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Guest editors Jenny Hou (top) and Susan Fountaine

PRism special issue CFP: Strategic Communication in the Digital Age

In conjunction with the 8th International Forum on Public Relations & Advertising (PRAD) held at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand, 25-28 January 2016

Editors: Jenny Hou, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, Massey University, and Susan Fountaine, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, Massey University

This special issue is sponsored by the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRINZ) through award of the PRINZ Guest Editor prize for the PRism special issue

As an emerging research area and immature professional practice, strategic communication continues experiencing an issue of naming and identity, interchangeably called public relations, corporate communication and the like. Hallahan, Holtzhausen, van Ruler, Vercic and Sriramesh (2007) originally defined it as the purposeful use of communication by an organization to fulfill its mission (p.3). Grunig (2006; 2009) called for a shift in the paradigm of PR in the digital age from a symbolic, interpretive approach to a strategic management function of bridging between organizations and stakeholders. Management scholars Argenti, Howell and Beck (2005) emphasized the central goal of strategic communication is to align with the companies overall strategy and to enhance its strategic positioning? (p. 83). More recently, Hotlzhausen and Zerfass (2013) have extended the definition to the practice of deliberate and purposive communication a communication agent enacts in the public sphere on behalf of a communicative entity to reach set goals (p. 284). It is not expected that a singular definition of strategic communication will ever be agreed on and the concept for this special issue can be quite broad.

The advent and proliferation of digital social media has energized the research in the field of strategic communication from a range of disciplinary perspectives and at various levels (Hotlzhausen  & Zerfass, 2013). At the macro-level, scholars are interested in exploring the construction of legitimacy in the public sphere characterised by an expanding array of digital publics and new technologies (e.g., Bentele & Nothhaft, 2010; Feldner & Meisenbach, 2007; Holtzhausen, 2012). At the meso-level, the focus has been put on the formulation and implementation of communication strategies to co-align organizations competencies with opportunities and constraints in the digital environment and networks (e.g., Eisenberg, Goodall, & Tretheway, 2007; Sloan, 2006). At the micro-level, growing attention has been paid to individual entities such as sports stars, entertainers, or politicians who employ strategic communication either to communicate in a crisis or to run for elected office by means of various digital platforms (e.g., Christensen & Cornelissen, 2011; Zerfass, 2010).

Nonetheless, there are still unresolved questions and ongoing debates around strategic communication and digital technologies. Critical questions raised include for instance: have the new digital technologies revolutionized our practice of strategic communication, or just adapted themselves to the existing core of strategic communication, rather than create a new one? Is it still possible for top management to prescribe and control strategic communication, or is there now a required participative approach to engaging publics in decision-making? What is the ultimate value of strategic communication in the digital age continuing to serve organizational interests, or align with wider public and social interests? What is the essential skill set that a strategic communication professional must possess in face of digital technology challenges? Eventually what means to be strategic in a digital environment, and to what extent can strategic communication and digital social media change our life world for the better?

These questions are only a few but one thing is for sure. We need to embrace todays digital world strategically in communication by going back to our roots, clarifying our vision and values, exploring and making smart use of new technologies for greatest benefit. The theme of this special issue Strategic Communication in the Digital Age is an invitation to think broadly, critically and creatively about the meaningful strategic communication issues and opportunities in light of big data, crowd-sourcing, social media and other burgeoning digital technologies that expand the information and expertise available to us. Contributions from theoretical, empirical and methodological papers via broad epistemological lens are encouraged but communication theory in the context of digital, new and social media need to be central to any piece. Insights into one of the following indicative topics are especially welcome:

Strategic communication theory-building in the digital age                                                                                

Strategic communication practices and ethics in the digital environment                                                                                                             

Culture, strategic communication and digital technologies                                                                                                                                           

Strategic communication, digital publics and social change

All submissions will be double blind reviewed for this special issue. Each full-length paper should not exceed 6000 words excluding APA references, tables, diagrams and appendices. The contribution of the paper should be clearly stated and reflect the special issue theme. Author(s) bio information should be provided in a separate cover page. Manuscripts for this special issue must conform to PRism general submission guideline.

Submissions for review should be sent to both editors Dr. Jenny Hou at and Dr Susan Fountaine at with the subject line PRism special issue on strategic communication in the digital age. As guest editors for PRism, we will make the initial decision within two weeks as to whether the content of submissions is sufficiently aligned with the special issue theme, and whether there is appropriate publication potential to proceed to the full, double-blind peer reviewing stage. 

Key dates:

Submission deadline: 29th February 2016

Notification of decision: 13 May 2016

Submission of revised/resubmitted final manuscripts: 31 July 2016

Anticipated publication: December 2016

For any further queries please contact the above Guest Editors of this special issue.


Argenti, P., Howell, R., & Beck, K. (2005). The strategic communication imperative. MIT Sloan Management Review, 46(3), 82-89.

Bentele, G., & Nothhaft, H. (2010). Strategic communication and the public sphere from a European perspective. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 4(2), 93-116.

Christensen, L. T., & Cornelissen, J. (2011). Bridging corporate and organizational communication: Review, development and a look to the future. Management Communication Quarterly, 25(3), 383-414.

Eisenberg, E., Goodall, H. L. J., & Tretheway, A. (2007). Organizational communication. Balancing creativity and constraint (5th ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.

Feldner, S. B., & Meisenbach, R. J. (2007). and activist challenges: A Habermasian perspective on corporte legitimacy. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 1(4), 207-226.

Grunig, J. E. (2006). Furnishing the edifice: Ongoing research on public relations as a strategic management function. Journal of Public Relaitons Research, 18, 151-176.

Grunig, J. E. (2009). Paradigms of global public relations in an age of digitalization. PRism, 6(2). doi:

Hallahan, K., Holtzhausen, D., Ruler, B. v., Vercic, D., & Sriramesh, K. (2007). Defining strategic communication. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 1(1), 3-35.

Holtzhausen, D. R. (2012). Public relations as activism: Postmodern approaches to theory and practice. New York: Routledge.

Holtzhausen, D. R., & Zerfass, A. (2013). Strategic communication: Pillars and perspectives of an alternative paradigm. In K. Sriramesh, A. Zerfass, & J. Kim (Eds.), Public relations and communication management: Current trends and emerging topics (pp. 283-302). New York and London: Routledge.

Sloan, J. (2006). Learning to think strategically. Burlington, MA: Elsevier.

Zerfass, A. (2010). Corporate management and public relations: A theory of corporate communication and public relations (3rd ed.). Wiesbaden, Germany: VS Verlag fur Sozialwissenschaften.


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