Organization–public relationships

Organization–public relationships

organization–public relationships is a key concept in public relations research. The emergence of relationship management theory as a new paradigm for public relations increases scholars’ argument about the essence of public relations—what it is and what is its value within the organizations and to the greater society. The relationship paradigm provides a framework to explore the linkage between public relations efforts and its outcomes. The notion that relationships ought to be at the core of public relations research was first advocated by Mary Ann Ferguson in 1984. Since then, the relational perspective has emerged as a major area for theory development in public relations.


First scholar to suggest OPRs as an area of study in public relations

As the first scholar to study general theory development in the field of public relations, Mary Ann Ferguson (1984) investigated the main foci in public relations research. By conducting a content analysis of 171 abstracts or articles published in the Public Relation Review over a period of nine years from 1975 to 1984, Ferguson identified three overall foci that guided public relations research: social responsibility and ethics; social issues and issue management; and public relationships. Based on the three foci, Ferguson predicted that the area of public relationships is the most potential area for theory development in public relations. Thus, she asserted that the matter of relationships between an organization and its key publics should be the central unit of the study of public relations research. Ferguson presented her findings to the Public Relations Division at the 1984 annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in Gainesville, Florida. Although her paper has been widely cited later on, it was never published.


Broom, Casey, and Ritchey's definition in 1997

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. Though dynamic in nature, organization–public relationships can be described at a single point in time and tracked over time.

Ledingham and Bruning's definition in 1998

An organization–public relationship is the state which exists between an organization and its key publics in which the actions of either entity impace the economic, social, political, and/or cultural well-being of the other entity.

Huang's definition in 1998

An organization–public relationship is the degree that the organization and its publics trust one another, agree on one has rightful power to influence, experience satisfaction with each other, and commit oneself to one another.

Dimensions of OPR

After conceptualizaing OPR itself, researchers started proposing the characteristics that could best represent the quality of organization–public relationships. Therefore, explicating the defining dimensions of relationships within the literature became the primary goal for public relations researchers in order to facilitate the measurement of the construct of the term “relationship,” and a variety of frameworks and measuring dimensions have been developed.

  • Dynamic/static, open/closed, mutual satisfaction/unsatisfaction, distribution of power and mutual understanding, agreement, and consensus (Ferguson, 1984).
  • Reciprocity, trust, credibility, mutual legitimacy, openness, mutual satisfaction, and mutual understanding (Grunig, Grunig, & Ehling, 1992).
  • Openness, trust, involvement, investment, and commitment (Ledingham, Bruning, Thomlison, & Lesko, 1997).
  • Investment, commitment, trust, comfort with relational dialectics, cooperation, mutual goals, interdependence, power imbalance, performance satisfaction, comparison level of the alternatives, adaptation, non-retrievable investment, shared technology, summate constructs, structural bonds, social bonds, intimacy, and passion (Ledingham, Bruning, Thomlison, & Lesko, 1997).
  • Open communication, the level of trust, the level of involvement, investment in community, and long-term commitment (Ledingham and Bruning, 1998).

Most notable dimensions of OPR

Ledingham and Bruning appear to have published the first quantitative test of OPR dimensions in their 1998 article, in which they quantified the OPR dimensions suggested in their 1997 publication. In that publication (1997) they advanced the notion that relationship dimensions seen operating in an interpersonal context could apply as well in the context of organization–public relationships. Those dimensions are: openness, trust, involvement, investment, and commitment. In 1999, Bruning and Ledingham – in an article which received the International Communication Association's PRide Award as top PR article of the year – found through statistical analysis that OPR dimensions could be categorized into three distinct types: personal, professional, and community. They further found that these OPR types could be used to predict probable public behavior in a choice situation. Also based on a comprehensive theoretical review, Hon and Grunig (1999) developed quantitative measurement scales for assessing six proposed dimensions of an organization–public relationship: control mutuality, trust, satisfaction, commitment, exchange relationships, and communal relationships. The Hon and Grunig scale, developed under the auspices of the Public Relations Institute, and the Bruning and Ledingham scale, a well as others, have been used repeatedly in studies by these and other scholars.

Definitions of selected key dimensions

  • 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 (Hon and Grunig). That an organization will do what it says it will do. The notion of a fiduciary relationship operates particularly when a not-for-profit organization is a party to the relationship (Ledingham and Bruning).
  • 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 (Hon and Grunig). Perceived levels of commitment are an indication of OPR quality (Ledingham and Bruning).
  • 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.
  • Exchange relationships--In exchange relationships, 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 relationships--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 constituencies is much more important to achieve than would be developing exchange relationship.
  • Favor and face--Favor (or renqing) connotes a set of social norms by which one must abide to get along well with other people in Chinese society. In public relations, it is a mode of conduct in which individuals stay in contact with influential parties. Face (or mianzi) is kind of a resource that can be exchanged between individuals as a means of securing favors. Maintaining face or doing a face-work in front of others is important in social interactions, especially for expanding or enhancing human networks.
  • Openness-Seen as consistent sharing of plans between the actors in a relationship.

See also

External links


    • Broom, G. M., Casey, S., & Ritchey, J. (1997). Toward a concept and theory of organization–public relationships. Journal of Public Relations Research, 9(2), 83–98.
    • Ferguson, M. A. (1984, August). Building theory in public relations: Interorganizational relationships. Paper presented at the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Gainesville, FL.
    • Grunig, J. E., Grunig, L. A., & Ehling, W. P. (1992). What is an effective organization? In J. E. Grunig (Ed.), Excellence public relations and communication management: Contributions to effective organizations (pp. 65–89). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
    • Hon, C. L., & Grunig, J. E. (1999). Guidelines for measuring relationships in public relations. Gainesville, FL: The Institute for Public Relations.
    • Huang, Y. (1998, August). Public relations strategies and organization–public relationships. Paper presented at the annual conference of the International Communication Association, San Francisco.
    • Huang, Y. (2001). OPRA: A cross-cultural, multiple-item scale for measuring organization–public relationships. Journal of Public Relations Research, 13(1), 61–90.
    • Ledingham, J. A., & Bruning, S. D. (1998). Relationship management in public relations: Dimensions of an organization–public relationship. Public Relations Review, 24(1), 55–65.
    • Ledingham, J. A., Bruning, S. D., Thomlison, T. D., & Lesko, C. (1997). The applicability of the interpersonal relationship dimensions to an organizational context: Toward a theory of relational loyalty; a qualitative approach. Academy of Managerial Communication Journal, 1(1), 23–43.

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