Seat at the table(s) : an examination of senior public relations practitioners' power and influence among multiple executive-level coalitions



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Scholars have advocated that public relations executives need to seek a seat at the table among the most senior officers in the organization, referred to as the dominant coalition. However, this study found that public relations practitioners also need to seek a seat among the division leadership team and executive-level committees to fulfill a valuable internal boundary spanning role, a role that has been neglected in public relations theory. Consistent with social capital theory, the contacts that public relations practitioners developed allowed them to gather intelligence across the company and then they used that information to help their companies make better strategic decisions and avoid costly mistakes. Through in-depth interviews with 30 senior executives from a variety of disciplines, three other services were identified that enhanced public relations’ power and influence: online reputation management, external boundary spanning and advocacy, and stakeholder analysis. Factors that enhanced or hindered public relations practitioners’ ability to perform these services were also identified. Favorable conditions included the use of integrated decision teams, Theory Y management, perceptions of public relations as a strategic business partner, commitment to transparency in communication, internal relationship building, and the integration of public relations’ activities with core business objectives and operations. The study also examined why informal coalitions are formed and found they existed in both companies with strong adherence to hierarchy and those with decentralized management, a finding that contradicts previous theory.