Archive | October, 2007

Reflections on Relationship Measurement

26 Oct

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:

  •  Relationships

  • Influence

  • Advocacy


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. 

 –Don B     

Let’s Rein In The Hype About Relationship Measurement

12 Oct

There appears to be a groundswell of support among the measurement cognoscente (a.k.a. metricsexuals*) for the concept of Relationship Measurement.  Much of the early work in Relationship Measurement was done by Dr. James Grunig and Dr. Linda Hon, as published in their seminal 1999 paper; “Guidelines for Measuring Relationships in Public Relations” (get a copy here).  The basic premise of Relationship Measurement is that public relations is fundamentally about managing the relationship between an organization or company and all its stakeholders – employees, communities, customers, partners, etc.  Dr. Grunig and Dr. Hon identified six factors – four characteristics of relationships and two types of relationships – that collectively are highly correlated to relationship strength: 

  1. Control Mutuality
  2. Trust
  3. Satisfaction
  4. Commitment
  5. Exchange Relationship
  6. Communal Relationship

 In my opinion, Relationship Measurement is an interesting concept that has a place in the public relations measurement mix, primarily as a diagnostic tool.  It is not, however, a panacea nor should it be considered the ‘next big thing’ in measurement.  Here’s why: 

  • With Relationship Measurement you are measuring the strategy (how) and not the objective (what).  A company wants better relationships with employees because that probably means their employee retention rates are higher, or their talent acquisition costs are lower, or perhaps because satisfied employees provide better customer service.  They want better relationships with customers because they may buy more products or services and are more loyal.  Relationships are the means to the end perhaps, but not the desired outcome. 

  • There is no proof (yet) that better relationships lead directly to better business outcomes.  While it may be intuitively obvious to many of you that having better relationships is good for the business, the research necessary to demonstrate this has not be done in any broad-scale way of which I am aware.      

  • It is difficult to demonstrate the value to the organization of public relations if we are focused on measuring relationships.  If you go into a CEO’s office and he/she asks how public relations is doing this year and you respond, “Great, relationship strength is up an average of 12% across the board”, you will get a very blank look in response.  Like it or not, public relations must demonstrate how it is helping to drive desired business outcomes if it is to be considered a core strategic function within the organization.   

In the coming months I’m quite sure you will hear more and more about Relationship Measurement.  Read the articles and the books.  Experiment with it and see if it meets your needs.  But please, can we keep a little perspective about what it is and what it is not? Thanks for reading.  I welcome your contrary viewpoints.  –Don B  

* props to Katie Delahaye Paine for this term (see Katie’s blog here)