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About us

The Günter Thiele Foundation as a part of the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft (Association for the Promotion of Humanities and Sciences in Germany) aims to promote teaching and research in Communication Management, Public Relations, and Strategic Communication. It also works to support the next generation of researchers in these areas. The statutes form the basis of the foundation's work (only available in German).

In 2005 it officially became a legally independent, non-profit foundation and succeeded the Stiftung zur Förderung der PR-Wissenschaft an der Universität Leipzig (SPRL). The foundation is named after its co-founder and honorary chairman Günter F. Thiele, who has been supporting research in the field of Public Relations in Germany since the 1990s. The foundation is based at the University of Leipzig.

Our mission

Mission of Günter Thiele Foundation

The Günter Thiele Foundation achieves its objectives by:

  • Sponsoring research projects and publications
  • Strengthening international cooperation with foreign universities
  • Funding historical PR Research with the projects and the PR Archive
  • Awarding the Günter Thiele Prize for outstanding Bachelor and Master theses in the fields of Public Relations and Communication Management
  • Sponsoring the Academic Society for Corporate Management & Communication
  • Sponsoring the Center for Research in Financial Communication at the University of Leipzig

Board of trustees

Management of the Foundation

Professor Günter Bentele, Dr. phil. habil. 1948, is an emeritus professor of Public Relations at the Institute of Communication and Media Studies at the University of Leipzig. From 1989 to 1994 he was Professor of Communication Studies with a focus on journalism at the University of Bamberg. From 1994 until his retirement in the autumn of 2014 he held the first chair of Public Relations / PR in the German-speaking countries at the University of Leipzig.

Stephanie Berger has been a lawyer for the fields tax, legal and controlling at Deutsches Stiftungszentrum GmbH since 2012 and has also been a freelance lawyer at DSZ - Rechtsanwaltschaftsgesellschaft mbH for five years. Prior to this, Stephanie Berger worked as an lawyer in the department "Tax Advisory" at Ernst & Young auditing company mbH in Hamburg (2007-2012), as a lawyer in the Legal-Tax-Commercial Register Department at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Essen (2005-2007) and as Managing Director of the Essen Cultural Foundation (2006-2007).

Prof. Dr. Christof E. Ehrhart is Honorary Professor for International Corporate Communications at the Leipzig University. He was Executive Vice President Corporate Communications and Responsibility of Deutsche Post DHL Group until the end of 2018. Since January 2019 he has been Senior Vice President Corporate Communications & Governmental Affairs of Robert Bosch GmbH.

Phoebe Kebbel is a Managing Partner at Hering Schuppener Consulting. She works in the Frankfurt office, which she helped to build from 2003. Her focus is on corporate and financial communications. In addition to supporting various DAX and MDAX groups for many years, Phoebe has advised clients on communications in over 50 M&A transactions – ranging from midcap acquisitions to hostile cross-border takeovers. Phoebe Kebbel studied Business Administration at WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management in Koblenz, Germany, Richard Ivey Business School in Canada and Ecole de Management de Lyon, France. She teaches communication management at the University of Leipzig and has co-founded the Center for Research in Financial Communications there.

Professor Bernd Schuppener, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, is Honorary Professor for Communication Management at the University of Leipzig. He is the founder of the HERING SCHUPPENER group with offices in Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Hamburg and Berlin.

Professor Werner Süss, deputy chairman of the Board of Trustees, is Honorary Professor for Corporate Communications at the University of Leipzig since October 2010. Previously, he supported the Institute as adjunct lecturer since 2002. From 2002 to 2012, he was Managing Director and later CEO of Vattenfall Europe Sales and Head of Business Unit Sales Vattenfall Central Europe. Today he is CEO of WindCapital Partners, Berlin.

Professor Ansgar Zerfaß is Professor and Chair in Strategic Communication at the Institute of Communication and Media Studies at the University of Leipzig, Germany. He is also Professor in Communication and Leadership at BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, as well as, editor of the "International Journal of Strategic Communication", USA, and, inter alia, Plank Scholar at The Plank Center for Leadership and Communication at the University of Alabama, USA. He served as President of the European Public Relations Education and Research Association, Brussels. His research is focused on Corporate Communications, Measurement and Evaluation, Digital Communication and International/Comparative Communication. So far, he has published 34 books and more than 300 journal articles, book chapters and study reports in multiple languages. Current projects include, amongst others, the European Communication Monitor and Asia-Pacific Communication Monitor and "Value Creating Communication", the world's most extensive research program on corporate communications conducted by with several universities and global companies.

Günter F. Thiele


The foundation is named after Günter F. Thiele. He has played a significant role in shaping modern PR consultancy and has been actively involved in academic research in the fields of Public Relations and Communication Management for many years. Günter F. Thiele holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Leipzig and is an honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Public Relations Agenturen e.V. (GPRA).

Thiele was born in 1934 and studied German Studies, Psychology and Philosophy at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg. He started his career as a journalist at an east German radio station in Leipzig. After moving to Düsseldorf in West Germany he worked as an internal journalist in the employee communications department at Henkel and then as a copywriter at the advertising agency R. W. Eggert. In 1968 Thiele became the co-owner and managing director of the PR agency ABC Presse-Information. The agency went on to become the market leader for communication services in Germany.

At the end of the 1990s Thiele became interested in PR research – this was at a time when the discipline was only just starting to become established in German-speaking countries. He co-founded a foundation to support PR research at the University of Leipzig, which became today’s Günter Thiele Foundation. Together with other donors he has provided the foundation’s financial basis. The foundation is committed to the will of the founder and aims to continue his ideas.

Looking back

The beginnings of the Günter Thiele Foundation

“After leaving the agency at the end of the 1990s, I wanted to stay in touch with the field of communication. I got into conversation with Professor Bentele from the University of Leipzig who I knew from previous meetings. We talked about the developments in the field and the challenges he faced in his job at the university. We came up with the idea of setting up a foundation which would have the financial resources that the university lacked. 

In 2000, using my professional network and together with Professor Bentele, I helped to set up the foundation Stiftung zur Förderung der PR an der Universität Leipzig (SPRL). The SPRL was the predecessor of the Günter Thiele Foundation.  Alongside supporting research projects, one of its most important objectives was to set up a chair for Strategic Communication. The chair was taken over by Professor Ansgar Zerfaß in 2007.

Looking back, I am very pleased that everything I had hoped for has become a reality.”

Günter F. Thiele

Looking forward

Günter F. Thiele and Professor Bernd Schuppener on the future of the foundation

Mr. Thiele, Mr. Schuppener, how satisfied are you as founder and Chairman of the Board of Trustees with the developments of the foundation?

  • Thiele: The foundation has been a real success story. I had the vision of being able to support practitioners in their daily work with research-based information– and this has become a reality. The Academic Society of Management & Communication in particular has conducted many valuable studies for practitioners. That’s why it’s important that leading communication managers are encouraged to support the Academic Society’s work.

  • Schuppener: I’ve closely observed the foundation’s development since 2001. During that time the foundation has become much more professionalized. It has initiated and implemented new projects. An important precondition for its further development has been the transformation of the SPRL into the legally independent Günter Thiele Foundation in 2015.

What are the future plans for the Günter Thiele Foundation?

  • Schuppener: Of course, the foundation will take on additional tasks and projects in the future that will address new issues. However, these new topics always have to be relevant for corporate practice. I see digitalization playing an important role in the future. Likewise, communication for non-profits and NGOs could be an interesting topic that we will work on in the near future.

  • Thiele: We have already taken the first step regarding financial communication by founding the Center for Research in Financial Communication, headed by Christian Hoffmann. After the Academic Society, the Center for Research in Financial Communication is the second major initiative sponsored by the Günter Thiele Foundation.

  • Schuppener: Moreover, we are thinking about a further internationalization of the foundation: do we want to focus our work on Germany or extend it to Europe? With the Academic Society’s research program Value Creating Communication we took a first step towards internationalization

  • Thiele: However, our main focus shall remain on Germany, especially on the University of Leipzig. I was educated here and in Halle. The University of Leipzig should benefit from my donations.

Can research keep up with the groundbreaking changes happening in the field and be in a position to truly support companies?

  • Thiele: Research is playing a leading role in the development of communication technologies. I believe that research can keep pace and I also think that it’s not actually in a position to be faster than practice.

  • Schuppener: Sometimes I’d like researchers to be more experimental I’d like them to use creative ideas or create new theoretical concepts to look towards the future. At the moment research is too close to reality. We haven’t been brave enough. We cling too much to empiricism, and we shy away from big, future-orientated concepts. 

What PR professionals can learn from research

An interview with Günter F. Thiele

You worked for a communication agency for many years - why did you decide to start supporting PR research and teaching?

  • During my time at the agency I noticed how difficult it was to find qualified people. We started offering traineeships back at a time when this not very common. After retiring I finally had the time to dedicate myself to PR education and training. On a visit to Leipzig I met Professor Günter Bentele and we discussed the difficulties of hiring qualified staff. And so the idea to set up the Stiftung zur Förderung der Public Relations an der Universität Leipzig (SPRL) was born. The foundation's original aim was not only to support professional training, but to also encourage a research-led focus and restructuring of this field. A good example of this has been the Academic Society for Management & Communication that arose from this very idea.

What can practice learn from research and what can research learn from practice?

  • You know, other fields such as law or the natural sciences have their own theoretical foundations. It's only us who don't. Back when I was working in the communication agency I noticed time and time again that our discussions about communication plans and measures were always very subjective, we would say things like: "I like this one, but not that one." PR practitioners need to be able to follow their gut instinct, but they also need a theoretical and scientific foundation for their decisions. I'm very pleased to see that this has improved over the last few decades. Likewise, excellent scientific research should also incorporate practitioners' feedback and input. Good examples are research programs like the European Communication Monitor and Value Creating Communication.

Looking back, how has the profession changed?

  • In recent decades the profession has changed a lot. Unfortunately, many still define PR's goals as, "Do something good and talk about it!", although we know that it's not the right approach to focus on just one side of the coin. Credible and trustworthy PR work has to be able to see and tell the whole story. Today, PR's field of activity and impact have become much bigger. PR's role has gone from having a purely press and media relations focus to having a more all-encompassing communications function, a focus which also often has to take financial factors/aspects into account/a focus which is often based on financial factors . PR is now the strategic management of communication processes of companies, organizations and individuals with their stakeholders.

What advice would you give to young communication professionals?

  • I've talked a lot with junior staff about this question. We had 170 employees in our agency during my time as managing director and I very often had to show new employees the ropes. Communication should be understood as having a service function: there is a sender and a recipient. Professionalism, a systematic approach as well as credibility form the basis of communication. To implement communication successfully, you also need diligence, modesty and humbleness.

What is your vision for the future of the Günter Thiele Foundation?

  • It's important to continue the work at the Institute for Communication and Media Science and to develop it further. Besides the other successful projects, the Academic Society is for me the most reputable and most successful project. The Günter Thiele Foundation will be my heir since I do not have any direct descendants. I came to this decision together with my wife, Anita Thiele, who died in 2013. I'm pleased that with my help we will be able to further promote the training of young professionals and, most importantly, support the development of research and teaching in the field of Public Relations.