• 102 Citations
  • 5 h-Index

Research output per year

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Personal profile


Paul has been Professor of Corporate Communication at the University of Huddersfield since June 2017. He joined the team from Leeds Business School where he was Director of the Centre for Public Relations Studies. Paul works with professional communicators and other senior executives in Government, NGOs and the private sector. In 2016, he was appointed a member of the Government’s Future Communication Council by the Cabinet Office and Prime Minister’s Office.

Paul teaches on the Government Communication Service ‘Inspire’ programme and delivers a range of other innovative co-created executive education programmes at Masters-level. Paul was the joint recipient of the National Communication Association PRIDE Award for outstanding contribution to public relations education and his experiences of co-creation have been used to inform policy papers, journal articles and book chapters.

Paul’s core research interests underpin his teaching and include studies of the leadership challenges confronting communication professionals, as well as explorations of how strategic communication can be used to help organisations address ‘wicked problems’. He has recently completed a major international study for the European Commission investigating how innovative forms of stakeholder engagement can support business sustainability. Other projects include work for the Department Health on strategic communication policy, plus investigations for a range of major companies on emerging trends and their impact on organisational communication. Work for organisations like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have also provided Paul with the opportunity to be a member of multidisciplinary research teams commissioned to investigate issues such as inclusive economic growth.

Paul held a number of leadership and board level positions in the private sector before joining academia in 2008, including deputy managing director of one of the UK’s leading independent corporate communication consultancies. He was part of the team which won the prestigious PR Week ‘Consultancy of the Year’ award, as well as a string of other industry accolades for campaigns, creativity and business management. During his career Paul worked as an advisor for organisations such as BMW, BT, Ernst & Young, RWE, Proctor & Gamble, Walmart, the NHS, UK Sport and The Football Association. He began his career in the UK Parliament before taking on an in-house public affairs role in The City of London. Paul then worked in Westminster as a political consultant.

Paul’s work can be found in leading academic journals and text books in his field. He is also the co-author with Anne Gregory of Strategic Public Relations Leadership which explores the key facets of leadership for communication professionals. Paul is a Visiting Fellow at The University of Waikato in New Zealand, a member of the Editorial Advisory Boards for both the Journal of Communication Management and the Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal, as well as on the Scientific Committee for the Annual Congress of the European Public Relations Education and Research Association.

Research Expertise and Interests

  • The strategic role of communication in the private, public and NGO sectors
  • How communication can be used by organisations and communities to address 'wicked problems'
  • The leadership challenges confronting communication professionals, particularly how they cope with complexity
  • Innovative forms of stakeholder engagement
  • Co-creating curricula for executive education and professional development

External positions

Visiting Fellow, University of Waikato

1 Nov 2012 → …

Research Expertise and Interests

  • Corporate Communication
  • Strategic Communication
  • Public Relations
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Leadership
  • Complexity
  • Wicked Problems
  • Co-creation

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Research Output

From knowing to doing: Reflexivity, leadership and public relations

Willis, P., Sep 2019, In : Public Relations Review. 45, 3, p. 1-8 8 p., 101780.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Retroduction, reflexivity and leadership learning: Insights from a critical realist study of empowerment

    Willis, P., 1 Sep 2019, In : Management Learning. 50, 4, p. 449-464 16 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Open Access
  • 1 Citation (Scopus)

    Deliberate Engagement and Wicked Problems: From Good Intentions to Practical Action

    Willis, P., Tench, R. & Devins, D., 18 May 2018, The Handbook of Communication Engagement. Taylor, M. & Johnston, K. (eds.). Wiley-Blackwell

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    Confessions of a Public Relations Practitioner: Hidden Life in the Open Plan Office

    Willis, P., 2 Oct 2017, Experiencing Public Relations: International Voices. Bridgen, E. & Verčič, D. (eds.). Routledge

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    Maximising the local impact of anchor institutions: A case study of Leeds City Region

    Devins, D., Gold, J., Boak, G., Garvey, R. & Willis, P., Jan 2017, Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 59 p.

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

    Open Access
  • Activities

    • 3 Oral presentation
    • 2 Editorial work
    • 1 Membership of council
    • 1 Membership of a Society or Institute

    The charlatans: Possession, corporate shamen and the cult of the empowering leader.

    Paul Willis (Speaker), John Nicholson (Speaker) & Kevin Orr (Speaker)

    10 Jul 2019

    Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation

    Asia Pacific Public Relations (Journal)

    Paul Willis (Member of editorial board)


    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial work typesEditorial work

    Chartered Institute of Public Relations (External organisation)

    Paul Willis (Member)

    1 Nov 2017 → …

    Activity: Membership typesMembership of a Society or Institute

    La La Land or Breaking Bad: Public Relations as a Strategic Catalyst for Interdisciplinary Research

    Paul Willis (Speaker)

    3 Jul 2017

    Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation

    Humility, Deliberation, Hyperactivism and Hyperbole: Why CSR is Best Viewed as a Wicked Problem

    Paul Willis (Speaker)

    30 Jun 2017

    Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation