The Agile Practitioner? Changing Roles of PR and Communication Consultants in North West England

Shaw, Christopher (2019) The Agile Practitioner? Changing Roles of PR and Communication Consultants in North West England. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Purpose: The purpose of this study is to consider the changing nature of work among public relations or communication practitioners. The rationale for tackling this topic is the work itself in the sector has changed rapidly, largely but not entirely, because of digitalised technologies (L’Etang 2013). Guided by role theory and concepts related to public relations, the thesis will critically address the nature of contemporary communication practice and how industry expectations are being shaped by progress in digital and social technology.
Design/Methodology/Approach: Eighteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with communications and marketing practitioners in different roles and with varying levels of experience based in North West England between November 2018 and January 2019. Twelve and a half hours of interviews were recorded on an audio device and full transcriptions were produced. Respondents included in-house practitioners, agency consultants and freelancers. The data was anonymised, analysed and coded using NVivo 12 software.
Findings: As a result of the fieldwork, and strongly influenced by the international agency Weber Shandwick’s “value-based communities” organisational structure, a four-point typology is proposed in which the modern communicator plays four dynamic roles of “Business Strategist”, “Content Creator and Relationship Manager”, “Upskiller and Improver” and “Digital Engager.”
Ethical issues: UCLan’s Research Ethics Committee formally approved the research proposal before the fieldwork was undertaken. The researcher ensured anonymity in respondents’ replies and that appropriate measures were taken to gain informed consent and to protect data in hard copy and digital form.
Limitations: While the sample of 18 interviews proved sufficiently rigorous for this study, it is acknowledged that the geographical spread of respondents from North West England was limited and makes generalisations problematic. Future studies may use observational research in a qualitative perspective to compare with the
interview data. This will enable the researcher to see if practitioners are acting as they claim in their day-to-day work.
Contribution to theory and practice: This study responds to previous research, especially by von Platen (2016), and addresses the challenge of conceptualising the role of the modern communicator by suggesting an adaptable typology that is far removed from previous static descriptions of PR roles from analogue eras. Included in the appendices of this study are examples of best practice and digital and social tools as highlighted by practitioners.

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