The Communicative Constitution of Organization … in Press Releases?

Fellow CCO/OaC scholars, I need your answers on a question: What is a press release? Two thoughts that you may or may not agree with.

First, a company issues a press release to inform its stakeholders or the more general public about some state of affairs (e.g., a change to the board of directors, a recently granted patent, or an acquisition of another company). Arguing from a CCO standpoint, the press release is an initial text that invites others to join the conversation about the company. In yet other words, it is the initial point of the communicative construction of the organization at the very boundary of the company and its stakeholders, the public, etc.

Second, the press release is an (authoritative?) text that originated long before it’s made public as a consequence of the very communicative construction of organization. As such it already reflects the company’s identity—no need to involve others.

I have the feeling that the difference between the first and second thought is the organizational boundary, and a matter of observation or an observer (i.e., us). I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments below!

4 Comments on “The Communicative Constitution of Organization … in Press Releases?”

  1. Chris says:

    Steffen, it’s definitely a question of your theoretical perspective:

    ad 1. Is the press release only about “informing”? For me, that sounds quiet neutral — I would say press releases are strategical means in the communicative construction of the company’s legitimacy — hence, a “authoritative” (you) resource. And: Do companies really want “others” to join the conversation? Or is the contrary the case: Do press releases generate “legitimacy through procedure”?

    ad 2. Do press releases really reflect the “company’s identity”? In my opinion we should keep in mind Brunsson’s differentiation between “talk – act – decision” — if the “technological core of the organization” is indeed quite rigidly separated from the communicative activities on the – as you said – “boundary”, we might only see the surface. The same is obviously true for other ‘official’ means of communication, such as annual reports, letter to the shareholders etc. — so maybe we shouldn’t overrate such formal means of communication and look in more detail at the informal connections across the organizational borders (elite networks etc.) — their impact on the communicative construction might be much more influential…


    • Steffen says:

      Thanks, Chris, for taking the time to reply. All makes sense what you’re saying. Let me collect some more comments first, then I’ll write up some more on the subject.

    • Hi both,

      I think Chris makes some good points. A couple of thoughts your original post raised with me. I see press releases as clearly having the potential to make a difference to how organizations are viewed internally and externally, but they do not necessarily, as I see it, invite others (again, internally and externally) to join their conversations. I view them as more sensemaking and sensegiving devices for internal and external audiences – as attempts to establish preferred discourses, and therefore marginalize other potential discourses. They are totalizing in the sense that I don’t see them as inviting inquiry or engagement; rather, they attempt close-off any critical questioning by presenting a uni-vocal as opposed to plurivocal view of organizations. For me, they are power-infused texts that use various authoritative and legitimizing tactics designed to help them have an effect on their intended audiences.



      • Sebastian says:

        Hi everyone!

        I am not yet very knowledgeable with regard to CCO and related issues. However, I gave some thoughts to the content of press releases because they surely constitute a rather rich source of publicly available data that can be used in various fields of research.
        Maybe it is not a clear yes or no decision whether press releases invite inquiry or engagement vs. present a uni-vocal view of organizations. Text analysis (use of signal words, structure of sentences …) may be helpful in determining the mode of application. Of course, one also has to think about the degree of intent. Depending on various variables, press releases may be more or less elaborate. If the organizations (PR departments) publishing the releases have considerable resources at their disposal, they may even use the instrument of a press release in various ways depending on the situation.
        However, with regard to one of my previous areas of research, stakeholder management and CSR, the idea that companies use press releases to start a stakeholder dialogue seems to be reasonable. This dialogue, in turn, may well be used as an instrument to construct the future of the organization in a collaborative way.


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