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Winning and keeping clients - networking processes and perceptions in public relations consultancies

Tonge, Jane (2003) Winning and keeping clients - networking processes and perceptions in public relations consultancies. UNSPECIFIED. Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

The concept of relationships is implicit in the term 'public relations', with public relations scholars widely advocating the notion of relationships at the core of public relations scholarship and practice (e.g. Ferguson, 1984; Grunig, 1992; Cutlip, Centre and Broom, 1994). Despite this focus on the relational perspective of public relations theory and practice, few studies have explored how public relations consultancies create and maintain business relationships, with even less focus on how relationships with clients are acquired and maintained. This paper outlines an exploratory pilot study aimed at identifying the role and importance of business relationships within public relations consultancies, and at gaining a deeper understanding of the extent to which public relations practitioners employ networking as a means to both acquire and maintain client relationships and so support the consultancy's survival and growth. The pilot study was carried out in a small North West public relations consultancy and consisted of in-depth interviews, supported by the use of network mapping and repertory grids. The findings revealed several key themes in practitioners' formation and maintenance of business relationships. The most notable of these were the content of practitioner's networks and network relations, the style of networking adopted, the role of the 'key contact relationship' in client and media relationships, and the barriers to networking which practitioners experience. These findings have led to a conceptualisation of networking within public relations consultancies that will be explored in further studies. The expected contribution of the full study will be to provide an understanding into several neglected areas, namely public relations consultancies, the role and contribution of networking to public relations consultancy value, and the content of practitioners' network relations. It also aims to further theory in network relations and provide an understanding of the survival and growth of professional service small businesses. The conclusions of the final study will also have managerial implications as they may advise and assist public relations practitioners and consultancy owner managers in their efforts to acquire and retain clients, and contribute to consultancy survival and growth.

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