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Interview with Laura Asunta
Pedagogical director, University of Jyväskylä, Finland


Laura Asunta is Pedagogical Director at Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics. She has worked as university teacher of corporate communication at the University of Jyväskylä since 2013. Laura Asunta received her PhD 2016. In her doctoral dissertation she scrutinized communication managers’ perceptions on professionalism. Her recent research interests focus on diversity and social inclusion, workplace communication, agency and communicative constitution of organizations.

One of your research areas since the very beginning is Professionalism in strategic communication management. You have identified five different approaches to the PR professional: Bridge builder, Advocate of the organisation, Advocate of the mission, Strategic facilitator, and Neutral facilitator. Considering the latest trends in the profession, which of these approaches is becoming more and more fundamental for the future of the profession?

One of the findings of my doctoral dissertation was, indeed, that the interviewed communication managers seemed to have different perceptions regarding what is communication and what they are trying to achieve. Facilitators focused merely on providing functioning infrastructure and tactics for delivering messages. Advocates clearly aimed at influencing. Bridge builders used communication for building trust and mutual understanding. There is time and place for all of these approaches but in the current times of economic pressures, increasingly polarizing world and ambiguous information environment we need especially bridge builders who are able to interpret different points of views, search for common ground, and construct resilience.

Speaking about ethics, can you give us your considerations regarding the evolution of the profession?

Undeniably communication management, or public relations if we dare to call it that, has struggled with its identity crisis that roots from its historical connection with propaganda and lack of recognition as strategic management function. By now it should be clear that communication management has evolved far from those days and leans, like any respectful profession, on theoretical body of knowledge, specialized set of expert skills, and commitment to ethical codes. Perhaps these days as we are surrounded by mis- and disinformation, we can even say that ethics is what defines us. Out of curiosity I asked artificial intelligence what the key competences of communication management expert are. It provided a nice list of key competences. What was lacking from that list was ethics. Ability to make ethical judgement calls and apply scientific knowledge to communication practices within ethical guidelines are the very core of this profession, and they are crucial to the future development of the field.

As a teacher, one of your goal, besides providing tools and concepts to understand the complex field of corporate communication, is supporting the professional growth of the students. From this perspective, you have just been appointed new pedagogical director of Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics. What are the actions needed now for the newest generation of students (and future communicators)?

The newest generation of students is the pandemic generation who have started their studies in very exceptional circumstances. This brings the educators at least two major challenges. Firstly, there is a growing pressure to offer flexible study paths and hybrid teaching methods, and genuinely interactive in-class teaching. This takes some time and effort as teaching is for many of us only part of our tasks. Secondly, and even more importantly, we are facing students who may have had tough times during pandemic and they may need some extra guidance and counselling to get back on track and find again confidence in the future. The future communicators have lived through times of crisis but we have to make sure they survived that ordeal. Surely, we as educators are not therapists but it is important not to depreciate students’ experiences.

From a bit different perspective, I think it is important to recognize again the value of the science-based university education. We are educating future experts whose key competence is scientific thinking and research skills. Perhaps rooting from the criticism that university studies lack connection with “real world” and graduates lack work-life skills, recent years trend has been competency-based curriculum-planning. Yet, universities are above all science communities and we should find new pedagogic ways to evoke students’ desire to question beliefs, recognize and understand different knowledge perceptions, analyze and synthesize information, and construct new knowledge. That is what will equip them for expert work and make them great communication managers.

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