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Research Offers New Way to Assess an Organization’s Public Relations

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For Immediate Release

Communication and marketing experts place great weight on an organization’s relationship with its public stakeholders, and a new tool allows organizations to better measure and describe the nature of these relationships.

“Traditionally, these relationships are measured using questionnaires, which provide only a static snapshot of how one party viewed an organization,” says Yang Cheng, co-author of a paper on the work and an assistant professor of communication at North Carolina State University. “But questionnaires don’t account for the organization’s role in shaping the relationship, nor do questionnaires account for the dynamic nature of relationships.

“Our tool, called Contingent Organization-Public Relationships (COPR), accounts for both of those factors, and can help our field better understand both how and why relationships change over time. The COPR, as a toolkit, can be applied to evaluate relationships in not only positive and cooperative environments but also during conflicts or crises.”

The COPR framework assesses relationships based on the stance of the organization on a given subject and the stance of the relevant publics on the same subject, with the understanding that each side will adopt a stance that best serves its interest. The stances are measured on a continuum that runs from “aggressive” to “accommodating.”

The COPR can use these stances to describe a relationship as belonging in one of six well-defined categories. For example, if both parties have taken an aggressive stance, they have a “competing” relationship. But if a one party is aggressive and the other party is accommodating, they have a “capitulating” relationship.

“We can determine each party’s stance by mining datasets such as public discourse on social media, organizational actions, such as news releases or blog posts, and so on,” Cheng says. “And COPR allows us to see how these relationships evolve in response to changing circumstances, such as during a concerted marketing push or after a crisis.”

To demonstrate COPR’s utility, the researchers conducted an analysis of the Red Cross in China from 2011 to 2014, as the organization grappled with a crisis concerning its credibility with Chinese audiences.

The paper, “Examining six modes of relationships in a social-mediated crisis in China: an exploratory study of contingent organization–public relationships (COPR),” is published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research. The paper was co-authored by Glen Cameron of the University of Missouri. The work was done with support from the Center for the Digital Globe and the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri.

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Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“Examining six modes of relationships in a social-mediated crisis in China: an exploratory study of contingent organization–public relationships (COPR)”

Authors: Yang Cheng, North Carolina State University; Glen T. Cameron, University of Missouri

Published: Dec. 2, 2019, Journal of Applied Communication Research

DOI: 10.1080/00909882.2019.1695874

Abstract: The relationship management theory and contingency theory of conflict management, as two dominant approaches in the field of public relations, bolstered by a tapestry of literature from cross-disciplinary fields, were brought together to conceptualize the concept of contingent organization–public relationships (COPR). To generate the theoretical robustness of COPR and test its practical applicability, we selected a social-mediated crisis occurring in China and collected data through mixed-methods, including both content analysis and in-depth interviews. Quantitatively, content analysis of 338 Red Cross’s press releases and 4003 media coverage and 136,754 public posts during a 3-year time range provided a natural history of the application of COPR in crises. Qualitative interviews also offered in-depth information on the perceptions of stances and relationships from each party in this incident. Findings concluded that COPR addressed the dynamic and contingent multi-party relationships in contemporary China.

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