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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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Before we built the joint-venture company in China, customers could only buy very old style cars in the Chinese market. When XX (this company’s name) entered China, it brought the newest design and the newest technology. Then the old cars were not 515 competitive any more and were gradually replaced. More and more new cars were developed. It’s XX that changed the situation of the auto market and improved the industry capability in China. Therefore, in these what you call…covenantal relationships, the Chinese auto industry was benefitted, the Chinese government was benefitted, and our partners and suppliers were all benefitted. Meanwhile, we gained trust from these publics. The governments gave us more support when making policies. Other competitors respected us and we had a say in the auto industry. Every party won from the improvement and development of the Chinese auto industry.

Another participant from a multinational chemical company believed that in covenantal relationships, usually, one party had more expertise or experiences than the other one and therefore was more powerful. Then this party can influence the other in a positive way. One interviewee from a Hong Kong limited company gave a concrete example about how they benefited from such covenantal relationships. According to her, they had this covenantal relationship with the Hong Kong Council of Social Services (HKCSS). Sometimes when they had proposals of community services, they would contact with the HKCSS for discussion. Then they could get valuable suggestions for improving the services.

Therefore, it can be seen that in covenantal relationships as long as they have the common good and are open for discussion, both parties can benefit from this resource.

Discussion and Conclusion

The eight types of OPRs from the literature, communal (one-sided communal and mutual communal), exchange, covenantal, symbiotic, contractual, manipulative, and exploitative relationships were all explored during the interviews. Exchange relationships were found to be the most common type of relationship as it fits into the nature of business operation. This also echoed Mill and Clark (1994) and Hung (2002) that participants in business settings are more involved in exchange relationships. Mutual communal, covenantal, symbiotic, contractual relationships were all reported to commonly exist by most of the participant companies in Mainland China. Few differences were found between the types of relationships developed by multinational companies and local Chinese companies.

Exploitative and manipulative relationships are not common in the business world today according to the interviewees. Even if companies are able to get benefits from exploitative or manipulative relationships temporarily, these relationships can not last long because publics can not be fooled more than once. In addition, with the marketization process in China, the consumers have more choices than ever, which gets them empowered. The development of consumerism and arising of Wangmin (the net public) also contributes to the empowerment of publics in China. However, sometimes, as communication tactics or skills, manipulative and exploitive relationships can exist in some occasions in certain ways. Pure (one-sided) communal relationships were found hardly commonly exist between companies and publics in the business world because the nature of companies is to ultimately gain benefits.

Among all types of OPRs, communal relationships, exchange relationships and covenantal relationships were regarded as strategic organizational resources that could bring benefits for companies and help companies compete in the market. In communal relationships, which appear more in CSR and community relations, companies give without the expectation of getting returns in the short term. But in the long run, companies can get intangible benefits that can also contribute to the corporate bottom line, such as word-of-mouth, good reputation and image. In exchange relationships, mutual needs are satisfied and the companies can directly get tangible 516 and intangible benefits. In covenantal relationships, both parties engage in discussions on the common good. No matter which side is more powerful, covenantal relationships generate mutual reciprocity from which companies can benefit. Consistent with Hung’s (2002, 2005) studies, communal relationships, exchange relationships and covenantal relationships were regarded as win-win OPRs and more symmetrical than other types of OPRs. Besides, they were perceived as strategic resources and are preferred by companies in developing different types of relationships with Chinese publics. On one hand, companies generally strive for a mutual beneficial situation in doing business. On the other, I believe the people-oriented nature of Chinese culture which emphasizes reciprocity and relational harmony (Hung, 2002; Luo, 2002) cultivates a win-win mindset.

The conclusions echoes Hung’s (2002, 2005) findings on the types of OPRs and provide new indications. My data suggests that along this continuum of types of OPRs, the two extremes, exploitative or manipulative and one-sided communal relationships are not common in companies’ business operation nowadays in China. There is a trend toward the middle range of the continuum for companies’ types of OPRs, especially toward the win–win zone. Companies as well as the publics can benefit more from the exchange, covenantal and mutual communal relationships, because there is a balance of interest important for long-term relationship development. Besides, these relationships are regarded as strategic resources for companies that can contribute to sustainable competitive advantage. The preference of the win-win relationships by companies in China indicates a symmetrical climate and mindset in corporate relationship building with strategic publics. Based on the findings and discussions, the continuum of type of

OPRs from a resource-based view can be drawn as follows:

–  –  –

Figure 7: Continuum of Types of OPRs from a Resource-based View This model indicates the dynamic nature of relationships. The characteristics of publics are changing with the development of the political, economical and social environment.

Correspondingly, the types of relationships developed between companies and the publics are changing. For example, different from decades ago when the market was product dominant, exploitive and manipulative relationships can rarely exist in today’s business world, as the market is becoming more consumer dominant and the publics are getting empowered. This also suggests that the continuum of types of OPRs developed by Hung (2002) may have different implications when applied to different social settings or the same cultural setting over time, especially in a fast developing social context like China.

517 Following Hung (2002, 2005)’s study and Ni’s (2006) study, this research explores the types of relationships developed between companies in China and strategic publics and built the links between types of OPRs and strategic resources. It tested the continuum of types of OPRs developed by Hung (2002) in the social setting of Mainland China and further developed it from a resource-based view. In addition, beyond exploration of what types of OPRs exist between companies and their strategic publics, this study also implies the preferences of types of OPRs to be developed by companies in China. The findings expanded the literature on types of relationships and relationship cultivation study in Chinese social cultural setting.

This study also encountered some limitations. Although types of OPRs as antecedents and outcomes of relationship cultivation have some implications for relationship cultivation strategies (Hung, 2006), this study did not examine what strategies companies in China use to develop the win-win relationships (communal, exchange, and covenantal relationships) which are regarded as strategic resources. The interviews were conducted with both multinational companies and Chinese local companies. However, the number of Chinese local companies (3/14) was not big enough for a comprehensive comparison study. Future studies can be designed and conducted to overcome these limitations. In addition, considering the dynamic nature of types of OPRs, more future studies can be done to test the continuum of types of OPRs across cultures beyond the Chinese cultural setting.



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