The function of public relations in crisis management and image building
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
Coupled with economic, social, and environmental inequities, the complexity of the business sector has raised the challenge of community relations and company image. Since the beginning of time, organizations have endeavored to be recognized by the community in which they operate. This desire for identification and communication resulted in the evolution of public relations, of which community relations are a component. Public relations is an important strategy for fostering good relationships with an organization's many publics (community) by obtaining favorable publicity, constructing a positive corporate image, and managing or preventing unfavorable rumours, stories, and events (Kotler and Armstrong, 2006). Success of an organization or business is contingent on its community interactions. Therefore, the objective of public relations practice in community relations is to promote two-way communication that facilitates the development and maintenance of mutual understanding and relationships between the organization and the host community. Communities are the primary component of a business plan that aids in promoting the sustainable development of the business activities of a corporate organization through partnership activities that help them realize their potentials to live a better life and prepare the future for future generations. Respect for our community's culture is a component of the worldwide plan for a symbiotic interaction between humanity and its society for the advancement of everyone (Chiejina, 2001).
Brand equity is strongly tied to corporate image. In general, corporate image is viewed as an asset that allows a company to differentiate itself in order to maximize market share, earnings, attracting new consumers, retaining existing ones, neutralizing the activities of competitors, and, most importantly, its success and survival in the marketplace (Bravo et al., 2009; Sarstedt et al., 2012).
Two definitions of customer satisfaction exist: as an outcome or as a process. According to the outcome definitions, satisfaction is the result of the consumption experience. Customers' propensity to sustain a relationship with an organization depends on their assessment of the advantages of a high-quality relationship, their contentment with the relationship, and the advantages of a relationship that deliver a constant flow of value (Zeithaml, 2000).
One of the major issues facing businesses today is how to obtain a competitive advantage in meeting client demands. This is primarily attributable to increasingly demanding customers (Herington, Johnson and Scott, 2006). Obtaining new clients continues to be an essential marketing management duty. Nevertheless, modern businesses must also focus on retaining existing clients and developing profitable, long-term partnerships with them. Customer retention hinges on providing excellent customer value and satisfaction (Khodarahmi, 2009). Customers who are loyal are more likely to repurchase the same service or brand, spread favorable word-of-mouth, and be willing to pay a premium price (Kwon and Lennon, 2009).
Modern organizations are increasingly adopting marketing strategies that strive to comprehend, attract, maintain, and develop close, long-term relationships with profitable consumers (Kotler, 2006). Customer-focused businesses are concerned not just with acquiring new customers, but also with retaining existing ones through customer pleasure and loyalty. In many service industry scenarios, organizations are compelled to shift from competing on the basis of price to competing on the basis of superior quality that exceeds client expectations (Lovelock & Witz, 2007). The concept of public relations as the management of the connection between an organization and its most important publics has been adequately explained in public relations textbooks and scholarly works. From the standpoint of relationship management, public relations is an organizational function whose major objective is to begin, develop, and sustain relationships between an organization and its key publics (Amponsah, Asamoah and Isaac, 2015).
In recent years, the modern client is always evolving and seeking alternatives; hence, it is essential to place a premium on customer satisfaction. Public relations aid in consumer identification and communication, procedures known as customer relations management (Emerson, 2007). Another phase of customer relations management is delivering customer satisfaction, which is crucial for acquiring and retaining customers, and public relations provide both direct and indirect help for giving customer satisfaction. Public relations have numerous functions for maintaining a positive reputation in the minds of customers and enhancing the relationship between a firm and its clients (Amponsah, Asamoah and Isaac, 2015).
Therefore, in order to acquire a competitive edge, firms must demonstrate a higher level of customer care than their rivals. Diverse executives of thriving companies have reported enjoying a distinct and sustainable competitive edge by demonstrating greater concern for consumers; this was accomplished by focusing on fostering close relationships (Herington, Johnson and Scott, 2006). In addition, many practitioners and managers feel that excellent press relations and the resulting goodwill positively influence important public members' attitudes toward the organization, implying that improved organizational image is linked to the conduct of key public members. As a result of its journalistic roots, public relations has always been performed from a mass communication perspective where message production, dissemination, and evaluation have been the key focuses (Bruning and Ledingham, 2000).
Effective public relations will enable an organization to get public approval. To attain these goals and objectives, it will be necessary to coordinate efforts effectively. Public relations, a management function, facilitates the efficient communication of business aims and objectives. The public relations department of any organization is responsible for a variety of tasks, including dispute resolution or crisis management, internal or employee relations, community relations, promotions, media relations, environmental scanning, and sponsorship programmes (Asemah, 2009). On the basis of these premises, this study will investigate the effect of public relations on company image building and consumer satisfaction.
1.2 DESCRIPTION OF THE PROBLEM
Corporate entities have engaged in Public Relations to establish and sustain mutual understanding with their respective publics. Corporate image or customer satisfaction is the most crucial factor impacting the longevity of a firm. Most earlier studies and researchers have focused on either public relations and business image or public relations and customer pleasure, which is problematic. Corporate image and customer happiness are distinct entities that must be discussed and addressed separately.
Consequently, the purpose of this study is to determine the effect of public relations on corporate image building and customer satisfaction, utilizing Unilever Nigeria Plc., Ikeja Branch, Lagos as a case study.
1.3 OBJECTIVES OF THE RESEARCH
This study's overarching purpose is to investigate the effect of public relations on business image and consumer satisfaction. Other particular objectives include;
To comprehend how public relations facilitates mutual understanding between a business and its publics.
To determine the extent to which public relations helps corporate organizations and their publics preserve mutual understanding.
To investigate the connection between public relations, company image, and customer happiness.
Determine the effect of public relations on corporate image building and customer satisfaction at Unilever Nigeria Plc, Ikeja Branch, Lagos.
To investigate how good public relations practices at Unilever Nigeria Plc, Ikeja Branch, Lagos impact customer satisfaction.
1.4 RESEARCH QUESTIONS/HYPOTHESES
How can public relations contribute to the mutual understanding between a business and its publics?
How much do public relations contribute to maintaining mutual understanding between a corporation and its publics?
How do public relations, company image, and consumer satisfaction relate to one another?
What role do public relations play in the development of corporate image and customer satisfaction at the Unilever Nigeria Plc, Ikeja Branch, Lagos?
How effective have Unilever Nigeria Plc's public relations practices been in influencing consumer satisfaction?
The association between public relations, business image, and consumer happiness is not statistically significant.
The link between public relations, business image, and customer pleasure is significant.
1.5 Significance of the Research
This research study will be beneficial to corporate organizations, students, and researchers alike.
This research will aid the Business Organisation in understanding how to employ public relations to build corporate image and customer happiness.
This research will improve the students' understanding of the role of public relations in enhancing corporate image and consumer happiness.
To the Researcher: This study will serve as a foundation for similar research projects and assist them understand the importance of public relations in constructing business image and how to affect customer satisfaction.
1.6 DIMENSIONS OF THE STUDY
This study's focus would include the effect of public relations on company image building and consumer satisfaction. It is a truth that the average Nigerian researcher faces a multitude of interacting variables that tend to impair his/her efforts to promote learning and improve people's functional knowledge.
1.7 LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
The study is constrained by time, the period during which the researcher will be conducting research, obtaining information (data collection), the availability of materials similar to the study, the attitude of respondents before they respond to the questions, and the availability of funds to finance travel.
1.8 OPERATIONAL DEFINITION OF TERMS
Public Relations: A method of management that evaluates the public's attitude and identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or organization that serve the public interest. It is a planned and implemented program that necessitates acts in order to gain public approval.
Corporate/Corporation Image: Is the public's image of the company based on its branding, Public Relations efforts, media, stakeholders, employees and trade unions, and consumer advocacy organizations. Companies devote a substantial portion of their marketing and advertising budgets to constructing and sustaining a favorable corporate image, which is crucial to their competitive standing.
Customer Satisfaction: As a result of purchase and use, resulting from the buyer's comparison of the returns and expenses of the purchase to the anticipated outcomes. In contrast, satisfaction can be viewed as a process that emphasizes the perceptual, evaluative, and psychological processes that lead to satisfaction.
Communication is the linkages that bind organizations together in order to develop a shared understanding, or it might be defined as the process of conveying knowledge and comprehension to one or more individuals.
Corporate Organization: A legally recognized, unified group that has the same ideology.
The term ‘customer' is widely used to refer to a product's end-users. Also, customer is an umbrella term for anyone who obtains a service or product from another individual or organisation. There are typically internal and external customers, with internal customers referring to personnel or employees and external customers referring to an organization's stakeholders.
The function of public relations in crisis management and image building