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Conceptualization Definition of Organization-Public Relationships Ledingham and Bruning (1998) first defined relationship by linking it with the impact based on interpersonal relationship principles: “the state which exists between an organization and its key publics in which the actions of either entity impact the economic, social, political and /or cultural well-being of the other entity” (p. 62). Then based on the system theory, Broom, Casey, and Richey (2000) defined OPRs from an exchange perspective, which points out the
dynamic nature of relationship:
Organization-public relationships are represented by the patterns of interaction, transaction, exchange, and linkage between an organization and its publics. These relationships have properties that are distinct from the identities, attributes, and perceptions of the individuals and social collectivities in the relationships. Through dynamic in nature, relationships can be described at a single point in time and tracked over time (p.18).
507 Hon and J. E. Grunig (1999) stated that a relationship begins when there are consequences created by an organization which affect publics or when the behavior of publics has consequences on an organization. Adopting this notion, Hung (2005a) suggested another definition based on the system theory: “OPRs arise when organizations and their strategic publics are interdependent and this interdependence results in consequences to each other that organizations need to manage constantly” (p. 396). According to Ki and Shin (2005), there is no consistent definition of relationship. However, although from different perspectives, these interpretations of organization-public relationships seem to agree that relationship is not only an output but a dynamic process that needs to be constantly managed which has an impact on organizations.
Types of Organization-Public Relationships Early research has found two basic relationship types: exchange and communal (Clark & Mills, 1993; Mills & Clark, 1994). In an exchange relationship, each party gives benefits to the other only if the other has provided benefits in the past or will do so in future. In a communal relationship, both parties provide benefits not for something in return but for the welfare of the other.
Hung (2002, 2005) identified six additional types of relationships through 40 interviews with 36 multinational companies in Mainland China and Taiwan: exploitive relationships, manipulative relationships, symbiotic relationships, contractual relationships, covenantal relationships and mutual communal relationships (for detail, see Hung, 2005).
Exploitive relationships. Explorative relationships means that one party takes advantage of the other when the other intends to be communal or that one doesn’t fulfill its responsibilities in an exchange relationship (Clark & Mills, 1993; Hung, 2002).
Manipulative relationships. According to Hung (2005), manipulative relationship appears when an organization knows what the publics want, and still applies “asymmetrical or pseudosymmetrical approaches to communicate with publics to serve its own interest” (Hung, 2005, p.
Symbiotic relationships. Symbiotic relationships mean that different parties depend on each other for their common interests of surviving or goal attainment. It is not necessarily a specific relationship. In Hung (2005)’s study, symbiotic relationship happens when different departments of an organizations interact just for job requirements.
Contractual relationships. Contractual relationships means both parties agree on what they should do in the relationships at the beginning just like making a contract (Hung, 2002).
However, as Hung (2005) pointed out, contractual relationships can not guarantee equal relationships as there are power imbalance.
Covenantal relationships. Covenantal relationships mean both parties “commit to a common good by their open exchanges and the norm of reciprocity” (Hung, 2005, p. 398). It can be realized through one party providing suggestions, criticisms and insights while the other party is always to listen and provide responses (Hung, 2005).
Mutual communal relationships. Hung (2002) developed two categories of communal relationships, one-side communal relationships and mutual communal relationships. According to Hung (2002, 2005), one-side communal relationships refer to relationships in which only one party expects the relationship to be communal and shows concern for the other’s interests.
Mutual communal relationships refer to relationships in which both parties expect the relationships to be communal and both parties show concern to welfares of each other.
508 Continuum of Types of Organization-Public Relationships These eight types of relationship developed by Hung (2002, 2005): exploitive relationships, manipulative relationships, contractual relationships, symbiotic relationships, exchange relationships, covenantal relationships, mutual communal relationships and one-sided communal relationships are continuous on a continuum (see Figure 1) swinging from one side “concern for self interest” to the other side “concern for other’s interests” (Hung, 2005, p. 416).
Figure 1: Continuum of Types of OPRs. Note. From “Exploring types of organizational-public relationships and their implications for relationship management in public relations,” by C. J. F.
Hung, 2005a, Journal of Public Relations Research, 17(4), 393-426.
Resource-based View of OPRs Resource-based Theory The resource-based view is one of the most widely accepted theoretical perspectives in strategic management (Newbert, 2007). The central focus of resource-based theory is the exploration of organizational resources to gain a sustainable competitive advantage that affords the accrual of superior performance (Wernerfelt, 1984; Barney, 1991; Peteraf, 1993).
Resources include three categories, tangible assets, intangible assets and organizational capabilities (Dess, Lumpkin & Eisner, 2007; Pearce & Robinson, 2000). Tangible assets include production facilities, raw materials, financial resources and real estate. They are the physical and financial means that a company uses to provide values to its customers (Dess, Lumpkin & Eisner, 2007; Grant, 1991; Pearce & Robinson, 2000). Intangible assets include those factors that are non-physical in nature and are rarely included in the companies’ balance sheet such as information and knowledge (Galbreath, 2005). According to Fernandez, Montes and Vazquez (2000), there are people dependent assets like human capital which refers to the knowledge acquired by a person, personal contacts and relations, as well as individual qualities. People independent assets include organizational capital (norms and guidelines, databases, corporate culture, strategic alliances, etc.), technological capital (the access, use and innovation of production techniques) and relational capital (reputation, brand loyalty, long-term customer relationship, commercial name, etc.). Organizational capabilities are intangible bundles of skills and accumulated knowledge exercised through organizational routines (Nelson & Winter, 1982;
Teece et al., 1997).
However, not all resources are of equal importance or possess the potential to be a source of sustainable competitive advantage. According to Barney (1991) and Dess et al. (2007), only resources that are valuable, rare, inimitable, and non-substitutable (known as VRIN 509 framework 10) are strategic resources for companies and can help companies gain sustainable competitive advantages facing competition.
Research on OPRs from the Resource-based View IABC’s Excellence study provided strong evidence for the value of OPRs, and found that OPRs are intangible assets that can help save money by preventing costly issues, crises, regulation, litigation, and bad publicity, and make money by generating good reputation, publicity, and attracting investments (L.A. Grunig et al., 2002). Adopting the resource-based perspective, Ni (2006) found that quality relationships are organizational strategic resources because they are valuable, rare, inimitable and non-substitutable. Men (2009) and Men and Hung (2009) provided more evidence supporting Ni (2006)’s findings and found that quality relationships can help companies achieve sustainable competitive advantage. They also noted that OPRs are organizational resources because relationship cultivation is perceived as an organizational capability that can generate quality relationships/relationship outcomes (i.e. trust, satisfaction, commitment, control mutuality, support, information sharing) as intangible assets (Men, 2009; Men & Hung, 2009).
Little research has been done to examine the links between different types of relationships and organizational strategic resources. Based on the literature review, the following two
research questions are proposed:
RQ1: What types of OPRs do companies develop with different publics in Mainland China?
RQ2: What types of OPRs are perceived as strategic resources by public relations managers and other strategic managers in Mainland China?
Methodology Qualitative interviewing was used to explore these issues. According to Kvale (1996), interviewing is an interpersonal interaction during which the interviewees’ live meanings can be communicated not only by words, but by tone of voices, expressions, and gestures in a natural setting. Through qualitative interviews, researchers can obtain descriptions of the world as interviewees perceive it and reconstruct events without participating in them. According to L.
A. Grunig (2008), interviews are perhaps the most commonly-applied qualitative research technique in the public relations field. Researchers can analyze interview data to “…explain what critical stakeholders think and do on their own terms” (L. A. Grunig, 2008, p.130). As in studies by Chen (2006), Hung (2002), and Ni (2006), this study exploited long interviews, elite interviews, in-depth interviews and active interviews11 in the data collection process. Long face 10 Valuable: Resources that can enable an organization to formulate and implement strategy that can improve their efficiency and effectiveness.
Rare: Resources which are not easily accessible to competitors.
Inimitable: Resources which are difficult for competitors to copy. Inimitable resources usually have the characteristics of path dependency, causal ambiguity, and social complexity ( for detail, see Men, 2009).
Non-substitutable: Competitors have no equivalent resources to substitute.
11 Long interviews can expose the contexts of people’s behavior, providing researchers a fuller understanding of meaning (Seidman, 1991). In-depth interviews intend to combine structure with flexibility. A range of probes and techniques can be used to elicit answers deep in terms of penetration, exploration and explanation (Legard, Keegan & Ward, 2003). Active interview situations rely on interactions and dialogues between the interviewer and the interviewee to create meaning. They allow the subjects’ interpretive capabilities to be activated, stimulated and cultivated (Holstein & Gubrum, 1995). Elite interviews refer to interviews with those who are influential, prominent and well-informed in their field and will not subject themselves to standardized questioning (Dexter, 1970; Marshall & Rossman, 1999) 510 to face interactions and dialogues were conducted with strategic managers, including public relations directors from different industries. In order to have in-depth understanding of the context, we also did some field observation in connection with conducting the interviews in the interviewee’s offices. Active dialogues were attempted with some interviewees, in which joint efforts were made to construct meaning and search for answers.
Sampling Theoretical sampling and snowball sampling were the main tactics for recruiting organizations and interviewees to participate. According to the theme of the study and the nature of the research questions, companies for interview were initially selected from the Fortune 500 list (available at http://www.fortune500s.net/fortune500-list.php) and Forbes’ China 100 top companies list for 2007 (available at http://www.forbeschina.com/inc1/200708.htm) with branch offices in cities of Shanghai and Hangzhou. After initial contacts with the 35 selected multinational companies and domestic companies via e-mail and telephone, 14 companies agreed to participate in the study. Interviewees include vice presidents, general managers, and public relations directors. These interviewees were then asked for further referrals.
Every Effort was made to avoid convenience sampling in recruiting as we agree with Patton (1990) that convenience sampling is neither purposeful nor strategic and therefore should be the last consideration. Finally, 15 interviews were held with strategic managers from 14 participating companies in the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Hangzhou in August 2008, during the summer breaks of school. Most of the participating organizations requested that their identities to be kept confidential.
Data Analysis Three stages of data analysis: data reduction, data display, and conclusions and verification (Huberman & Miles, 1994; Berg, 2007) were followed in this study. To get a whole picture, the interview data was reserved with the original language in transcription as much as possible.
Then as the project continues, the raw data was simplified and transformed into a more manageable form through written summaries, coding, and identification of analytic themes. To display the data, we first divided the responses of each question into different categories. Then conceptual mapping (Grich, 2007) was used to display the relationships between themes.
Finally, after the data had been collected, reduced and displayed, analytical conclusions defined themselves more clearly and definitively (Berg, 2007). Then we verified the findings by reading the transcripts and field notes again to make sure the conclusions were real and not just the wishful thinking. During the data analysis process, to ensure the objectivity some interviewees were contacted for clarification and confirmation of our interpretations through e-mail.
Triangulation was also used to ensure the accuracy of the transcription, translations and interpretation of the interview data.