Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Jianping Shen


Preparation for a career in the field of public relations (PR) is based on a set of unique core competencies typically found in liberal arts. Though PR professionals rarely gain business degrees, they acquire knowledge, skills, perspectives, and strategies wellsuited to executive-level positions in business. Additionally, managerial positions in PR offer greater potential for influence than task-oriented roles with limited strategic opportunity.

This study examines the advancement of PR practitioners into upper-level management positions in business. The purpose of this research is to identify factors and behaviors that contribute to, or hinder, PR professional’s attainment of top-management positions. This study is important because of the size, scope, and growth of the PR industry and the service it provides society.

This empirical phenomenological study examined the actual, lived experience of PR trained professionals who attained top-level management positions in business. By exploring the career advancement experiences of PR practitioners who have achieved such positions, this study sheds light on the ways in which PR professionals draw upon the training and expertise gained throughout their career.

A conceptual framework was created for this study based upon an extensive literature review process revealing three categories: (a) career path patterns, (b) facilitating factors for success, and (c) barriers to career advancement. Several factors were identified within each category, providing a coding scheme to analyze data. 90- minute interviews were scheduled with an elite sampling of twenty upper-level PR professionals throughout West Michigan. Descriptive statistics and direct quotes from participant narratives were used to demonstrate key findings. Mention frequency patterns were used to identify major themes, as were co-occurrence rules from a card sort ranking activity. Resumes were used to support the data and storytelling was used to demonstrate and flesh out concluding results.

The findings reveal 17 factors of influence for career advancement in PR among the twenty participants. Nine factors are within the career path patterns category, six are facilitating factors, and the final two are barriers to career advancement. There were several findings for this study in regards to these factors individually, as well as their inter-relatedness to a universal career path progression.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access