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  • Author: Jochen Hoffmann x
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Most research on public relations (PR) roles takes the starting point of PR as an indispensable boundary-spanning function. Context may explain how PR is performed and which skills are important, but not the degree to which PR is necessary. In this article, we tackle the latter question by identifying and discussing the role of the low-flying communicator in the Danish region of North Jutland. The study is based on individual and focus group interviews with communication practitioners and students. The results show that many regional companies have established a communicative comfort zone “under the radar” of public attention. This leads to recruitment problems. Companies are less visible in the labour market and depend on graduates who stay in the region for personal reasons. A certain unwillingness to cross boundaries of social and public spaces feeds into sense-making but also contestable role understandings of PR practice and education in regional contexts.


Companies are confronted with differing public perceptions, which influence the way in which they present their social and environmental responsibilities. Our qualitative study compares the online responsibility communication of two companies from the energy sector: Shell, representing the controversial but profitable oil industry; and Vestas, representing the sustainable wind industry, the financial competitiveness of which is sometimes called into question. The website analysis reveals that both companies engage in inverted positioning. They invert perceived weaknesses into strengths: Shell highlights its social and environmental responsibilities, whereas Vestas, instead of capitalising on its potential as a CSR brand, highlights its economic responsibility. Theoretically, we integrate inverted positioning into a constitutive process model of responsibility communication. Inverted positioning might lead either to a reputational downward spiral, making a company less credible in the longer term, or the public communication of contested responsibilities functions as a self-imposed ambition that can, over time, induce substantial corporate learning processes.