Why Aren’t We Measuring Relationships?

Peggy Simcic Brønn

Organizations need to shift their focus from measuring reputation to measuring relationships. By concentrating on relationships, reputation will follow.

KNOWLEDGE @ BI: Measuring PR

The primary responsibility of PR departments is helping organizations build relationships with key stakeholders. They do this through counselling and helping organizations communicate effectively. 

Effective communication is a key factor in building good relationships. Furthermore, the very essence of reputation building is in relationships as the quality of relationships determines reputation.  

Ironically, however, as communication practitioners struggle with measuring performance, they give little attention to measuring the quality of the relationships on which the reputations of their organizations are built.     

Shifting focus

Organizations need to shift their focus from measuring reputation to measuring relationships. Researchers find that the quality of relationship outcomes has a direct effect on overall evaluations of an organization and indirectly through mediation on cognitive representations, i.e. reputation. By concentrating on relationships, reputation will follow.  

At the heart of any relationship are trust and commitment. The deeper the trust and commitment the more likely will be a set of outcomes: creative cooperation, loyalty, compliance, and future trust-related stakeholder behaviours. These outcomes can be seen as assets and thus a source of competitive advantage. 

One way of classifying a relationship is on the kind of relationship that an organization is trying to achieve, for example exchange or communal relationships. 

In an exchange relationship, “benefits are given with the expectation of receiving a comparable benefit in return or as repayment for a benefit received previously.” 

In a communal relationship, benefits are given “in response to needs or to demonstrate a general concern for the other person” (Clark & Mills, 1993).

Four outcomes of successful relationships

It is possible to measure relationships.  A publication of the Institute for Public Relations titled ‘Measuring Relationships in Public Relations’ (1999), co-authored by Linda Hon and James E. Grunig, provides a basis for measuring four outcomes of successful relationships; trust, control mutuality, commitment and satisfaction. 

The Grunig and Hon instrument has been used extensively in academic research -- also in Norway. The relationship outcomes are defined as:

  • Trust, one party’s confidence in and willingness to open up to the other party (this measurement includes dimensions for integrity, competence and dependability);

Integrity – the belief that an organization is fair and just

Dependability – the belief that an organization will do what it says it will do

Competence – the belief that an organization has the ability to do what it says it will do

  • Control mutuality, the degree to which parties agree on who has rightful power to influence one another
  • Commitment, the degree to which each party believes and feels that the relationship is worth spending time and money on; 

Continuance commitment – a certain line of action

Affective commitment – an emotional orientation

  • Satisfaction, the degree to which each party feels favorably toward the other because positive expectations about the relationship are reinforced.

Payoff for reputation

There is ample evidence that focusing on relationships has a payoff for reputation, which can affect organizational performance. 

Regular evaluation of relationship quality sends a signal that the firm is serious about their stakeholders and that they are willing to commit resources to improving and sustaining good relationships.

Good relationships do not happen overnight, but organizations must be willing to invest in the effort. One good place to start is recognizing the important role their communication departments play in building the communication competencies of the organization.      


Brønn, P. S. (2008), Why Aren’t We Measuring Relationships?, Communication World, International Association of Business Communicators. 

Clark, M. S. and J. Mills (1993), “The difference between communal and exchange relationships: What it is and is not”, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19, 684-691.

Hon, L. C., & Grunig, J. E. (1999). ”Guidelines for measuring relationships in public relations”. Gainesville, FL: Institute for Public Relations. http://www.instituteforpr.org/wp-content/uploads/Guidelines_Measuring_Relationships.pdf

This article is published in Communication for Leaders No. 1 - 2016 

Communication for Leaders is a Science Communication Magazine published by Centre for Corporate Communication and Department of Communication and Culture at BI Norwegian Business School.

Published 10. August 2016

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