Corporate Communications: Towards an Extended and Practice-Based Theoretical Conceptualization

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CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS: TOWARDS AN EXTENDED AND
PRACTICE-BASED THEORETICAL CONCEPTUALIZATION
Joep P. Cornelissen1, Betteke Van Ruler2 and Tibor Van Bekkum3

CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS: TOWARDS AN EXTENDED AND
PRACTICE-BASED THEORETICAL CONCEPTUALIZATION

Abstract
References to the role of corporate communications (CC) in firm-stakeholder interactions have burgeoned in recent years. Indeed, it is increasingly recognized that CC has emerged as an important managerial function for organizations to gather, relay and interpret information from stakeholders and the environment as well as to represent the organization to the outside world. This recognition has been reflected in many commentaries within the strategic management and public relations literatures directly or indirectly discussing the role and use of CC around concepts as ‘corporate identity’, ‘stakeholder relationships’ and ‘reputation management’. To date, these commentaries on CC have been fragmented and limited in focus. They have been particularly focused on either communication tactics or the stakeholder effects and outcomes (e.g., images, reputations, relationships) established, whilst paying very little attention to the managerial activities and professional issues (inside the organization) that define CC as a managerial function. To order and advance this work, the authors review prior theoretical and empirical work on communications management and draw upon a set of case studies of European firms (Nokia, Shell, Siemens and Philips) to circumscribe and conceptualize the issues and activities that define CC as a managerial function. The implications of this extended, practice-based conceptualization of CC for management theory, practice, and research are discussed.

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CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS: TOWARDS AN EXTENDED
THEORETICAL CONCEPTUALIZATION

There is a widespread belief in both the academic and professional worlds that in today’s society the future of any one company depends critically on how it is viewed by key stakeholders such as shareholders and investors, customers and consumers, employees, and members of the community in which the company resides (e.g., Freeman, 1984, Mitchell et al., 1997). Public activism, globalization and recent accounting scandals have further strengthened this belief; and have also brought the importance of strategic communications management into closer orbit. Not surprisingly, therefore, both the academic and professional worlds have been bombarded with conceptual philosophies that prescribe steps towards the ‘strategic’ use of communications including ‘integrated marketing communications’ (e.g., Kitchen and Schultz, 1999), ‘corporate identity management’ (e.g., Van Riel and Balmer, 1997), ‘reputation management’ (e.g., Fombrun, 1996), ‘stakeholder communications’ (e.g., Christensen and Cheney, 1994) and ‘excellent public relations’ (e.g., Grunig and Grunig, 1998). Much of this work has been prescriptive in suggesting frameworks for managing communications and for managing firm-stakeholder interactions, as opposed to a more grounded and comprehensive practice-based account of all the activities carried out by communications professionals and the organizational contexts in which these take place. This is unfortunate, we suggest, as it provides for a limited conceptualization of corporate communications (CC) and fails to account for the activities and issues that as for instance a current industry survey (DTI/IPR, 2003) suggests evidently define CC in practice. This includes activities such as

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strategic planning, administration of work processes, canvassing for management support, environmental scanning, counseling of senior management; and professional issues around performance and accountability, credibility, transparency and the contribution of communications to the overall management of the firm. The aims of this article, then, are to examine the current usage and conceptualizations of CC in the...
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