Four Roles European PR professionals play

Christoph Lutz

How do European PR professionals perceive themselves and their professional duties? We found four distinct role types: diagnosis, coaching, liaison, and execution.

KNOWLEDGE @BI : Public Relations

Today’s PR professionals face a wider spectrum of tasks and challenges than their colleagues in the past. They are confronted with a broader range of channels, a quickly changing and unforgiving social media landscape, financial constraints, fragmented audiences, and a weakening of traditional media outlets.

How do they react to these challenges? How do they perceive themselves and their professional duties? How do they carry out their roles in their daily work?

Based on a survey of 588 European PR professionals from eight countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), we first identified four distinct roles: diagnosis, coaching, liaison, and execution.

Subsequently, we analyzed whether these roles are influenced by personal and organizational characteristics, such as age, gender, professional experience, and PR staff size. Finally, we investigated whether there are differences in salary and job satisfaction between the roles.

Diagnosis Role

The most pronounced role in our sample is diagnosis. One important aspect of this role involves the circulation of information and stakeholder demands within the organization and to decision-makers. Diagnosis thus includes internal and external boundary spanning with members of different groups both inside and outside the organization. Although this role is important to the functioning of organizations, it predominantly contains tasks that are behind-the-scenes and technical.

We found that the diagnosis role leads to positive outcomes. In particular, performing this role leads to increased job satisfaction and is associated with greater participation in management decision-making. However, it also requires professional experience.

Coaching Role

Respondents with pronounced coaching scores often act as advisors and counselors for management. They train and prepare general management for public appearances and the communication management of their teams. The coaching role, therefore, primarily relates to issues surrounding communication and soft-skills, for example, “I work with managers to increase their skills in solving and/or avoiding communication problems.

Coaching received the lowest scores on job satisfaction in our sample and had a negative effect on salary. Overall, it is thus the least desirable role.


Liaison Role

The liaison role covers activities such as maintaining media contacts and placing press releases, producing communication content for publication and organizing presentations. Professionals carrying out this role are responsible for the communication with external stakeholders. Hence, they interact frequently with press and media contacts. The term “journalists in residence” relates well to this role.

We found that PR managers strong on liaison exert more influence, as they participate more in management decision-making. However, they are slightly less satisfied with their work than those who mainly diagnose, coach, or execute. Thus, liaison is an ambiguous role that needs further clarification.

Execution Role

Finally, the execution role describes the identification of communication problems and the acting upon them. The role shares similarities with “coaching” and addresses technical and organizational activities that revolve around diagnosing and acting upon non-mediated stakeholder interaction.

Interestingly, more professional experience and lower education coincide with high levels of execution. The experience factor prevails over the education factor, as high levels of execution influence participation in management decision-making positively.

Compared to the other factors, execution is the only one that significantly affects PR managers’ salary positively, although the effect is weak. In sum, execution tends to be a neutral to positive role.

One role to rule them all?

A central learning from the analysis is that today’s PR environment presents itself complexly and none of the roles rules them all. Today’s PR professionals enact a variety of roles, from boundary-spanning diagnosis work, to management coaching, working with media contacts and identifying communication problems in organizations.  

In particular, we found that simple dichotomies of technician vs. manager are outdated and do not apply to the European context.

Across all roles, a key theme emerged from our data analysis: participation in management decision-making significantly increases PR professionals’ job satisfaction and salary.

We interpret this finding as a strong incentive for PR professionals to make their voices heard and become involved in management decision-making.


Fieseler, Christian; Lutz, Christoph; Meckel, Miriam. An inquiry into the transformation of the PR roles’ concept. Corporate Communications. An International Journal 2015; Volume 20(1) p. 76-89.

This article is published in Communication for Leaders No. 1 - 2016.

Communication for Leaders is a Science Communication Magazine published by Centre for Corporate Communication and Department of Communication and Culture at BI Norwegian Business School.


Published 21. June 2016

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