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A comparative excellence framework for communication management

Dejan Vercic (Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana , Ljubljana, Slovenia)
Ansgar Zerfass (Department of Communication Management and Public Relations, University of Leipzig , Leipzig, Germany)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 7 November 2016




Why are excellent communication departments actually outstanding? The purpose of this paper is to address this question from a multidisciplinary perspective and identify two different strands of the excellence debate, one from general management and the other from public relations and communication management. Insights from both perspectives are combined in a new approach – the comparative excellence framework (CEF). This framework has been applied in two studies among 3,691 communication departments across Europe. Characteristics of excellence identified in this empirical exercise are described. The results are then matched with insights from the excellence literature to test the plausibility of the new approach.


A literature survey has been used to identify current excellence approaches and to build the comparative framework. In the empirical part, two subsequent editions of an annual online survey of communication professionals across Europe were used to test the approach. Excellent departments were identified across four dimensions: advisory influence, executive influence, success and competence. Approximately one-fifth of each sample was identified as excellent.


The study shows that excellent communication departments are not simply better at communication; they are different. The characteristics identified are in line with popular organizational excellence models from management theory. Excellent departments employ different people (more experienced, with higher positions and in more strategic roles); they partner and collaborate more closely with the executive board and other departments in the organization; they base their work on different processes with more listening and research; and they produce more products at the strategic level, like overall communication and messaging strategies. There is also a strong congruence with excellence theory in communication management.

Research limitations/implications

The CEF uses a limited number of variables to distinguish excellent from other communication departments. This is typical for excellence approaches based on benchmarking and self-assessments. It helps to apply such approaches in practice. The empirical testing is based on data collected on one continent (Europe). Further research should employ data from other regions of the world and test whether results vary.

Practical implications

In its pragmatic simplicity, the CEF is a viable tool for practitioners for the assessment of communication department and for establishing a quality control system. It can also guide the development of training and education in communication management.


The paper demonstrates that communication management research fits into a larger stream of research in the field of quality management.



The European Communication Monitor surveys were conducted by a larger team which included Ansgar Zerfass, Angeles Moreno, Ralph Tench, Dejan Verčič and Piet Verhoeven as researchers as well as Ronny Fechner and Markus Wiesenberg as assistant researchers. The empirical studies were supported by the European Association of Communication Directors in all years as well as by Ketchum in 2014 and Prime Research in 2015.


Vercic, D. and Zerfass, A. (2016), "A comparative excellence framework for communication management", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 20 No. 4, pp. 270-288.



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