Dr Melanie James

Dr Melanie James

Interim Head of School

School of Design Communication and IT (Communication)

There's nothing as practical as a good theory

In her career as an award winning communications and public relations practitioner, Dr Melanie James used academic research to inform her strategies and campaigns. As an academic, she draws upon her extensive professional experience to guide her research.

Dr Melanie JamesIt is this synthesis between theory and practice that has informed Melanie's research and teaching philosophy which centres on the belief that academics have a responsibility to serve their professional field and the wider community.

"In my practice, I used to do a lot of research into past PR campaigns and the theoretical work that was happening in academic journals to inform what I was doing," Melanie says.  

"I used to find the ideas in the research could provide different angles and ways of approaching complex communication problems."

Joining the School of Design, Communication and IT in 2006, Melanie has authored four books, numerous journals articles, book chapters and conference papers. Her most recent book, "Positioning Theory and Strategic Communication: A new approach to public relations research and practice" was published by Routledge in 2014.

Melanie's extensive experience as a public relations practitioner allowed her to identify gaps between what was being written about in theory and what was actually occurring in practice.

"The way strategy was discussed in public relations was inadequate and it certainly didn't reflect what I experienced in practice, or the way I had managed to achieve success in my programs," she says.

It was her PhD research that led Melanie to explore Positioning Theory's application in the field of public relations. As part of her research, she interviewed award winning public relations practitioners and found that the term 'positioning' was frequently used to describe what they were doing.

"They were using this term like we all knew what it meant," she muses.

"But when I went back to the PR literature, positioning was rarely mentioned and when it was, it was usually in a marketing context."

It was this gap in the literature that shifted Melanie's PhD research to exploring the positioning concept.  She discovered Positioning Theory quite serendipitously by Googling the terms 'social constructionism' and 'positioning'.

"The theory drew on Foucault's work on discursive positioning which was developed in social psychology by scholars such as Rom Harré, Bronwyn davies and Luk van Langenhove," Melanie reports.

"However I soon realised it was very adaptable to PR- it explained it all!"

Having published her theoretical framework in the Journal of Public Relations Research,Melanie was commissioned by Routledge to further develop her PhD research into a book as part of a series on critical public relations.  Melanie spent the next two years working to apply and test the rigour of the framework which culminated in the book receiving the endorsement of one of the original co-authors on Positioning Theory, Professor Luk van Langenhove. 

For Melanie, positioning in public relations can be understood as a strategic and deliberate process whereby discursive positions are actively negotiated and achieved to various degrees. With this research, she is hoping to begin the conversation around to the possibilities and applications of Positioning Theory in the public relations field.

"I currently have PhD and honours students who are working with the framework, testing it and querying it and finding many of the strengths and the flaws within it, which is great," Melanie advises.

Positioning theory has been developed across many disciplines including health, international studies, international relations, education, as well as in journalism and management studies.

In collaboration with Professor Luk Van Langenhove (United Nations University, Belgium) and Dr Christine Redmen (University of Melbourne), Melanie is co-organising the inaugural Positioning Theory Symposium to be held at the United Nations University Centre for Regional Integration Studies in Bruges, Belgium, on 6-9 July 2015.

"We will pull together the best of the papers presented at the symposium into a handbook of Positioning Theory," Melanie says.

Fittingly, just as public relations academic research enriched her professional career, Melanie's work offers practitioners a framework to design public relations strategies.

"I believe the framework can be just as useful in a PR campaign for a commercial interest immunisation, self-branding, or for preserving Australia's wildlife biodiversity," she asserts.

Currently, Melanie is collaborating with the University of Newcastle's FAUNA Research Alliance, the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment, and the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative to look at how we can use Positioning Theory to assist in social engagement and community education around biodiversity issues. Parallel with this research, Melanie, along with her colleagues Professor Mark Balnaves and Dr Marc Adam, are taking a cross-disciplinary approach to researching the construct and positioning of digital persona.

"We're looking at how people position themselves, their brands, causes, services or products using digital platforms and social media," she says.

"I'm particularly interested in how digital personae are used in public relations contexts to position people, organisations and even human entities such as 'Grumpy Cat' or TV series characters."

In the knowledge of how prevalent positioning is in public relations, Melanie is committed to exploring and applying Positioning Theory to this dynamic field.

"Anything that deconstructs things that people take for granted is worthwhile doing," Melanie affirms.

"It helps shines light on practices that potentially abuse the use of power in our societies, and that can only be a good thing."

Dr Melanie James

There's nothing as practical as a good theory

In her career as an award winning communications and public relations practitioner, Dr Melanie James used academic research to inform her strategies and campai

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Career Summary

Biography

Image of book cover Melanie James is currently Head of School of Design, Communication and Information Technology at the University of Newcastle, a communication scholar, a senior communications consultant, and a creative writer. She is currently involved in three distinct research projects that respectively involve the application of Positioning Theory in communication; agile management approaches in communication; and, digital disruption in higher education relating to creative and cultural industries. 

Recent journal articles have appeared in Quarterly Review of Film and Video (2016), "A Uses and Gratifications Study Into the Motivations of Legal and Illegal Film Consumption " (co-authored with Henkel and Croce); in Public Relations Review (2016) "Talking back: Reflecting on feminism, public relations and research" (co-authored with Fitch and Motion), and, in Media International Australia (2015) “Situating a new voice in public relations: The application of positioning theory to research and practice”.

Her sole-authored academic book (Routledge, 2014), Positioning Theory and Strategic Communications: A new approach to public relations research and practice (Follow the link for information, reviews and purchase information) has been described as "thought provoking" and the "approach helps to understand communication strategies in general" (Zerfass, Vercic & Wiesenberg, 2016).

She was recently invited to write three entries (14000 words total) for the forthcoming International Encyclopedia of Strategic Communication, a joint project of the International Communication Association and Wiley Publishers, which will will be the most comprehensive collection of strategic communication knowledge ever assembled. Other past publications include “Autoethnography: the story of “doing a MOOC” or knowing “the beast” from within” (in Bennett & Kent, Eds. in press, Ashgate); “Positioning a price on carbon: Applying a proposed hybrid method of positioning discourse analysis for public relations” (co-authored with Wise) in Public Relations Inquiry (2013); “Not everyone’s aboard the online public relations train: The use (and non-use) of social media by public relations practitioners” (co-authored with Robson) in PRism (2013); and, “Autoethnography: The story of applying a conceptual framework for intentional positioning to public relations practice” (2012) in Public Relations Review.

She is also editor of the Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Public Relations Research. She is an invited contributor as a “thought leader in social media” in both the forthcoming second edition and the original 2014 edition of Lipshultz’s book, Social Media Communication: Concepts, Practices, Data, Law and Ethics (Routledge). She served from 2012-2015 on the National Educational Advisory Committee of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. 

She currently chairs the Living Cities Community of Practice for UrbanGrowth NSW and is chair of the MOOC Steering Committee at the University of Newcastle, overseeing the development and delivery of the university’s first MOOC with edX, a world first, being on the subject of Natural History Illustration. In addition to a string of teaching commendations and industry awards, in 2015 she won the Public Relations Institute of Australia’s “National PR Educator of the Year 2015” Award.

Having majored in creative writing as an honours student at UTS, Melanie also went on to complete a novel which was a finalist in a Australian Vogel Literary Award (Smalltalk) and was published as Growing up with Books. She has also published a book of poetry, Words for Weddings, from which excerpts were featured monthly in Australia's leading bridal magazine, Bride to Be.

Collaborations
Melanie James has been invited by Professor Luk van Langenhove, (Professor and Director of the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS), Representative of the Rector at UNESCO in Paris, and co-author with Prof Rom Harré of the 1999 book, "Positioning Theory - Moral Contexts of Intentional Action") to work as a contributing editor to a forthcoming book on positioning theory methodology. She is a member of the committee organising the Second Positioning Theory Research Symposium at Oxford University 2017, where she is also a keynote speaker. She is collaborating with members of the CAMR Group on researching Work Integrated Learning and social media. Along with Dr Marc Adam, Melanie is taking a cross-disciplinary approach to researching social presence and communication.


Reference:

Zerfass, A., Vercic, D., & Wiesenberg, M. (2016). Managing CEO communication and positioning: a cross-national study among corporate communication leaders. Journal of Communication Management, 20(1).


Qualifications

  • PhD, University of Newcastle
  • Master of Arts (Journalism), University of Technology Sydney
  • Graduate Certificate Practice of Tertiary Teaching, University of Newcastle

Keywords

  • audience studies
  • communication
  • content marketing
  • digital
  • feminism
  • innovation
  • media
  • new media/social media
  • positioning
  • public relations
  • strategic communication

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
200102 Communication Technology and Digital Media Studies 50
200101 Communication Studies 50

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Senior Lecturer University of Newcastle
School of Design Communication and IT
Australia

Academic appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
1/01/2016 - 17/03/2018 Editor Asia Pacific Journal of Public Relations

The Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal publishes original papers on public relations and related areas. The Journal is refereed and encourages papers in research, theory, professional practice, comment, case studies and book reviews.

University of Newcastle, Australia
Australia
1/01/2016 - 31/12/2016 Head of School of Design, Communication and Information Technology

Head of School (Interim) for 2016 of the School of Design, Communication and IT.

Faculty of Science and Information Technology, The University of Newcastle | Australia
Australia
1/01/2014 -  Editorial Board - Journal of Public Relations Research Journal of Public Relations Research
Australia
6/11/2010 - 30/12/2012 Lecturer in Communication Faculty of Science and Information Technology,The University of Newcastle
Australia

Membership

Dates Title Organisation / Department
1/01/2010 -  Editorial Board Member of the Public Communication Review Journal The Public Communication Review Journal
Australia
1/01/2007 -  Member - Professional Communicators Network Professional Communicators Network
Australia
1/01/1999 -  Member - Public Relations Institute of Australia Public Relations Institute of Australia
Australia

Professional appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
30/06/2013 -  Member of the National Education Advisory Committee Public Relations Institute of Australia Public Relations Institute of Australia
Australia
1/11/2005 -  Communication Consultant Melanie James Consulting
Australia
1/10/2003 - 1/11/2005 Marketing Communications Manager Newcastle Permanent Building Society
Marketing
Australia
1/11/1999 - 1/07/2003 Director of Communications Commonwealth Government - AGO, AEC, ABS
Communications
Australia

Awards

Prize

Year Award
2015 Public Relations Institute of Australia National Award: Public Relations Educator of the Year 2015
Public Relations Institute of Australia

Recognition

Year Award
2008 Stream Coordinators Award
Unknown

Invitations

External Reviewer - Programs

Year Title / Rationale
2015 External Review of the Bachelor of Business (PR)
2009 Review for accreditation of courses at Macleay College, Sydney
Organisation: NSW Dept of Education and Training Description: New South Wales Vice Chancellors Committee nominee to sit on the higher education panel of four (one other academic specialist, an industry specialist and a Chair) to consider this application from Macleay College for accreditation of three courses: an Advanced Diploma of Communications, a Diploma of Journalism and a Diploma of Advertising.
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Publications

For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.


Book (3 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2014 James MB, Positioning Theory and Strategic Communication: A new approach to public relations research and practice, Routledge, London, 243 (2014) [A1]
2007 James M, J, J, Careers @gov.au: Working for Australia's Future, Career FAQs, Ultimo, NSW., 212 (2007)
2006 James M, Public Relations, Career FAQs, Ultimo. NSW., 151 (2006)

Chapter (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2012 James MB, Robson PL, 'Strategies to proactively manage activity', Introduction to Public Relations: From Theory to Practice, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, VIC 259-285 (2012) [B2]
2009 James MB, 'Strategies to proactively manage activity', An Introduction to Public Relations: From Theory to Practice, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, VIC 248-269 (2009) [B2]

Journal article (13 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2016 Fitch K, James M, Motion J, 'Talking back: Reflecting on feminism, public relations and research', Public Relations Review, 42 279-287 (2016)
DOI 10.1016/j.pubrev.2015.05.006
2016 Henkel L, James M, Croce N, 'Would You Like Popcorn with That Download? A Uses and Gratifications Study Into the Motivations of Legal and Illegal Film Consumption', Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 33 46-63 (2016)
DOI 10.1080/10509208.2015.1086256
2015 James MB, 'Situating a new voice in public relations: The application of positioning theory to research and practice.', Media International Australia Incorporating Culture and Policy, 34-41 (2015) [C1]
2013 Robson P, James MB, 'Not everyone¿s aboard the online public relations train: The use (and non-use) of social media by public relations practitioners', Prism, 9 1-18 (2013) [C1]
2013 Wise D, James M, 'Positioning a price on carbon: Applying a proposed hybrid method of positioning discourse analysis for public relations', Public Relations Inquiry, 2 327-353 (2013) [C1]
DOI 10.1177/2046147X13494966
2012 James MB, 'Autoethnography: The story of applying a conceptual framework for intentional positioning to public relations practice', Public Relations Review, 38 555-564 (2012) [C1]
Citations Scopus - 2
2012 Wise DJ, James MB, 'The HPV school vaccination program: A discourse analysis of information provided to parents', PCR: Public Communication Review, 2 3-15 (2012) [C1]
2011 James MB, 'A provisional conceptual framework for intentional positioning in public relations', Journal of Public Relations Research, 23 93-118 (2011) [C1]
DOI 10.1080/1062726x.2010.505120
Citations Scopus - 3Web of Science - 11
2011 Robson PL, James MB, 'Trialling PR2.0: An exploratory study of the non-capital city practitioner's social media use', Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal, 12 19-40 (2011) [C1]
2011 James MB, 'Ready, aim, fire: Key messages in public relations campaigns', PRism, 8 1-18 (2011) [C1]
2009 James MB, 'Getting to the heart of public relations: The concept of strategic intent', Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal, 10 109-122 (2009) [C1]
2008 James MB, 'A review of the impact of new media on public relations: Challenges for terrain, practice and education', Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal, 8 137-148 (2008) [C1]
2008 James MB, 'Driving learning through blogging: Students? perceptions of a reading journal blog assessment task', Prism, 5 1-12 (2008) [C1]
Show 10 more journal articles

Conference (9 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2016 James MB, Balnaves M, Fulton J, 'Situational Theory of the Digital Persona: public relations for non-human internet agents', Refereed Proceedings of The ANZCA Conference 2015: Rethinking Communication, Place and Identity. (2016)
Co-authors Mark Balnaves, Janet Fulton
2016 Cassin A, james M, 'Green community engagement ¿ do organisations actually listen?', http://www.bledcom.com/sites/default/files/BledCom-2016-Book-of-Abstracts.pdf (2016)
2013 Balnaves M, Cassin A, James MB, 'The Social Mood Reader - Mapping citizen engagement in public relations using the semantic web and supercomputing.', International Communication Association (2013) [E1]
Co-authors Mark Balnaves
2010 Fursdon R, James MB, 'Why are PR agencies blogging? An exploratory study of the blogging practices of public relations agencies', Media, Democracy and Change: Refereed Proceedings of the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association Conference (2010) [E1]
2010 James MB, 'The use of intentional positioning techniques in government agencies' communication campaigns', Government Communication: Proceedings of the 17th International Public Relations Research Symposium BledCom (2010) [E1]
2009 James MB, 'The construction of intended meanings: Furthering understanding of the purpose of public relations', Communication, Creativity and Global Citizenship: Refereed Proceedings of the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association Conference 2009 (2009) [E1]
2008 James MB, 'The reading journal blog assessment task: Public relations students? perceptions', Power and Place: Refereed Proceedings of the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association Conference 2008 (2008) [E1]
2007 James MB, 'A review of the impact of new media on public relations: Challenges for the terrain, practice and education', PRIA National Academic Forum 2007. Abstracts (2007) [E3]
1996 Gething L, Fethney J, Redmayne G, James M, 'Disability awareness of general medical practitioners in rural New South Wales' (1996) [E1]
Show 6 more conferences

Report (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
1995 Gething L, Fethney J, James M, Redmayne G, 'Disability Awareness of General Medical Practitioners in Rural New South Wales.' (1995) [R1]
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Grants and Funding

Summary

Number of grants 9
Total funding $56,134

Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.


20141 grants / $2,000

Faculty PVC Conference Assistance Grant 2014$2,000

Funding body: University of Newcastle - Faculty of Science & IT

Funding body University of Newcastle - Faculty of Science & IT
Project Team Doctor Melanie James
Scheme PVC Conference Assistance Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2014
Funding Finish 2014
GNo G1401218
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

20132 grants / $18,665

Positioning carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in Australian public communication: an analysis of how key CCS project stakeholders communicate.$9,333

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Melanie James
Scheme Early Career Researcher Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2013
Funding Finish 2013
GNo G1201205
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

Developing qualitative coding conventions to achieve plausibility and consistency in a positioning analysis of carbon capture and storage in Australia.$9,332

Funding body: University of Newcastle - Faculty of Science & IT

Funding body University of Newcastle - Faculty of Science & IT
Project Team Doctor Melanie James
Scheme Strategic Small Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2013
Funding Finish 2013
GNo G1401064
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

20111 grants / $3,045

Review of Lake Macquarie City Council's Environmental Communication Strategies$3,045

Funding body: Lake Macquarie City Council

Funding body Lake Macquarie City Council
Project Team Doctor Melanie James
Scheme Project Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2011
Funding Finish 2011
GNo G1100794
Type Of Funding Other Public Sector - Local
Category 2OPL
UON Y

20102 grants / $26,286

ERF Teaching Relief - James $24,636

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Anne Llewellyn, Doctor Melanie James
Scheme Equity Research Fellowship
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2010
Funding Finish 2010
GNo G0900090
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

Completion of doctoral thesis by publication entitled "Achieving Intended Outcomes: the strategic construction of meaning in Public Relations practice"$1,650

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Melanie James
Scheme Equity Research Fellowship
Role Lead
Funding Start 2010
Funding Finish 2010
GNo G0190634
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

20081 grants / $1,629

Australian and New Zealand Communication Associaton Conference 2008 (ANZACA08) - Massey University, Duxton Hotel, Wellington, New Zealand, 9/7/2008 - 11/7/2008$1,629

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Melanie James
Scheme Travel Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2008
Funding Finish 2008
GNo G0189141
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

20072 grants / $4,509

Constructing visual meanings: how choices of visual elements reveal public relations practitioners' strategic intent when staging communication interfaces$3,115

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Melanie James
Scheme New Staff Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2007
Funding Finish 2007
GNo G0187728
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

Public Relations Institute of Australia National Conference 2007, The University of Sydney, 14/10/2007 - 16/10/2007$1,394

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Melanie James
Scheme Travel Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2007
Funding Finish 2007
GNo G0188221
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y
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Research Supervision

Number of supervisions

Completed1
Current3

Total current UON EFTSL

PhD1.3

Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title / Program / Supervisor Type
2013 PhD Understanding Maori and Pacific Islander Cultures in Australia's National Rugby League
PhD (Comm & Media Arts), Faculty of Science and Information Technology, The University of Newcastle
Principal Supervisor
2013 PhD Positioning a Price on Carbon: An Analysis of the Political Discourses Surrounding the Introduction of an Australian Carbon Tax
PhD (Comm & Media Arts), Faculty of Science and Information Technology, The University of Newcastle
Principal Supervisor
2011 PhD Involvement of, and Communication with, Publics and Communities Concerning the Implementation of Renewable Energies
PhD (Comm & Media Arts), Faculty of Science and Information Technology, The University of Newcastle
Principal Supervisor

Past Supervision

Year Level of Study Research Title / Program / Supervisor Type
2016 PhD Communication as Aid: Giving Voice to Refugees on the Thai-Burma Border
PhD (Comm & Media Arts), Faculty of Science and Information Technology, The University of Newcastle
Co-Supervisor
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News

UON teacher named Australia’s ‘PR Educator of the Year’

October 27, 2015

University of Newcastle teaching excellence is again in the spotlight with Communication Senior Lecturer, Dr Melanie James, named Australia's "PR Educator of the Year" at the Public Relations Institute of Australia's (PRIA) National Golden Target Awards held last night in Hobart.

Mel JAMES tHE coNVERSATION

Stretching the friendship: Australia, Indonesia and the ‘good friend’ narrative

November 15, 2013

By Melanie James, University of Newcastle. 

How far can friendships stretch? Two months ago, the rhetoric of the Indonesian and Australian governments was centred on the countries being good friends. Until last week, from the Indonesian perspective, the positioning of the friendship between the two countries was one of strength and co-operation.

Dr Melanie James

Position

Interim Head of School
School of Design, Communication and IT - Faculty of Science and IT
School of Design Communication and IT
Faculty of Science and Information Technology

Focus area

Communication

Contact Details

Email melanie.james@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 4985 4520
Mobile 0434 572 482
Fax (02) 4921 5821
Links Google+
Instagram
Facebook
Personal webpage
Twitter
YouTube
Skype
UoN Blogs

Office

Room ICT3.61
Building ICT Building
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308
Australia
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