Category Archives: Conference

Lobbying and democracy

Next year, the International Communication Association (ICA) will be in Prague. A post-conference on lobbying and democracy was approved today. A call for papers will be issued in due time. The post-conference is sponsored by the Department of Marketing Communication and PR, Charles University in Prague; the Public Diplomacy Interest Group of ICA, as well as Public Relations Division and the Political Communication Division of ICA, and the Network for Public affairs and Lobbying of the European Public Relations Research and Education Association (EUPRERA).

Organizations that conduct lobbying include business associations, companies, non- governmental organizations (NGOs), public affairs consultancies, labour unions and foundations. Since they are trying to shape public policy without running for office, this have important normative implications for how democratic systems function. How does this influence the one-person-one-vote democratic principle?

Critics often question the contribution to democracy, and whether or not lobbying is yet another tool for society’s most resourceful. Research on lobbying has produced a number of tomes that shed light on the importance of, for instance, lobbyists’ resources and their use of different tactics (e.g., Baumgartner & Leech, 1998; Berry, 1977; Chari, Hogan, & Murphy, 2010/2012; Drutman, 2015; Heinz, Laumann, Nelson, & Salisbury, 1993; Nownes, 2006). A conclusion from the research is that financial resources and human capital are important components for organizations and their ability to succeed with lobbying efforts.

With a few noteworthy exceptions, however (e.g., Baumgartner, Berry, Hojnacki, Kimball, & Leech, 2009; Godwin, Ainsworth, & Godwin, 2013), there has been little attention devoted to how lobbyists actually communicate. Thus, this post-conference invites contributions addressing the topic of lobbying and democracy, and the role communication plays in this regard.

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Critical public relations

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Have to brush up on my (non-existent) Portuguese. Heading off to Belo Horizonte on May 17 to attend the congress of the Brazilian association for org.comm. and public relations (Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores de Comunicação Organizacional e de Relações). Will present a keynote on perspectives of critical public relations: Fanning the flames of discontent!

San Diego O’Hoy!


Setting sails for San Diego in May. Got two papers and a panel accepted. The first of the papers has Alex Buhmann (BI – Norwegian Business School) as lead author and is a review of how Habermas has been used in public relations over the years. Two crucial points emanate: First, the work of Habermas has much unused analytical potential, specifically with regards to issues of public deliberation and legitimacy in public relations. Second, there are few references to his newer publications something that suggests that public relations scholars are missing out on crucial turns in the theories of Habermas.

The second paper and the panel focus on lobbying. The paper is written together with Ketil Raknes (Kristiania U College) and continues our work on rhetorical lobbying strategies relying on appeals to the common good. The panel uses framing theory to zone in on the challenge organizations that lobby in the public domain face: Why should anyone care for their private interests? The typical strategy is to argue that the latter matches the public’s interests. Everyone is better off if the lobbyist’s proposal is accepted.

The panel I am chairing consists of the following contributions:

  • Defining the Public Interest Ketil Raknes; Kristiania U College, Norway
  • When “Public Interest” Co-Matches “Private Benefits:” The Peculiar Interplay between Part-Time Politicians and Vested Interests in Switzerland’s Direct Democracy  Irina Lock & Peter Seele; Università della Svizzera italiana, Lugano, Switzerland
  •  Democracy, Pluralism and Political Discourse: Lobbying and the Public Interest Ian Somerville & Scott Davidson; University of Leicester, UK
  • How Do Organizations Discursively Frame Community Issues Through Lobbying Campaigns? – An Italian Case Study Chiara Valentini; Aarhus U, Denmark

Dejan Vercic from the U of Ljubljana, Slovenia has graciously accepted to be a respondent.

Buhmann, A., & Ihlen, Ø. (2017, May). The fate of Habermas’ theory in public relations: A quantitative review of three decades of public relations research. Paper presented at the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, San Diego, US.

Ihlen, Ø., & Raknes, K. (2017, May). “Everyone will be better off”: Rhetorical strategies in public lobbying campaigns. Paper presented at the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, San Diego, US.


Political Communication and Social Resilience

Migration, climate change, terrorism and widening social gaps are pressing global issues that are communicated through the news media, spread by social media and discussed in high-level summits as well as around dinner tables. Ultimately, they concern the legitimacy of democracy, the foundations of welfare states and the construction of cultural identities. Yet the links between communication, legitimacy and social resilience are often neglected. In a paper authored by Eli Skogerbø and myself we discuss how political communication is a purveyor of social resilience. We focus on the communicative conditions that impact on the sustainability of political systems. The paper has been accepted for the conference “Media and Politics in Times of Crises and Change,” @ the London School of Economics, December 12-13 2016.

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ICA is on

Lobbyism is one of the most contentious practices within the larger field of public relations, regularly attracting media scorn. At the same time, scholars have called for more research that develops ethical and societal perspectives on lobbying. Today, in Fukuoka in Japan, Melissa Dodd, Magda Piezcka, Ketil Raknes and myself presented a panel unpacking the arguments regarding the place of lobbying within public relations and democratic societies. Great fun!

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Paper presentation on social media and dialouge

Here is my presentation from the Corporate Communication Conference in Hong Kong 2014. Complete with idiosyncrasies, mumbling, and hawing. Full title: Ihlen, Ø., & Levenshus, A. (2014, June). Digital dialogue: Crisis communication in social media. The Corporate Communication International Conference on Corporate Communication 2014, Hong Kong.


World Tour on Lobbying

Ketil Raknes (Kristiania U College) and I are touring the world with our gospel on lobbying. We will be attending a London workshop in May, do the ICA conference in Fukuoka in June, and head to Groeningen in September. We have just had a paper called “Self-interest in New Wrapping: ‘Appeal to Community’ as a Topos in Lobbying“ accepted for this years EUPRERA conference. The paper explores strategic communication and organizational rhetoric that makes appeals beyond organizational self-interest. In the private sector, corporations frequently argue that they are not just maximizing profit at all costs, but pursue higher goals invoking the term corporate social responsibility. In lobbying too, appeals to what is “best of society” have become a staple rhetorical strategy. However, little research has been done on this type of rhetoric. Building on the notion of topos the paper explores the ways that lobbyists attempt to fuse their private interests with a broader appeal to what is best for society as such.

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