Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
July 30, 2010

Measuring Stakeholder Relationships: A Case Study

We work in an increasingly ‘direct-to-stakeholder’ world. Stakeholder, influencer, key opinion leader relationships are everything in this business. So if the industry is investing time and money in initiating, building and maintaining relationships with stakeholders for mutual benefit, then there sure better be a way to first diagnose the situation, respond to it, then measure success.  

In Theory
There are. Methods exist to quantifiably benchmark and track the quality of stakeholder relationships (customers, interest groups, investors, employees, vendors, government officials, etc.) over time. It’s an index used to establish a diagnostic benchmark, build a campaign around addressing gaps, and measure again for lift.   

The index, which comes to us from the granddaddy of contemporary public relations academia, Jim Grunig, Ph.D., out of the University of Maryland, can be executed through a series of interviews, focus groups and/or (ideally) a survey.   

It measures success in familiar terms such as mutual awareness, accuracy, understanding, agreement and the less familiar, symbiotic behavior. 

Six elements of a relationship are testing using an agree-disagree scale:

  • Control mutuality (The extent to which stakeholders feel they have control over the direction of the relationship, the organization, the strategy, or whatever’s at issue.)
  • Trust (integrity dependability, competence)
  • Satisfaction 
  • Commitment
  • Exchange and communal value (Anybody remember their Marx readings?)

Each of the above categories generally has at least a dozen or so agree-disagree statement behind it. 

So, does it work? Yes, it does. Let’s look at an some simplified excerps from example undertaken recently. 

In Practice
A large public sector organization operating in a very complex environment with a wide and diverse range of external stakeholders wanted to understand what stakeholders thought of them. The project set out to test the hypothesis that this organization had fairly decent and strong (read: good quality) relationships with their stakeholders. 

The result was much poorer than was assumed: 34/100. The score means that, all questions and all categories being equally weighted (and they aren’t always or at least don’t have to be), and looking at all stakeholder groups, on average, 34 percent of all survey respondents would have either agreed or strongly agreed with the statements, such as those below, put to them. Or, looked on another way, one might infer that only 34 percent of respondents agreed that they have a ‘quality’ relationship with the organization. (Examples of statements are below.)

  • This organization wants to develop a partnership with clients. — 29 (percent agreed)
  • This organization treats people like me fairly and justly. —.44
  • This organization is responsive to me. — 39
  • When this organization makes an important decision, it will be concerned about people like me. — 24
  • This organization can be relied on to keep its promises. — 27
  • This organization really listens to what people like me have to say. — 29
  • I feel that this organization is trying to maintain a long-term commitment to people like me. — 32
  • I can see that this organization wants to maintain a relationship with people like me. — 37

More importantly, looked at in the simplest light, the results essentially mean that 66 percent didn’t feel they had a ‘quality’ relationship with the organization with whom they deal. And if one were to look at these results broken down by type of stakeholder (say, investors versus suppliers versus government officials), the bad news is that the results, in many cases, are even more troubling. As a former employer used to say, “Data can validate the intuitive.” In this case, it (the data) did quite the opposite. It disproved an assumption. But that’s not always a bad thing. The good news is that the organization that commissioned the study now has a diagnostic benchmark that helps them identify with laser focus, problem areas; prioritize stakeholders; go after those stakeholders; and improve those relationships.       

Alan Chumley, senior consultant at CARMA International Inc., Global Media Analysts, has twelve years’ experience in the corporate communication / measurement industry, including senior-level, in-house corporate communications roles for leading blue chip organizations such as Bell Canada, as the director of Measurement for Hill & Knowlton, and vice president at Cormex Media Content Analysis. An advocate of driving science into the art of communications, Alan has extensive experience in the use of research and measurement to inform and influence strategy.  He specializes in interviews, focus groups, surveys, stakeholder relationship measurement, communication and perception audits, reputation research, employee engagement research, traditional and social media content analysis, and correlating this data with tangible organization outcomes. Connect with Alan and the CARMunity on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

Join Alan along with other volunteers of the PRSA National Capitol Chapter (PRSA-NCC) at the PRSA 2010 International Conference: Powering PRogress, October 16–19 in Washington, D.C.!

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