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    The Influence of National and Organisational Culture on Integrated Marketing Communication Strategies in Higher Education Institutions: A comparative study between public and private universities in Saudi Arabia

    Alyami, Nasiem Mohammed (2022) The Influence of National and Organisational Culture on Integrated Marketing Communication Strategies in Higher Education Institutions: A comparative study between public and private universities in Saudi Arabia. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    Integrated marketing communication (IMC) has been increasingly adopted among many organisations since its inception in the 1990s due to its positive impact on their marketing strategies. One particular characteristic is IMC’s unique relationship with organisational culture. However, although IMC has been explored in depth in terms of organisational culture in Western settings, its implementation across the Arab world is rarely reported, despite the significant impact of national culture on Arab nations’ organisational culture. More specifically, although the implementation of IMC in higher education has been reported as having a positive impact on brands and performance in such settings, the shifting nature of organisational culture in higher education institutions due to the prevailing Arab national culture, alongside the need to maintain organisational growth among public and more importantly private universities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), could offer important insight into emerging organisational changes among Arab countries. Correspondingly, there is a research gap in relation to how public and private universities design, adopt and implement IMC strategy. It is also of particular importance to explore private universities’ resistance to national culture. Moreover, there is a need to understand how to navigate organisational growth via IMC through adopting an organisational structure that facilitates improved flexibility, staff independence and control in countries such as the KSA that feature distinct national and organisational cultures. To fill this gap, the present study conducts qualitative research to explore the consequence of national and organisational culture on the development and implementation of IMC in two public and two private universities in the KSA. Furthermore, analyses are carried out to determine how national culture influences organisational culture in these two different organisational contexts, including consideration of the hierarchical organisational structure of public universities that leads to lengthy approval processes, and local male staff dominating the leadership positions. The findings from this study are grouped into three thematic categories: organisational characteristics, organisational flexibility, and the selection of media. These thematic categories are then further divided into ten sub-themes: control and power, organisational structure, organisational objectives, rituals and routines, reward structure, context of leadership, segregation, budget flexibility, capacity and resources, and media objectives. In terms of organisational characteristics, the findings emerging from this study indicate that the existence of stronger functional power and flexibility among the KSA’s private universities regarding marketing communication decision-making arises from a political choice. This choice offers resistance to national culture in terms of marketing communication decision-making when compared to the public universities, although nuances existed among the private universities in terms of the size and the number of courses offered. Due to the organisational structure of the public relations (PR) departments in the private universities, they had more active marketing communication with a functional structure similar to a market structure. In contrast, similar PR activities in the public universities comprised student affairs, community services, and PR and media, which tended to overshadow the marketing functions due to the taller organisational structure, leading to delays in decision-making. The KSA’s public universities demonstrated stronger links to high-context culture as a consequence of the power distance index when compared to the low-context culture observed in the private universities, as a consequence of dilution from the power distance culture. These nuances signify a relationship with the restricted organisational flexibility and budgetary control characterised by the public universities in the KSA when compared to their private counterparts. Other findings from the themes indicated that the market-driven private universities tended to invest in technology, human capital, and the overall university marketing infrastructure such as websites, in order to enable competitive economic performance in spite of being under the same national culture as the government-funded public universities. On the other hand, spending on e-marketing, advertising and PR in the public universities had fixed budgetary constraints, prompted by the non-profit-driven public university system and the aim of meeting the needs of local students. Comparable differences existed in the increased funding allocation for marketing communications due to the renewed efforts to internationalise the activities of each private university in terms of the overall global ranking. In terms of competency and segregation, increased numbers of different nationalities among the staff and female leadership appeared to be favoured in the private universities compared to their public counterparts, which the latter were predominantly male-dominated in leadership and predominately staffed by Saudi nationals. This phenomenon was more pronounced in the PR departments of the public universities, where women worked in isolation due to the influence of national culture that promotes patriarchy in the KSA. The Saudization policy, which is intended to ensure Saudi nationals are prioritised in recruitment, and particularly in leadership positions, was observed in the public universities, although regional nationalities appeared among the leadership of such universities from neighbouring countries including Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. In comparison the leadership in the private universities was characterised by more diverse composition from the United Kingdom, United States and Canada, which this study considers as dilution to the national Saudization strategy influenced by the national culture. Budgetary approval for the private universities occurred on an annual basis, providing flexibility for planning effective marketing strategies when compared to the public sector, where the budgets needed to be approved for individual events that affected decision-making and effectiveness across marketing events. Furthermore, the public universities tended to outsource their social media marketing due to a lack of in-house expertise. The implications of the findings emerging from this study, in particular how Saudi national culture has influenced IMC in public universities compared to private universities, and how organisational structure and leadership have favoured gender segregation within units responsible for IMC to a greater extent in public universities compared to their private counterparts due to national culture, provide a unique perspective on the growth of IMC strategies within the context of the KSA. Moreover, the nuances identified among the private and public universities, revealing dissimilar strategies and practice, have further illustrated variations among private–private and public–public universities in the KSA.

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