The recent debate on relationship measurement in this blog (original post and comments here) was thought provoking to me and I hope to you as well. I believe there are at least three major areas of contention expressed or implied in the commentary:
Theory versus Practice
One of the differences in opinion I believe may be attributed to the philosophic view that, “Public relations is the organizational function responsible for relationships” according to Dr. Grunig, and the practical reality of how public relations is currently viewed by practitioners and the companies and agencies for whom they work. The practical reality is the public relations function today is rarely viewed as responsible for relationships in a broad organizational sense. The concept to me seems simultaneously too big and too limiting.
As a practical matter, marketing or brand managers or customer service/care executives are more often held responsible for customer relationships, not the PR team. The responsibility for employee relationships more often lies in the human resources department than it does public relations. I could go on but you get the point. There is a large disconnect between the idealized organizational relationship model and the reality of the corporate world today.
Many organizations today already perform various forms of research and measurement that might be categorized as relationship measurement. Three quick examples:
- Voice of the Customer (VOC) and variants are research techniques used to involve customers and prospects into the product or process design. A mechanism to have their voices heard before rather than after the fact
- Brand Studies are regularly used to evaluate and measure the strength of the relationship between consumers and a product or company. Trust and emotional attachment are key concepts here.
- Net Promoter Index and other techniques used to assess the strength of relationships and satisfaction levels between customers and an organization
Level of Abstraction
Building on the first topic, I would pose the question; do we want to stake the future of the PR function on relationships? Is that our highest and best use within organizations? Clearly between media fragmentation and social media proliferation, the current focus of many practitioners on media relations is a path akin to that formerly taken by the dinosaur. I believe the answer depends on the level of abstraction you want to apply. Three different levels come to mind:
A few thought leaders have organized their thinking around the concept of advocacy. Pragmatists might argue the role of the profession is really about creating and facilitating influence - we create exposure and ultimately attempt to influence our constituents. Both of these concepts to my way of thinking are a higher level of abstraction than relationships. One might try to build relationships to increase influence. Or one might use relationship building tactics to help create advocates for the brand or company.
The correct answer to this industry issue is clearly above my pay grade, but the debate is fascinating and important. Thanks for participating.