Saint-Louis University - Bruxelles

COMU1211 - Corporate communication and public relations


Credits : 5

Lecturer :
Mode of delivery :
Face-to-face , first term, 30 hours of theory.

Timetable :
First term
Thursday from 10:45 to 12:45 at 119 Marais 1200

Language of instruction :

Learning outcomes :
• Students will be able to define and understand the differences and similarities between corporate communication, public relations, marketing, and corporate propaganda.
• Students will be able to approach corporate communication, organisational communication, and public relations from a theoretical, conceptual, and critical point of view.
• Students will acquire experience with the practices and the realities of corporate and organisation communication, and will be capable of emulating these practices in a hands-on manner. They will have the ability to critically reflect on their own practical experiences from a scientific standpoint.
• Students will be able to use, deploy, interpret, evaluate, and (de)construct in a critical fashion the strategies used in corporate and organisational communication and in public relations (e.g. stakeholder communication, corporate identity, branding, reputation management, crisis management, lobbying,…).
• Students will be able to reflect critically about questions relating to corporate social responsibility and to the use of professional communication strategies in democratic societies.

Prerequisites :
For the Bachelor in Law :

For the Bachelor in Information and Communication :

For the Bachelor in Political Sciences: General :

For the Bachelor in Sociology and Anthropology :

Co-requisites :
Course contents :
This course offers an introduction to organisational communication, corporate communication, and public relations. The identities, attitudes, and practices of consumers, clients, stakeholders, and citizens of democratic societies are nowadays constant targets for highly qualified professionals who try to style the image and the reputation of companies and brands. Every day and every hour, we are the targets of the strategies, the discourses, and the communication of public and private organisations. This course studies these organisations as structures of communicative control, to explain the functioning, the impact, and the effect of their communication. It is divided into three parts:
We will first of all focus on the history, the language, and the practices of organisational communication as they developed from the beginning of the 20th century until today, as well as on the theories we can use to understand these developments. As we do so, we will pay particular attention to how corporate and non-corporate entities construct their identity.
Secondly, we zoom in on corporate communication and public relations in particular. We will study how organisation communicate with their interlocutors, ranging from consumers, to politicians, pressure groups, etc. Subjects like reputation management, crisis communication, public opinion and corporate social responsibility will be tackled. We will also ask whether there is a difference between public relations, storytelling, and corporate propaganda.
Thirdly and finally, students will receive an introduction to Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) as a way to analyse identities, brands, stories, and corporate narrative. Our critical position vis-à-vis corporate communication and public relations implies that we will study the relation between corporate actors, media, and democratic decision-making processes. Questions about whitewashing and diversity also make for relevant topics. Based on this introduction to Critical Discourse Analysis, we will both collectively and in smaller groups examine several case studies.
Philosophically, this course aims to offer both a hands-on and practice-driven approach, and a critically and theoretically grounded perspective. The students will be asked to produce and elaborate their own examples of organisational and corporate communication and to engage in these activities first hand. Yet this engagement will at all times inspired by scientific theories and critical ideas, and it will be accompanied and guided by a reflection that is rooted in the scientific literature and the state-of-the-art.

Planned learning activities and teaching methods :
Plenary courses combined with collective discussions of assigned examples and regular tasks to be accomplished in smaller groups.
Throughout the course, the students will be invited to read and study a number of texts provided via Moodle.

Assessment methods and criteria :
January session (first term)

During the January exam session, students will be evaluated based on two criteria:
• Group work: 60%
Students will, at the start of the course, be invited to choose an existing organisation whose communicative practices they want to analyse and understand. They will regularly meet in small groups, which will be put in the position of the unit that is responsible for communication within this organisation. Throughout the first term, these small groups will regularly be given tasks that encourage them to put into practice the ideas, theories, concepts, and knowledge seen during the course, in a way that applies them to the chosen organisation. The assigned tasks will take the form of written essays, oral presentations, the compilation of a corpus, etc. They will partially have to be completed during the class, partially at home.
• Oral open-book exam: 40%
During the oral exam, the students will be asked questions that invite them to reflect on the portfolio of materials they produced in small groups throughout the course (written essays, oral presentations, corpus,…). During the exam, they will be able to bring these materials, as well as their notes, and the materials available on the course website, but they will not be allowed to copy or directly cite from them. The consultation of other materials will be prohibited.
Students do not need to pass both of these components separately the succeed the class.
If an external force necessitates the organisation of an exam in digital format, this will be a collective measure, that cannot apply to individual cases.

June and August session (second and third term)

Students who did not pass the class in January will be based on a single criterium in the second and/or third term:
• Written, closed-book exam: 100%
The students will be evaluated based on a written, closed-book, in-person exam. The questions will relate to matters discussed during the class, in the readings, and in the PowerPoint presentations. The exam will comprise both questions of a theoretical nature, and questions relating to the application and the operationalisation of the concepts and ideas seen during the class. It will involve both shorter and more focused questions (e.g. multiple choice, definitions), and longer, more open questions (e.g. essay questions).
If an external force necessitates the organisation of an exam in digital format, this will be a collective measure, that cannot apply to individual cases. In this case, the exam will take place in an open-book format, meaning the students can consult the course materials as well as their notes, but they will not be allowed to copy or directly cite from them. The consultation of other materials will be prohibited.
Students who did not pass the January session, but passed one of its two components cannot maintain their original points.

Recommended or required reading :
Students will be offered a selection of texts and audio-visual resources. These will be partially mandatory reading, partially optional reading. The following bibliography is not exhaustive, but indicates some of the subjects that will be discussed during the class.

Alvesson, M., & Karreman, D. (2000). Varieties of discourse: on the study of organizations through discourse analysis. Human Relations, 53(9), 1125-1149.

Alvesson, M., & Willmott, H. (2002). Identity regulation as organizational control: Producing the appropriate individual. Journal of Management Studies, 39(5), 619-644. doi:10.1111/1467-6486.00305

Breeze, R. (2013). Corporate discourse. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Butterick, K. (2011). Introducing public relations: theory and practice. London: Sage.

Cornelissen, J. (2014). Corporate communication: a guide to theory and practice. London: Sage Publications.

L'Etang, J., McKie, D., Snow, N., & Xifra, J. (Eds.). (2017). The Routledge handbook of critical public relations. London / New York: Routledge.

L'Etang, J. (2011). Public Relations: concepts, practice and critique. London: Sage Publications.

Mumby, D. K. (2013). Organizational communication: a critical approach. London: Sage Publications.

Miller, D., & Dinan, W. (2008). A century of spin: how public relations became the cutting edge of corporate power. London: Pluto Press.
Mandatory and proposed readings and other course materials will be made available via Moodle.

Other information :