public relations relationshipsImage via Walker Sands

According to Cutlip, Center and Broom’s Effective Public Relations, public relations is, “building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics.”

Relationships are something we all know is critically important to our jobs, but in practice I think we’re sometimes too focused on interaction with those niche audiences that are immediately important to our clients. However, an organization’s long-term goals rely on strong relationships with a variety of stakeholders.

According to Ledingham, relationship management involves, “effectively managing organization-public relationships around common interests and shared goals overtime [which] results in mutual understanding and benefit for interacting organizations and publics.”

This seems obvious, but what does it really mean? Grunig and Hon described these components of relationship management:

    • Control Mutuality The degree to which parties agree on who has the rightful power to influence one another. Although some imbalance is natural, stable relationships require that organizations and publics each have some control over the other.
    • Trust One party’s level of confidence in and willingness to open oneself to the other party. There are three dimensions to trust; integrity: the belief that an organization is fair and just … dependability: the belief that an organization will do what it says it will do … and, competence: the belief that an organization has the ability to do what it says it will do.
    • Satisfaction The extent to which each party feels favorably toward the other because positive expectations about the relationship are reinforced. A satisfying relationship is one in which the benefits outweigh the costs.
    • Commitment The extent to which each party believes and feels that the relationship is worth spending energy to maintain and promote. Two dimensions of commitment are continuance commitment, which refers to a certain line of action, and affective commitment, which is an emotional orientation.
    • Exchange Relationship In an exchange relationship, one party gives benefits to the other only because the other has provided benefits in the past or is expected to do so in the future.
    • Communal Relationship In a communal relationship, both parties provide benefits to the other because they are concerned for the welfare of the other — even when they get nothing in return. For most public relations activities, developing communal relationships with key constituents is much more important to achieve than would be developing exchange relationships.

Grunig and Hon suggest the following strategies for achieving successful relationships:

    • Access Members of publics or opinion leaders provide access to public relations people.
    • Positivity Anything the organization or public does to make the relationship more enjoyable for the parties involved.
    • OpennessOpenness of thoughts and feelings among parties involved.
    • Assurances Attempts by parties in the relationship to assure the other parties that they and their concerns are legitimate. This strategy also might involve attempts by the parties in the relationship to demonstrate they are committed to maintaining the relationship.
    • Networking Organizations building networks or coalitions with the same groups that their publics do, such as environmentalists, unions, or community groups.
    • Sharing of tasks Organizations and publics sharing in solving joint or separate problems. Examples of such tasks are managing community issues, providing employment, making a profit, and staying in business, which are in the interest of either the organization, the public, or both.

These strategies are important to keep in mind when designing a long-term public relations plan. Share this information with clients when they question tactics that don’t lead to immediate results. Social media, for example, provides a great way of building relationships, even when there isn’t big news to announce.