Public Relations Review 39 (2013) 222–225

Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect

Public Relations Review

Research in brief

Relationship management with the Millennial generation of
public relations agency employees
Tiffany Derville Gallicano ∗
University of Oregon, United States

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: This study investigates relationship building with the Millennial generation of public rela-
Received 28 December 2011 tions agency practitioners from their own perspectives. A recent survey of this population
Received in revised form 12 February 2013
revealed that they have strong relationships with their agency employers, except for a
Accepted 1 March 2013
measurement that asked if a long-term bond existed between themselves and their organi-
zations (Gallicano, Curtin, & Matthews, 2012). Consequently, this study explores long-term
relationship building with this employee public based on five asynchronous online dis-
Relationship management cussion groups. The conclusion of this study offers theoretical insights about commitment
Employee and relationship types. In addition, this study can be helpful to public relations researchers
Commitment who study Millennials by providing participants’ descriptions of how they characterize
Public relations agency their generation of public relations practitioners.
© 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction

As the largest, most diverse generation in the workforce, the Millennial generation (people born between about 1982
and approximately 2002 (Howe & Strauss, 2000; Pew Research Center, 2010) is a key group of employees with whom public
relations agencies need to cultivate relationships. According to a recent survey, Millennial public relations practitioners
generally have strong relationships with their agency employers; however, only 55.3% of respondents expressed that a
long-term bond exists between themselves and their agency employers (Gallicano et al., 2012). The purpose of this study
is to develop an understanding of the Millennial generation of public relations agency practitioners and gather insights
about cultivating long-term relationships with them. The agency context was an attractive choice because it is where many
Millennial practitioners start before moving to other settings, which tend to require at least a couple years of experience for
public relations positions (Culp, 2011).

2. Theoretical terms

Continuance commitment is defined as “an awareness of the costs associated with leaving an organization,” (Meyer &
Allen, 1991, p. 67), and “anything that increases the cost associated with leaving an organization has the potential to create
continuance commitment” (Meyer & Allen, 1991, p. 77). Thus, “employees whose primary link to the organization is based
on continuance commitment remain because they need to do so” (Meyer & Allen, 1991, p. 67).
Affective commitment is defined as an “employee’s attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organiza-
tion,” which could include enjoying an organization’s philosophy and values (Meyer & Allen, 1991, p. 67) and “feeling like

∗ Correspondence address. School of Journalism and Communication, 1275 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-1275, United States.
Tel.: +1 541 346 2035; fax: +1 541 346 0682.
E-mail address:

0363-8111/$ – see front matter © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

2002). RQ 2: what can be learned about cultivating a long-term relationship with Millennial public relations agency employees based on their own perspectives? The open codes for this research question included (1) being groomed (emic code). p. 21). The next step. During this process. They were not able to see anyone’s answer to a question until they had responded. Normative commitment has two dimensions: a sense of moral duty to pursue a course of action that helps an organization because it is the moral thing to do and a sense of indebtedness to an organization (Meyer & Parfyonova. A communal relationship defined in this way appears to be unrealistic to an employee-organization relation- ship because employees provide the benefit of labor in return for pay. the text was read through line by line. The various meanings in each segment of text resulted in properties of each respective code.g. and emic phrases (see Lindlof & Taylor. Once they had responded. 67). p. 1990.g. and (6) having interests and preferences accommodated. Participants were required to answer questions in order and were not allowed to see future questions. Each code was created using gerunds to help preserve the action and meaning embedded in participants’ responses (see Charmaz. (3) feeling entitled due to unique qualifications. Most participants with strong relationships and intentions to stay with their agencies discussed the ways in which their agencies are grooming them for management . 2006). Most participants were recruited from a survey of PRSA members who had up to two years of experience. 4. (2) pioneering social media and easily adapting to change. (5) advocating a work-life balance. After the core variable was identified. Emic codes are indicated in parentheses in Section 4. which appeared next to all comments. RQ 1: how do Millennial practitioners who work at public relations agencies describe their generation of public relations practitioners? The open codes for this research question included the following items (from most frequently mentioned to least fre- quently mentioned across participants’ responses): (1) wanting experiential learning.1. First. Most codes are etic because one emic phrase for a code was either too wordy or did not summarize every chunk of text. 6).. similar segments of text were grouped together into a code until all segments of text were coded. In the present study. A communal relationship exists when “both parties provide benefits to the other because they are concerned for the welfare of the other – even when they get nothing in return” (p. 2006). Next. properties of each code. Relationships with low commitment tend to be categorized as exchange relationships rather than communal relation- ships.. Next. p. 2007). Ni. properties of categories emerged.D. 1991. each discussion group transcript was read and open coding began upon a second reading. 3. The data were protected by bank-level encryption security. (5) working in a good environment. An exchange relationship exists when “one party gives benefits to the other only because the other has provided benefits in the past or is expected to do so in the future” (Hon & Grunig. involved making connections by comprehensively examining codes to identify relationships among the open codes (see Charmaz. par- ticipants received a confidential name based on a color and number (e. including the year when they were born. Employees with strong normative commitment believe that they “ought to remain with the organization” due to a sense of obligation (Meyer & Allen. A codebook was created. Probes were also asked – sometimes privately when the question was sensitive. 4. The online discussion groups were hosted on Focus Forums. (4) being cared for as a whole person. five asynchronous online discussions with approximately 10 people per group were conducted.e. (2) constantly learning (emic code). This interface involved a discussion board that was organized by tabs. the questions were asked in a way that allowed other group members to see the question and contribute with their answers and reflections. they read and often commented on other people’s answers. 1999. Upon logging in. An emic phrase was assigned to each chunk of text. and (6) possessing the personal skills and characteristics needed..2. each participant was invited to select an avatar (i. Methods To explore the research questions. an animal or object such as a Rubik’s Cube) to accompany his or her name during participation. 1991). Blue5). Results 4. (3) receiving verbal encouragement and making observations. 2010). (4) craving imme- diate feedback and being motivated by feeling appreciated. and preliminary research confirms this observation (e. The final step involved selective coding. which begins with the identification of a core variable that encompasses the data. as compared to previous generations. Each participant received a computer-generated password to log in to the group. 20). Gallicano / Public Relations Review 39 (2013) 222–225 223 ‘part of the family’ in an organization” (Allen & Meyer. T. Following procedures described by Lindlof and Taylor (2002). participants answered demographic questions when they registered for the study. which included a comprehensive list of all codes. and other times. and one person participated by email to help obtain a more diverse sample (N = 51 participants). Employees who stay with an organization due to affective commitment stay because they want to do so (Meyer & Allen. selective coding was used by rereading the transcripts and selectively coding any data that pertained to the core variable. axial coding.

influences that are unrelated to the relationship quality). Their rejection of paying dues reveals that they do not believe this type of work makes a difference. This discussion focuses on relationship types that refer to the quality of the exchange and also excludes those that cannot be distinguished from communal relationships in terms of the quality of exchange. was the core variable that emerged from axial coding. such as having a personal training fund for anything unrelated to work. This study builds on preliminary work (Gallicano. 4. Theoretical implications When participants thought about what matters most to them when thinking about why they continue to work for their agency. the top three responses were the opportunity for intriguing work with professional growth (continuance commitment). Considering that relationships represent an exchange of information. This study offers the following solution: continuance commitment can be viewed in terms of influences that are internal to the relationship and influences that are external to it (i. and the idea of being groomed could involve a sense of obligation to an employer for the investment. 62). Millennials seek external validation because they want others to believe that they are making a difference.e.” given that several of her participants left their organizations due to family reasons (p. This would also help Millennials feel like they are being groomed. whereas an exchange relationship would be defined as the party being committed to a limited exchange of benefits. 1997). 5. p.D. 1999. the distinction between relationship types should be based on the quality of exchange. will always be exchange in the way the terms are currently defined because of the exchange of labor for pay. and wanting a meaningful experience at work and outside of work. Millennials want to be set loose on accounts so they can engage in work that has meaning for them. silently blaming employers for failures. The selective code. Discussion 5. Practical implications If Millennials do not see how their work makes a difference. Practitioners can help Millennials see how their work fits in with the larger picture. 5.. More research is needed to explore the relevance of normative commitment. or resources (Broom et al. 2009) that suggests that acts of caring that seem unrelated to an organization’s mission can be particularly meaningful to people. Wanting to make a difference connects with the axial code of silencing employer criticism because Millennials depend on employers for getting work that allows them to believe they are making a difference. Supervisors can be aware of this issue and take mutual responsibility for problems of miscommunication and failure to meet expectations. communal relationships could instead be conceptualized as a party being committed to responding to the other’s needs as such needs arise. and (3) mind reading and expectations for a miracle worker (emic code). energy. being included in new business planning. and the histories of client relationships.4. These results show the importance of focusing on both forms of commitment. 4. The relationship. Millennials could adjust their beliefs if they understood the organization’s perspective. Millennials’ beliefs that they are ready to be set loose on accounts. This could be a pathway toward starting to move a relationship away from one of exchange and towards one that is more communal. however. and having meetings about long-term goals. . 20).2. In addition. seeking external validation.1. getting to work with great people (affective commitment). Ni (2007) pointed out that a focus on continuance commitment “may not reveal meaningful findings. and most participants with poor relationships discussed the absence of this.. wanting to make a difference. There could be a better way to distinguish communal and exchange relationships that would be useful in identify- ing differences in quality in employee-organization relationships. Including Millennials in strategic discussions with key players can help them value their contributions to the team that they might otherwise see as having minimal importance. getting face time with a client. such as why an agency might not want to have an entry-level employee lead an account. For the Millennial employees in this study.224 T. RQ 3: what irritates or upsets Millennials when receiving feedback on their work? The open codes for this research question included (1) getting called out (emic code). suggest that they could have a blind spot with regard to what they do not know and why things are done in certain ways in agencies.3. and working in a good environment (affective commitment). in part due to their public relations education and multiple internships. given that “being groomed” was one of the most supported codes for the existence of a long-term relationship. exuberance was especially shown for gestures that seemed to be unrelated to their professional roles. Axial codes and selective code based on the open codes The axial codes include believing they are ready to be set loose on accounts. Gallicano / Public Relations Review 39 (2013) 222–225 positions. Examples of being groomed include being mentored. (2) not being heard. Instead of defining communal relationships as giving benefits “even when they get nothing in return” (Hon & Grunig. it will lack value to them. many Millennials do not feel empowered to have a dialogue with supervisors when they experience criticism. In addition.

1(1).3. M. N. R. 64–89. and examples of participants’ words is available at http://prpost. Charmaz. properties.hrmr. Broom. Retrieved from http://pewsocialtrends....doi. Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Journal of Occupational Psychology.doi. Journal of Public Relations Research. 24(3). Instead. Culp. 13(4).. D. continuance and normative commitment to the organization. C. J.htm Howe. D. 83–98. (2002). (with Anderson. (2011. Felton. N.1108/13632540710725987 Pew Research Center. (1991).671986 Hon. 283–294. Curtin. L.1016/j. B. 53–70. References Allen. Human Resource Management Review. February). J. (1990). A table of open codes. February). A.. (2009). et al. 1–18. ( Retrieved from http://www. Meyer. & connected-open-to-change The author has requested enhancement of the downloaded file. & Gilfeather. the approach of this study enabled deep insight to emerge from participants’ perspectives that can be later tested for generalization. The measurement and antecedents of affective. Journal of Communication Management. & Taylor. Retrieved from the Institute for Public Relations Web site http://www. P. E. 5.1108/13632540911004597 Gallicano. Landing a corporate PR job [Web log message].org/10. J. In turn. Millennials: A portrait of generation next. but. Toward a concept and theory of organization-public relationships. T. (2000). this would enable the discovery of practices that can cultivate communal employee-organization relationships. Gallicano / Public Relations Review 39 (2013) 222–225 225 This could enable scholars to connect preferred relationship outcomes (e. CA: in the academic study category. http://dx. Normative commitment in the workplace: A theoretical analysis and re-conceptualization. (1997). .. in addition to an in-kind donation from Focus Forums. Casey. P. Thousand Oaks. K. please contact Tiffany Gallicano at derville@uoregon. 20(4). & Strauss. advocacy in social media) to communal employee-organization relationships. (2010). N. Gallicano. 11(1). Qualitative communication research methods (2nd ed. loyalty. Meyer.D.). Author note For the complete study. J. 310–328.).com/measeval/rel p1. http://dx.09.1080/1062726X. M. Journal of Public Relations Research. Limitations As a qualitative study. C. (2007).culpwrit. Refined understanding of perspectives on employee-organization relationships: Themes and variations. J. http://dx. Human Resources Management Review.. (2012). the results cannot be generalized to all Millennial employees or even all Millennial agency practi- tioners. . Thousand Oaks.. CA: Sage. I love what I do.instituteforpr. S. http://dx. J. Personal relationship strategies and outcomes in a membership organization. G. W. 9(2). Broom. New York: Vintage. A relationship management survey of Millennial Generation public relations agency employees.001 Ni. & Allen. (1999).2009. & 63(1). W. & Meyer.. G. Lindlof. T. J. T.doi. M. All in-text references underlined in blue are linked to publications on ResearchGa . work ethic. & Grunig. K. A three-component conceptualization of organizational commitment.... Journal of Communication Management. J. P. & Parfyonova. Millennials rising: The next great generation. R. Guidelines for measuring relationships in public relations.wordpress. J. (2006). This study received financial support from the Public Relations Society of America and the University of Oregon. 222–242.g. P.doi.. T.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.