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Public relations at the crossroads: The need to reclaim core public relations competencies in digital communication

Wolf, K. and Archer, C. (2018) Public relations at the crossroads: The need to reclaim core public relations competencies in digital communication. Journal of Communication Management, 22 (4). pp. 494-509.

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Using the theoretical lens of social capital, this paper provides insight into senior public relations (PR) professionals’ views on and attitudes towards digital communication in Singapore and Perth, Western Australia, and explores the fundamental question of PR purpose.


Drawing on Bourdieu’s theory of practice and in particular his notion of social capital, this exploratory study is based on the critical analysis of 31 semi-structured interviews with senior PR professionals in Singapore and Perth, Western Australia.


PR professionals concur with assumptions made in the extant literature regarding the potential of digital media for PR, despite broad agreement that the fundamentals of good communication have not changed. At its core PR is about counselling, relationships and the building of social capital. Hence, digital tools and platforms are typically being referred to as merely an extension of the PR toolkit. However, as illustrated within the context of influencer engagement, PR has increasingly adopted advertising-led models and has moved away from its core business of developing strategic relationships and goodwill, hence contributing to the convergence of previously distinct communication functions.


This paper is believed to be one of the first to look at the theory of social capital related to PR within a digital context. Further, it takes a holistic view of PR professionals’ views on working with digital media in two geographical locations that have been under-represented in scholarly work in the field of PR. While much of the extant literature has focussed on the benefits of social media for PR, this paper takes a critical look at current challenges, including the rise of social media influencers. The paper contributes to theory relevant to social capital as it looks at the convergence of the professions relevant to digital disruption and argues for PR claiming its distinctive attributes.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Publisher: Emerald Group Publishing Ltd.
Copyright: © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited
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