«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»
2004. It was the first large-scale transnational research project initiated by European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA) which in 1998 split from CERP and re-named itself from CERP Education into EUPRERA. The EBOK project started with a Delphi study with participants from 29 European countries. This was conducted in 1999 and 2000 through three consultation rounds. The method and its results were reported in van Ruler and Verčič (2002, 2004a, 2005a and 2008), van Ruler, Verčič, Büetschi, & Flodin (2000 and 2004), and Verčič, van Ruler, Büetschi, & Flodin (2001). The EBOK project was the focus of the 2002 BledCom Symposium in Bled, Slovenia, that was simultaneously also annual congresses of the European Public Relations Education and Research Association and the European Association of Public Relations Students. With publication of The Bled manifesto on Public Relations (van Ruler & Verčič, 2002) it acquired a programmatic level. The project effectively culminated and ended with a publication of Public Relations and Communication Management in Europe (van Ruler & Verčič, 2004b), an edited book in which 27 experts from different European countries reported on the status of the profession, practice, research and teaching in their respective countries.
Although both public relations academia and practice in Europe wholeheartedly accept and build on foundations laid down in the United, the EBOK project brought at light at least two distinctive features of public relations in Europe (as compared with the US practice): firstly, 858 public relations in Europe is conceived, practiced and studied not only on an organizational, but
simultaneously also on a societal level. Van Ruler and Verčič (2008: 299) explained:
“In this societal approach, public relations serves the same kind of (democratic) function that journalism does, since they both contribute to a free flow of information and the interpretation of that information and to the development of the public sphere: in size (“How many people are involved in public life?”), in level (“What is the level at which we discuss public matters?”), and in quality (“What are the frames used in the debates?”). This echoes what James W. Carey called a cultural approach to communication. Theory building in public relations is closely related to journalism in many European countries, not because the practitioners must deal with journalists, but because of these overlapping functions in society.
For many European scholars, public relations produces social reality and, therefore, a certain type of society. That is why many European scholars look at public relations from a sociological perspective instead of economic, psychological, or organizational perspective. In this respect, the European use of public and public relations can mean something totally different than it normaly does in the United States.” Secondly, public relations is characterized not only with managerial and operational (technical) work, but also with reflective and educational. Reflexivity places public relations directly into the strategic apex of an organization: it is about the values, visions, missions and normative standards of operations that co-produce their licenses to operate – public relations core responsibility is to preserve legitimacy of organizational existence. Public relations is concerned with a public, outside-in view on organizations, and for organizations to be able to be communicatively competent, more and more managers and other employees need to achieve higher levels of communication competence. Growing and developing that competence is responsibility of public relations and more and more public relations practitioners, both in-house and in consultancies, are involved in training and cognitive educational activities (van Ruler & Verčič, 2005b).
Identification of distinctive features of European public relations has stimulated further research on identities of public relations in Afrika (Rensburg, 2002), Asia (Sriramesh, 2002 and 2004), Latin America (Ferrari, 2002) and around the world (Sriramesh & Verčič, 2003 and 2009).
The European Communication Monitor (ECM), since 2007
There is a great recognition in Europe that public relations is a quantitative concept that needs empirical research (Bentele, 2005; van Ruler, Tkalac Verčič, & Verčič 2008). The European Communication Monitor (ECM) had been stimulated by the existence of the US Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices (GAP) studies (Swerling, Gregory, Schuh, Goff, Gould, Gu, Palmer, & Mchargue, 2008). Methodologically, the EBOK was a qualitative study that enabled some comparative research, yet what European public relations badly needed was transnational quantitative research. However, it is important to recognize that Europe is a continent of 50 countries, 27 of them belonging to the European Union. Even the EU can’t be conceived as the United States of Europe as it is not a federation, it is not a confederation, but a sui generis economic, social, and political organization in progress. In that sense there is no 859 European public relations in the same way as we can talk of the US public relations, where the mainstream paradigm can clearly be identified in the form of “Symmetry/Excellence approach” (Botan & Hazleton, 2006: 8-9; see also Dozier, L. Grunig & J. Grunig, 1995; Grunig, 1992; J.
Grunig & L. Grunig, 2008; J. Grunig, L. Grunig & Dozier, 2006; L. Grunig, J. Grunig, & Dozier, 2002). Public relations in Europe is divided by linguistic, cultural and administrative barriers (Verčič, 2000), and this affects both practice and research.
The European Communication Monitor (ECM) was initiated in 2007 to build on insights from the EBOK project. It shifted the focus from qualitative methodology used in the EBOK to quantitative methodology in the ECM. The ECM is a large survey based on multi-dimensional theoretical framework. It also shifted from comparative research that was at the core of the EBOK project studying emergencies, identities and differences in public relations between different European countries, to longitudinal trans-national research of European public relations as a phenomenon in itself. From its start in 2007 (Zerfass, van Ruler, Roginajiru, Verčič, & Hamrefors 2007), the ECM has so far been done annually in 2008 (Moreno, Zerfass, Tench, Verčič, & Verhoeven, 2009; Zerfass, Moreno, Tench, Verčič & Verhoeven, 2008; Zerfass & Verčič, 2008) and 2009 (Verhoeven, Tench & Zerfass 2009; Zerfass, Moreno, Tench, Verčič, & Verhoeven, 2009; Moreno, A., Verhoeven, P., Tench, R., & Zerfass, A., 2010), and fieldwork for the fourth run has already been conducted in March 2010.
The ECM project is lead by Ansgar Zerfass at the University of Leipzig, Germany. The initial research team that started the project in 2007 included Betteke van Ruler (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands), Adeja Rogojinaru (University of Bucharest, Rumania), Dejan Verčič (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia), and Sven Hamrefors (Mälerdalen University, Sweden). Since 2008, the research team is composed of Ansgar Zerfass (University of Leipzig, Germany) as the coordinator, Angeles Moreno (University Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid, Spain), Ralph Tench (Leeds Metropolitan University, United Kingdom), Dejan Verčič (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia) and Piet Verhoeven (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands). The University of Leipzig, Germany, provides statistical analysis and organizational support. The research team has support by an advisory board by Emanuele Invernizi (IULM University, Milano, Italy), Valerie Carayol (University of Bordeaux 3, France), Francesco Lurati (University of Lugano, Switzerland), Sven Hamrefors (Mälerdalen University), Øyvind Ihlen (BI Norwegian School of Management, Oslo, Norway) and Ryszard Ławniczak (Poznan University of Economics, Poland). In the first three years the ECOM project directly involved thirteen researchers from twelve universities in twelve European countries. The ECM started as an EUPRERA project and is today supported also by The European Association of Communication Directors (EACD).
In 2008, the researchers developed a model that is the backbone of the survey, defining the framework and helping generate questions. It consists of five elements defining the state of public relations in Europe in a given moment. The questionnaire asks respondents questions about a) the person (demographics, job status, education and self-perception), about b) the organization in which he or she is employed (structure, culture, country), about c) the current situation in which one operates (the present), d) a perception about the future and e) the position of the practitioner has in his or her organization. The model is presented in Picture 1.
Picture 1: ECM research model − framework and questions
The ECM research team also works with the US GAP study team and some questions appear in both studies, allowing for US-European comparisons.
Each year, after pre-testing the questionnaire on more than fifty respondents in more than ten countries the survey is electronically sent via e-mail to over 20,000 public relations practitioners throughout Europe. The core package of addresses is provided by the European Association of Communication Directors and Communication Director magazine. Additional invitations to participate are distributed by national public relations associations and through researchers’ own network. Nearly 2,000 fully completed questionnaires are returned from over thirty countries each year. Replies from non-practitioners (academics, students…), non-European countries and not fully completed questionnaires are not entered into analysis.
The ECM gives the most comprehensive overview of the public relations profession in Europe. It is an enormous enterprise, but it has its limitations. Firstly, the survey can’t be treated as a representative survey as there is no clearly defined population to statistically sample. The exact number of public relations practitioners in Europe is unknown (indeed: the borders of the profession that would allow one to define its members are fuzzy) and there are no comprehensive lists of its members. Secondly, the survey is executed in English language though e-mail invitations and on the Internet, and it is thus restricted to English-speaking and Internet-literate members of the profession only. Although English is practically universally spoken and the Internet used among educated Europeans today, we conclude that the survey overrepresents higher, better educated, better positioned and better paid members of the profession in Europe.
Thirdly, representation of different parts of Europe is uneven, with Western and Northern Europe overrepresented and Southern and Eastern Europe underrepresented; the ECM divides Europe according to United Nations Statistics Division (2008) classification. Notwithstanding this limits researchers have to take into account when interpreting data, the ECM is the best available and the most useful overview of the public relations profession in Europe.
The 2009 European Communication Monitor results
The 2009 European Communication Monitor survey was executed in May 2009. Over 20,000 practitioners from around Europe were invited to participate and 1,863 valid responses from 34 countries were received and entered into analysis. The average age of respondents was 42 years, 83 per cent of respondents were senior professionals working as heads of their departments, unit leaders or agency managing directors. 68 per cent of respondents held masters degree, MBA or a Ph.D. Nearly 60 per cent of respondents had more than ten years of experience in applied communication. Gender representation was balanced, but higher positions in hierarchy are still dominated by men (54.2 per cent of heads of communication or agency CEOs are men, while 45.8 per cent are women, compared with 41.9 per cent of team members or consultants being male, while 58.1 per cent female). Three quarters of respondents came from companies, government or non-governmental organizations, and a quarter from communication agencies.
The largest geographical area represented is Western Europe (41%), followed by Northern Europe (31%), Southern Europe (19.0%), and Eastern Europe (8.5%).
Roles and contribution to organizational objectives
Communication specialists contribute to organizational objectives in two different ways:
they can be involved in strategic decision-making, thus being co-responsible with other members of the dominant coalition for communicative aspects of organizational functioning, or they can be responsible for communication support to predefined organizational objectives and functions.
In the 2009 ECM, 85 per cent of respondents reported to be involved in supportive communication activities, and 61 per cent in strategic decision-making. Five per cent saw themselves primarily as business councilors, 29 as operational supporters or technicians, while 56 per cent said that they practice both roles, strategic and operational (called ‘strategic facilitators’ in the study). It is interesting to note that ten per cent of respondents didn’t see a clear link between their work and organizational objectives, thus being somehow isolated ‘experts’.
There are two possibilities for interpretation here: one can say that with 61 per cent of respondents involved in strategic decision-making public relations really stands firmly at the center of organizational action; but then a question emerges about who does all the work. (As a kind of comparison: a hospital with 61 per cent of employees being physicians and only a minority in other medical and supportive functions would probably be seen as dysfunctional or badly managed.) But if we take into consideration our assumption of overrepresentation of the top layer of the public relations profession in Europe and with over 80 per cent of respondents claiming top communication position in their organization, we can also see the result as saying that a significant number of top communications still lack access to what really makes their work worth: organizational decision-making.