This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee. Preface


Step 5: Consider Responsibilities to Stakeholders



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Step 5: Consider Responsibilities to Stakeholders


The fifth step is to consider the responsibilities an organization has to its stakeholders, meaning the ethical obligations that are held with regard to decision making, disclosure, and maintaining long-term relationships that engender trust. Beyond the assessment of opportunities and threats, what legal, moral, citizenship, community, and philanthropic responsibilities should be followed in order for the organization to be considered a valuable member of society?

These responsibilities include the financial, environmental, and social impact the organization has on society as a whole, and consist of such areas as fiscal accountability to shareholders, safe work environments for employees, and reduced negative impact on the environment. More is said on the ethics of decision making elsewhere in this book, and using a philosophical framework to rigorously analyze responsibilities is helpful in practicing effective public relations. Such a framework leads to more understandable, consistent, and defensible decisions than a more relativistic ethical approach that can be attacked as capricious, biased, or worse. Determining organizational values can help to articulate the various responsibilities that decisions should seek to fill.


Step 6: Consider Relationship Enhancement


The final step is to consider the strategies and actions an organization should take to enhance its relationships with key stakeholders. Since that is the primary function of public relations, the responsibility for developing strategic plans should fall on its shoulders. Public relations professionals have been trained in a strategic process that focuses the organization’s communications and actions toward enhancing these relationships.

Employing stakeholder management techniques in professional practice means that the public relations professional holds the reins and responsibility for the relationships that are the very lifeblood of an organization. Using stakeholder management allows the professional to accurately assess the situation, prioritize resources, and make decisions that are the most strategic, helping to build long-term relationships with the most important publics and enhancing organizational effectiveness.


[1] Robbins (1990).

[2] Grunig, Grunig, and Ehling (1992), p. 68.

[3] Pfeffer and Salancik (1978), p. 15.

[4] Grunig, Grunig, and Ehling (1992), p. 72.

[5] Carroll (1996).

[6] Mitchell, Agle, and Wood (1997), pp. 853–886.


6.4 Chapter Summary


It is important to understand how organizations define their success because they place more value on the functions that contribute to that success and tend to reward those efforts the most. This chapter identified three ways that organizations evaluate their effectiveness. Most organizations set goals and measure themselves against those goals. These short-term benchmarks are easier to measure, but may blind the organization from the forest for the trees. An organization must also consider its long-term sustainability and growth, and a systems theory approach helps an organization keep its eye on the horizon. Key constituents are essential to reaching immediate goals and sustaining long-term growth. A stakeholder management approach helps an organization understand how critical these constituents are to meeting the purpose of the organization. Using the six steps of the stakeholder management process, public relations professionals can better understand challenges facing the organization and can help to integrate the interests of those stakeholders into management. Doing so strategically aligns the policy of the organization, allowing it to build more enduring relationships with publics and integrate public relations as a primary contributor to the bottom line and overall organizational effectiveness.

Chapter 7


Identifying and Prioritizing Stakeholders and Publics


One of the most important steps in strategic and effective public relations is accurately identifying the publics with which you want to build mutually beneficial relationships. A popular axiom for public relations is that there is no such thing as a “general public.” In other words, an organization has a variety of key groups who bring different expectations for their relationship with the organization. These differences help an organization segment its publics into groups with similar values and expectations and to focus communication strategies.

7.1 Stakeholder Management and Prioritizing Publics


Experts in stakeholder management and public relations have provided many different ways of identifying key stakeholders or publics. At the heart of these attempts is the question, “How much attention does each stakeholder group deserve or require?” [1]

Because it is impossible that all stakeholders will have the same interests in and demands on the organization, Winn specified that stakeholder management be about managing stakeholders’ potentially conflicting interests. [2] Once organizations have identified their stakeholders, there is a struggle for attention: who to give it to, who to give more to, and who to ignore. Sacrificing the needs of one stakeholder for the needs of the other is a dilemma with which many organizations struggle. When these conflicts arise it is important to the success of the organization that it has prioritized each stakeholder according to the situation.

This chapter will provide a model that moves from the broadest attempts at identifying all stakeholders, to the more specific need of identifying key publics for communication strategies. The model is situational, and priority of stakeholders and publics will change according to the situation.

Defining Stakeholders and Publics


A stakeholder is a group or individual who is affected by or can affect the success of an organization. [3] The definition has been expanded to include groups who have interests in the corporation, regardless of the corporation’s interest in them. Employees, customers, shareholders, communities, and suppliers are those most commonly classified as stakeholders within an organization

Grunig and Repper differentiated the terms “stakeholder” and “public” in the following way: Organizations choose stakeholders by their marketing strategies, recruiting, and investment plans, but “publics arise on their own and choose the organization for attention.” [4] This classification relied on John Dewey’s definition of a public: That it is a group of people who face a similar problem, recognize the problem, and organize themselves to do something about it. [5]Therefore, publics organize from the ranks of stakeholders when they recognize an issue and act upon it.



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