Most research on organizational structure focuses on the macro level or level of the organization. Few studies examine the meso level - the level of organizational functions or departments. And, of these, only a small number target the PR/C function (where there are a number of separate PR/C departments in an organization) or PR/C department (where there is a single, cross organizational department). For anyone who is interested in source material, here are a number of worthwhile references:

Likely, F., Moss, D., Sriramesh, K., Stokes, P., Ferrari, M.A. & Regeer, B. (2014). Structure of the Communication Department: An International Study. Report to the Research Foundation of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). August.

The IABC Research Foundation sponsored this extensive study, the first of its kind. The six member international team of academics (Danny Moss, University of Chester; Krishnamurthy Sriramesh, Purdue U; Peter Stokes, University of Chester; Maria Aperacida Ferrari, University of San Paolo) and practitioners (Fraser Likely, Likely Communication Strategies; Bert Regeer, Shell International Holland) delivered a final report to IABC after an extensive four-year examination. The 300-page report examined the factors that influence the choice of organizational structure for private and not-for-profit sector communication departments. Interviews were held with 26 Chief Communication Officers (CCOs) from around the world, with another 278 CCOs, CCOs headquartered on all five continents, participating in an online survey. These CCOs worked in organizations that had Simple, M-form, U-form, Matrix and Network/Virtual structures, but only the Matrix structure used by global organizations had an immediate affect on communication department structure. Structural factors identified in the study included the degree of communication department complexity desired; the degree of communication department specialization desired; the degree of communication department centralization desired; the degree of communication department configuration desired; the organization’s current structural model; organizational size; communication department size; the organization’s degree of international scope of operations; the expertise and talent of the employees the CCO has on staff; the perceptions of the CEO; and the perceptions of the CCO. Ultimately, the study found that each department structure is customized, being a hybrid balancing many factors.

Vercic, D., Zerfass, A. & Wiesenberg, M. (2015). Global public relations and communication management: A European perspective. Public Relations Review. In Press. 

From the abstract: “The article reviews the status of international public relations research and reports on a
pan-European study into international communication practices in the corporate sector. … Only about a half of CCOs reported solid structures for international public relations operations.” From the article itself: “   According to the global CCOs interviewed, there is a strong tendency for communication to be in control at corporate headquarters with communication being responsible for vision, mission, values, and other “soft” building blocks of a corporation. Losing control over them could endanger corporate identity and consequently reputation. But there are also companies that avoid centralized structures but practice aligned decentralization. In this case, communication leaders and their teams at headquarters usually accept the responsibility for defining the corporate brand and story, global corporate communication standards, and the outline of the organization of the communications function. In European multinational companies, local communication managers and their teams can be given considerable freedom to implement and execute these standards, adjusted to local cultures and circumstances. However, selecting local communications personnel and defining local resources is not a priority for the European CCOs surveyed.”


Werder, K.P & Holtzhausen, D. 2011. Organizational Structures and Their Relationship with Communication Management Practices: A Public Relations Perspective from the United States. International Journal of Strategic Communication. 5(2): 118-142.

Quoting from the published abstract: “This study contributes to current theory-driven research in strategic communication by expanding our understanding of organizational—or meso-level—variables important to public relations practice. Meso-level refers to the organizational level of public relations practice and focuses on the skills and knowledge of public relations practitioners, their role in management, their reporting lines, and the organization of the public relations function (J. E. Grunig, 1990; Holtzhausen, 1996). This study posits that organizational design is related to public relations practice and is affected by management-type behavior. It provides empirical evidence that public relations management behaviors, specifically practitioner role enactment, decision-making behavior, and perceived department leadership style, are interrelated and affect organizational structure.”

Stokes, A. (2005). A Study of the Relationship between Organizational Structure and Public Relations Roles. M.A. Thesis. University of South Florida. 

Quoting from the published abstract: “This study will provide a review of the different types of organizational structures, as well as a review of public relations practitioner roles. … There exists little research on organizational structure as it relates to public relations. … Through quantitative research, this study determined that multi-divisional and virtual structures each shared a relationship with the role of problem-solving process facilitator, while network and matrix structures each correlated with the role of communication facilitator. … The significance of this study lies in the fact that it supports the idea that relationships do exist between organizational structures and public relations practitioner roles. It is important for public relations practitioners to realize that by recognizing and understanding the organizational structures in which they work, they can better formulate effective public relations and communications practices that fit their work environments.”

Grunig, L. A., Grunig, J. E., & Dozier, D. M. (2002). Excellent public relations and effective organizations: A study of communication management in three countries. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 

The Excellence study represented the most significant examination of how structure affects the functioning of the communication department in the organizational context, prior to the 2014 IABC sponsored study noted above. 

Holtzhausen, D. (2002). The effects of a divisionalized and decentralized organizational structure on a formal internal communication function in a South African organization. Journal of Communication Management. 6: 323-339.

The author found that when internal communication was decentralized in the organization, it created additional communication changes across the organization. The study examined structural change and its effects on communication, particularly the organizational factors of divisionalization and decentralization. 

Likely, F. (1998). Reorganize your communication function: ten structural models for the new look organization. Strategic Communication Management. August/September: 28-33.

The author identified a number of structural models in actual use in communication departments. He then positioned ten models along a continuum from highly centralized structures at one extreme, to highly decentralized structures or outsourced capability at the other extreme.  A ‘service centre model’ was identified at the highly centralized end of the continuum. At the decentralized end of the continuum, the movement was away from a single centralized communication department towards a number of smaller departments (regionally or functionally based) operating on a stand-alone basis or ultimately to a complete or partial outsourcing of communication sub-functions or units. 

Grunig, L. A.  (1997). Excellence in public relations. In C. L. Caywood (Ed.), The  handbook of strategic public relations & integrated communications (pp. 286- 300).  Boston, MA:  McGraw-Hill. 

The author argued that findings from the Excellence study indicated that an organization with a matrix structure lends itself to the most open communication system, which thus affects the communication department.

Holtzhausen, D. R. (1996). Towards a general theory of public relations. Communicare, 15(2): 25-56.

Quoting from the published abstract: “This study posits that organizational design is related to public relations practice and is affected by management-type behavior. It provides empirical evidence that public relations management behaviors, specifically practitioner role enactment, decision-making behavior, and perceived department leadership style, are interrelated and affect organizational structure.” 

Grunig, L. A. (1992). How public relations/communication departments should adapt to the structure and environment of an organization…And what they actually do. In J. E. Grunig (Ed.), Excellence in public relations and communication management (pp. 467-481). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

The author argues that participation in senior management decision-making should be treated as a structural variable.

Van Leuven, J. (1991). Corporate organizing strategies and the scope of public relations departments. Public Relations Review, 17(3), 279-291.

The author studied how the organization of the communication department is influenced by the overall corporate structure, especially how the organization departmentalizes. He found that when the communication department was structured on the basis of public stakeholder or market rather than by services, there was much greater integration with other departments particularly marketing and human resources, leading to a greater appreciation of the department’s roles. 

Schneider (aka Grunig) L. A. (1985). The role of public relations in four organizational types. Journalism Quarterly, 62, 567-576.

Schneider employed Hull-Hage’s (1982) four-fold typology of organizations based around the dimensions of ‘size or scale’ and ‘complexity’ in her study of a single large communication department. She concluded that Hull-Hage typologies provided only a minimal explanation of the effect of vertical structures on the operation of the communication department. She thought that a better explanation of the structure of communication departments was provided by reference to power-control theory and the role of top management’s influence in determining departmental structure.  

Grunig, J. E., & Hunt, T. (1984). Managing public relations. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
 
The authors looked at the relationship between environment conditions and organizational structure and then explored how the various dimensions of vertical and horizontal organizational structures might affect the operation of the communication department. They identified six horizontal structural dimensions for organizing the communication department structure including organizing by: specific publics or stakeholder groups; departmental management processes; geographical region; communication technique or skill sets; organizational subsystem; and client group need (account executive systems). They argued that successful CCOs decide on departmental structural elements such as vertical and horizontal organization based on the need to address external and internal conditions.

Grunig, J. E. (1976). Organizations and public relations: testing a communications theory. Journalism Monographs, 46.

The author argued that an organization’s structure would influence the role and behaviour of public relations practitioners in a communication department.