What Do Communication Managers Do? Defining and Refining the Core Elements of Management in a Public Relations/corporate Communication Context

Article excerpt

This article presents the findings of the second stage of an international collaborative research program designed to map, explicate, and compare the main elements of the managerial role performed by communication/ public relations practitioners working in a range of organizational settings and different cultural contexts. It builds on earlier qualitative research among U.K. and U.S. public relations practitioners designed to uncover the nature of the managerial roles they perform. In this study, a survey distributed to 900 U.K.-based communication practitioners was factor analyzed, revealing a five-factor interpretation, which suggests a more contemporary, empirically based conceptualization of key dimensions of the communication manager's role than currently offered by the traditional manager role typology advocated within the existing public relations roles literature.

Research into the managerial role of communication/public relations practitioners represents a major strand in public relations research and theory development. However, much of this research has focused either on how female gender discrimination affects career advancement, salary, and status, or on arguments about practitioner involvement or exclusion from participation in management decision making and strategic planning, rather than focusing on questioning what is understood by the concept of "management" in the communication/public relations context. Although public relations researchers have advanced a number of role typologies to help explicate the key dimensions of practitioners' roles within organizations, most notably, Broom and Smith's1 four role-typology framework and Dozier's2 manager-technician dichotomy, neither conceptual framework explains effectively what it is that public relations managers actually do.

The manager-technician role dichotomy has been the most widely used framework in roles research over the past two decades, but this typology has come under both ideological and methodological criticism. The former centers primarily around the vociferous liberal feminist critique of the manager-technician dichotomy (in the work of Creedon;3 Choi and Hon;4 Toth and Grunig;5 and Toth, Serini, Wright, and Emig6) which maintains that this typology tends to trivialize the technical dimension of the practitioner's role that tends to be performed more frequently by female than male practitioners.7 However, it is the methodological criticisms of how the manager's role has been conceptualized and measured in the public relations context that is this article's focus. These criticisms, focused on the limitations of the role measures used to identify manager role enactment, and on the argument that the manager-technician dichotomy oversimplifies the complexities of role enactment, are drawn from work by Leichty and Springston,8 and by Moss, Warnaby, and Newman.9

This article responds to these methodological criticisms by presenting results drawn from an ongoing international collaborative research program into the nature of communications/public relations management and managerial work. The principal aim of this research, begun with an earlier phase of qualitative research into work patterns of practitioners operating at managerial levels in U.K. and U.S. organizations,10 is to develop a more comprehensive and empirically-based understanding of management and managerial work performed by communication/public relations practitioners-one that reflects what it is that public relations practitioners actually do. By extending the research across a range of countries, the aim is to eventually establish whether any generic elements or components of managerial work can be identified in the communication/public relations context that might transcend national and cultural boundaries.

Literature Review

Public Relations Management Perspectives. Broom and Dozier's pioneering work in practitioner roles research and in advancing the principal role typologies widely used by other roles researchers is well documented. …