our goal was to explore what could be done by the typical I-O psychologist that does not work for a large consulting group and must contend with limited resources. In addition, this method may be much more effective if combined with similar messages coming from other media, such as newspaper, magazine, radio, or television advertisements.

To do either of these enhancements, more resources must be available than what are present in our coffers. This would have to be undertaken by a larger organization to promote all of its members. In a recent survey of SIOP members by Waclawski and Church (2000), 2 of the 3 most poorly ranked areas of satisfaction for SIOP members focused on the ability of SIOP to promote I-O psychology to business and other areas of psychology (the third related to room availability at SIOP conferences). Perhaps it is time for SIOP to begin moving to rectify this dissatisfaction with a more vigorous advertising campaign.


Gasser, M., Whitsett, D., Mosley, N., Sullivan, K., Rogers, K., Tan, R. (1998). I-O psychology: Whats your line? The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 35, 120--126.

Gasser, M., Butler, A., Anderson, K., Whitsett, D., & Tan, R. (2000). Advertisement Strategies of Industrial-Organizational Psychologists. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 37, 39-- 43.

Waclawski, J. & Church, A. H. (2000). The 2000 SIOP member survey results are in! The Industrial Organizational Psychologist, 38, 59-- 68.


Description of the Field of Industrial-Organizational Psychology

One might ask, What are the professions of the members of Midwest Management Consulting? The professional staff members of MMC are industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologists. I-O psychologists are individuals who specialize in human behavior in the work environment. MMC staff members operate in various roles. They are scientists, consultants, and teachers. I-O psychologists facilitate responses to work-related issues by acting as advisors and catalysts for business, industry, academic, health, labor, public, and community organizations.

I-O psychologists work in conjunction with organizations in the areas of:

Selection and Placement

As experts in personnel Selection and Placement, I-O psychologists help develop organizational assessment techniques. They validate test instruments. They also optimize employee placement.

Training and Development/Organizational Development

I-O psychologists provide necessary services concerning Training and Development. They identify training and development needs and formulate training and management programs to respond to these needs. Following the completion of training programs, they evaluate program effectiveness. I-O psychologists are also trained in aspects of Organizational Development. They analyze organizational structure. They maximize personnel satisfaction and productivity. They also facilitate change within the organization.

Performance Measurement/Quality of Work Environment

I-O psychologists develop measurement criteria. They document the utility of created measurements. They also evaluate overall organizational effectiveness. They help enhance personnel productivity. They identify aspects of work satisfaction. They facilitate the redesign of jobs to enhance meaning.

I-O psychologists are facilitators, developers, and advisors whose interests lie in the continuous quest for positive, effective and efficient practices in industries and organizations.

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