Chief executives (CEOs) and other senior managers do not seem to be satisfied with the performance of their corporate communication managers/practitioners. Perceptions are that practitioners fail to assume broad decision making roles in organisations. They seem to be unable to see the big picture or understand the key issues in their industry-their thinking is tactical, rather than strategic. Practitioners are focused on their own activities and media, on the achievement of communication goals and objectives--without necessarily linking them to business goals. There appears to be a lack of understanding between top management and the corporate communication function on the latter's role in the strategic management process. This situation might be the result of a lack of strategic management and strategic communication knowledge and skills amongst corporate communication managers, possibly caused by insufficient training in these areas (Groenewald 1998a). The research objectives addressed by this study are the following: Firstly, to conceptualise a strategic role for the corporate communication practitioner at the top management level of the organisation (the role of the PR strategist). This is done by investigating the strategic management literature to determine whether a need exists at the top management level to play a strategic role. The behavioural activities of such a role were identified both from the public relations and the strategic management literature. Secondly, to conceptualise corporate communication strategy as an activity of a corporate communication practitioner in the role of the· PR manager, a strategic role at the functional or meso level of the organisation. Furthermore, to differentiate a corporate communication strategy from a communication plan. Thirdly, to hypothesise a model for developing corporate communication strategyand thereafter to implement, evaluate and improve the model by assessing and comparing the corporate communication strategy projects of third year corporate communication students at the University of Pretoria, as partners in the action research process. The research approach selected is qualitative research-an exploratory design is employed in achieving the first three objectives by means of a literature investigation. A confirmatory design is used for the implementation, evaluation and improvement of the model through the methodology of action research. In implementing, evaluating and revising the hypothesised model, this study moves away from the traditional teacher-centred approach in the classroom to a situation where students are involved in a research inquiry to build theory. At the same time, the participant community (non-profit organisations in this case) is exposed to strategic communication knowledge. They are involved in a process whereby they become active participants (together with the students and the lecturer/researcher) in developing corporate communication strategy for their organisations. The results are twofold': firstly, staff members of the non-profit organisation (as well as the students) acquire strategic communication skills; and secondly, the researcher investigates a new area of interest, builds theory, and facilitates a learning process for students whereby they obtain experience and knowledge that is applicable to practice. In conceptualising both a new role for the corporate communication practitioner at the top management level (the role of the PR strategist), and proposing corporate communication strategy as the link between the communication plan and the corporate strategy, an attempt is made to provide possible solutions to important problems in practice. Copyright
Dissertation (MCom)--University of Pretoria, 2000.