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The perceived and potential role of a public relations/corporate communication practitioner in central banks of the common monetary area
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The aim of this research is to establish the gaps between the potential role of the public relations practitioner within the CMA central bank context, and management’s perception and expectation of that role. The study may then improve the overall status of public relations in central banking. The research focuses specifically on the role of public relations practitioners of central banks belonging to the CMA of Southern Africa. The research question is: what are top managements’ perceptions and expectations of the public relations practitioner’s role in CMA central banks, and how does this differ from the potential role public relations practitioners can play within this context? An empirical study was conducted in order to achieve the aim and meet the objectives of this research study. Elements of both the positivist and anti-positivist paradigms are evident in this research study. The research approach is, therefore, both quantitative and qualitative of nature. The research design is an instrumental and intrinsic case study, which used methodological triangulation. The study population consisted of the dominant coalition (top management) of the central banks. Management committees at the central banks provided a sampling frame for the study. Due to the small size of the population a census was taken instead of a sample. Fourteen self-administered questionnaires were returned, but the response rate was too low to draw any solid conclusions from the data. In order to overcome this obstacle, one-on-one in-depth interviews were conducted with the fourteen respondents who returned their questionnaires. According to the majority of interviewees, the strategic role of public relations practitioners is the ideal role. The interviewees emphasised that the most senior public relations practitioner plays an essential role in acting as the CMA central banks’ media liaison person. This entails being the spokesperson of the bank, writing and disseminating information to the media, ensuring the media complies with central bank protocols, as well as coordinating and responding to media enquiries on a daily basis. The data suggests that, currently, public relations practitioners spend most of their time dealing with the media. It is a concern, though, that many of the interviewees could not describe the current ‘satisfactory performance’ or behaviours of most senior public relations practitioners. Many answered: “I don’t know”. The interviewees further commented that the public relations position lacks status and authority at the central banks. However, indications are that this situation is slowly improving with positions gaining increased status. Despite limitations, the majority agreed that corporate communication is extremely important to central banks in the light of continuously building and maintaining public confidence. The data further suggested that public relations practitioners may increasingly find that the value of their position rests in advising and serving on the Boards of central banks in the future. According to the literature review, there are mainly three public relations roles: strategist, manager and technician. All three of these roles should be enacted depending on the environment within which the public relations practitioner operates. Ideally, the public relations practitioner should enact these roles with a strategist mindset. Top management of the CMA central banks expect that senior public relations practitioners enact a strategist role, but currently this is lacking. The study further suggests that top management found it challenging to describe the current roles that practitioners are executing within CMA central banks. Many of the interviewees had difficulty answering questions about the current behaviours and performances of practitioners. The expectations of top management for practitioners to enact a strategist role are contradictory to what they further revealed in the interviews. This is because the dominant coalition’s key expectation is for public relations practitioners to mainly deal with the media by disseminating information, but also to influence media reports positively. The research may suggest that top management equates the strategist role as that of a media liaison person. The data further suggests that CMA central banks may be following the press / media agentry or public information public relations models, which are one-way models. This is in conflict with the strategist role, which is mostly evident in organisations following the two-way public relations models. Overall, this study emphasised the lack of research regarding corporate communication / public relations within the central banking context. It is therefore recommended that further research be conducted about the comprehensive role that public relations practitioners can play in central banks.