Thursday, August 17, 2006

PRIORITIZING STAKEHOLDERS FOR PUBLIC RELATIONS

The following article by Institute for Public Relations president and CEO Frank Ovaitt appeared in the July 24 2006 issue of PR News.

PRIORITIZING STAKEHOLDERS FOR PUBLIC RELATIONS

The squeaky wheel gets greased. But what if a different wheel is about to fall off the car?

"How much attention does each stakeholder group deserve or require?" is a central question being raised by Dr. Brad Rawlins of Brigham Young University. His newest research paper, published online by the Institute for Public Relations, reviews several approaches for identifying stakeholders and synthesizes a new model.

The new approach begins by identifying stakeholders according to their connection to the organization. It then proceeds to prioritize stakeholders by their attributes, their relationship to the issue, and ultimately their place in the communication strategy.

The Linkages Model, which dates to 1984, is used to identify stakeholders by their relationship to the organization: functional linkages (e.g., suppliers provide raw materials while customers receive a company's output), enabling linkages (investors and a favorable regulatory climate make business possible), normative linkages (industry groups and competitors influence the business environment), and diffused linkages (non-governmental organizations and media also can have a strong influence, even without a well-defined connection).

The Stakeholder Typology model developed in the late '90s offered a new approach to prioritizing based on the attributes of power, legitimacy and urgency. Parties with only one of these attributes are latent stakeholders . For example, an activist group may have an urgent issue, but with neither power nor legitimacy, it can make demands without necessarily deserving much management attention. Two attributes characterize expectant stakeholders - such as employees and investors, who always have a degree of power and a legitimate claim on the resources of the company. Parties with all three attributes are definitive stakeholders and always take top priority.

What's tricky here is that the real world is a fluid place. Investors or employees are always important to the company, but a suddenly urgent issue can catapult them from expectant to definitive stakeholder status.

To deal with such constant change, Situational Theory prioritizes stakeholders by the relationship to the situation. Latent publics don't recognize that an issue affects them or don't consider it much of a problem. Aware publics are more knowledgeable but don't see much need to get involved. Active publics recognize a significant problem and feel they can do something about it, and so their level of involvement is much higher.

Putting all of this together, Rawlins synthesizes a new model that offers the prospect of prioritizing stakeholders in a way that is especially relevant for communications managers - by communication strategy.

For the full article please go to PR News.

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