Legitimacy for Sale : Constructing a Market for PR Consultancy
Sammanfattning: Categories are semantic objects that create order in markets. By categorization, market actors and products become comparable and understandable to various audiences. This thesis examines the construction of the product category of public relations (PR) consultancy in Sweden; a market that has arisen, become economically successful and gained recognition over the past thirty years, but which still lacks the legitimacy and clarity normally thought of as basic criteria of market categories.Using a semiotic framework and a mixed-method approach, I explore category construction 1) over time, and 2) in practice. In generalized terms, my findings suggest that market categorization processes cannot be understood without taking into account the characteristics of the product being categorized. Whereas ambiguity around labels, denotations and connotations is normally regarded as incompatible with categorization, such fuzziness should be expected to be intrinsic in markets for professional service products like PR consultancy, where the product itself is often thriving on, as well as continuously creating, ambiguity. For instance, the lack of clarity and lack of legitimacy in the Swedish PR consultancy market are found to be both logical outcomes, and enablers, of visibilization and amalgamation, referring to PR consultants’ conscientious management of visibility, and tendency to span boundaries in constructing their services, respectively. Categorization in the traditional sense is further hampered by the dominant label of “PR consultancy” being stigmatized, i.e. suffering from “sticky” negative connotations.In the cultural context of Sweden, the emergence of a PR consultancy market has al-so meant commodification, i.e. the introduction of something hitherto not sold into a sphere of exchangeable things. In this process, PR consultancy seems to have gotten “stuck” between the sphere of salable and unsalable things, as the product is widely sold but continues to be contested across various audiences. Again, my analysis puts this difficulty of PR consultancy finding legitimacy in relation to the product category’s actual content, i.e. rendering legitimacy to others. Finally, I argue that the emergence of PR consultancy, by providing a market place for corporate legitimacy, might be under-stood as a case of a cognitive-cultural market logic on the rise, characterized by struggles for organizational visibility and semiotic sophistication.
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