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Interview with Jens Seiffert-Brockmann
Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU)
Jens Seiffert-Brockmann is Professor of Business Communication at the Department of Foreign Language Business Communication at the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU). Between 2015 and 2020, he was a post-doctoral researcher with the Corporate Communication Research Group, Department of Communication at the University of Vienna. He received his doctorate in communication science in 2014 from the University of Leipzig, where he also graduated in communication science and political science. Jens has spent several periods abroad, including a semester at the Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, the George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, United States and as a guest researcher at Lund University, Sweden. He is currently the chair of the Public Relations and Organizational Communication Division of the German Communication Association (DGPuK), Co-Editor of the Medien Journal, the Austrian Journal for Media and Communication Research, and he is member of the board of the Austrian Communication Association (ÖGK). As head of the Institute for Communication Management and Media, he is also responsible for the new master’s program in Business Communication at the WU.
As a professor of business communication, you have been researching how companies cope with the complexities of our communication age. You have stated that organizations should create agile corporate newsrooms to integrate their storytelling and convey their value as a corporate citizen. Can you explain this concept more deeply?
Technically, a newsroom is a spatially integrated control unit for corporate communications. The advent of 21st century information and communications technology has led to an avalanche of information and communication in society. Organizations literally get buried in communication and simultaneously, their voices are just one drop in the vast ocean of today’s information society. To get your message across, you need to be able to capture your public’s attention, to spark their interest and imagination. In order to achieve that, a mere spatially integrated control unit, however, doesn’t do the trick.
Therefore, a newsroom is not so much a place where corporate communications happen, it really is a mindset that arises in the heads of those who do communication. And to acquire this mindset, you need to be able to master and connect three vital aspects:
- First, you need to learn to think in stories. Only stories have the power to capture the attention and imagination of your audiences.
- Second, organizations need to interlace their skills, which means they need to bring their experts on any given issue together and hook them up in agile teams.
- Finally, you need to provide guidance and transparency for your communication, so that your story visibly connects to your overall communication strategy.
Long story short: corporate newsrooms are a different way to think about communication against the background of today’s hypercomplex public sphere. Creating an agile newsroom can give organizations the edge to be out there and tell a concise story to people who are important to them.
Gamification in employee communication, another interesting topic you have been researching. How is gamification meant to gain importance in communication? Can you give some suggestion to your colleagues to incorporate gamification into communication strategies?
I have already touched upon the complexity of our current communication environment, with its information overload, in question one. To break through the noise, you not only need to establish new communication structures like agile newsrooms, but you also need to get creative in your delivery, and there, gamification comes into play. Gamification is commonly defined as the application of game principles in non-gaming contexts. But what does that mean? Unlike rhetorical or visual forms of authoring stories in organizational communication, gamification can create an immersive environment, where the audience is not just listening or watching a story but can immersive itself into it. The audiences can experience what the values and goals of an organization actually are and mean, by letting them play.
Especially internally, gamification has a huge potential to foster the social fabric of an organization by conveying an idea of the organization itself to its employees through gamified applications. In other words, your intranet doesn’t need to be a dump for documents who nobody ever reads, but it can be a means to create a community of organizational members, who experience in a playful way what the organization is, what all its parts are, and around which core ideas and values the organization revolves. Hence, instead of letting your employees read the latest draft of the mission statement, you can transfer its content into gamified, digital applications that enable organizational members to experience, what this means for them.
Furthermore, gamified content can be made available in international settings more easily, because the delivery mechanism for the argument is not the language or visuals, but the code through which it is authored. International companies that operate around the world, can pitch the same idea through game and play, which has the potential to cut deeper than the cultural differences that may separate employees in Mexico from China or Germany. Game and play are human fundamentals, meaning that they can be observed in all human cultures. Thus, gamified content can create a common understanding through code, where language has a difficult time to establish a shared ground.
One of your latest publications deals with young PR-scholars’ contribution to theory building and progress in public relations research. What are your main findings regarding this topic?
Our field of study, whether you want to call it public relations, strategic communications, communication management or whatever, is a field in constant search of itself. We as a community of researchers are trying to make sense of what we are doing. We want to understand, what our object of research really is in order to determine what it is that we are researching and where we as a field are going in the future.
Historically, the great disciplines of the natural sciences eventually settled on a dominant paradigm, which then served as a basis for future research, with alternative paradigms lurching in the margins. You have general relativity and the standard model of particles in physics, or the theory of evolution by natural selection in biology – just to give you an idea what I am talking about. Social sciences however, are inherently more messy, and thus to determine the state of the art in theory, is much harder in social sciences.
But nevertheless, we wanted to know where our field is going and how it might progress. In our article ‘Between progress and struggle: young PR-scholars’ contribution to theory building and progress in public relations research’, we asked the question, ‘Where is the field at this point and where might it be going’. To that end we turned to the works of young academics, that is their phd-theses to see from which authors they get their theories and ideas. To do that, we did a citation analysis of all the student’s phd-theses who participated in the Euprera PhD-seminar between 2007 and 2019. And what we found was that Peter Winkler’s, Jannik Kretschmer’s and Michael Etter’s paper “Between tragedy, romance, comedy, and satire, Narratives of axiological progress in public relations.”, really gives us an idea of how fragmented our field is. In the works of these young academics, we found largely four paradigms, struggling for dominance: The social-reflective paradigm, the co-creational paradigm, the critical-cultural paradigm, and, the biggest among them, the so called functional paradigm. While I do not have the time to deep dive into the results here, what we found was that young scholars today follow the trends that have characterized our field for decades now: We are largely referencing ourselves and young scholars engage in a signaling game to position themselves as stalwarts of a certain paradigm. The result is that there is no single dominant paradigm emerging that is driving research, allowing the field to progress. Instead, different factions are forming who compete for dominance. It would seem as if young researchers find it necessary to engage in a game of thrones like endeavor to secure their spot in academia. For this however, the quote unquote right axiomatic beliefs are seemingly more important, than research results that stand the test of time. So what the data shows is that while we all are pulling simultaneously, we are pulling into different directions.