Enhancing a country’s soft power through relationship management
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This dissertation investigated whether public relations, described as relationship management in the public relations scholarly literature, can enhance a nation’s soft power abroad. Two types of relationships were explored. The first type involved those ties that government institutions establish with their domestic partners—non-governmental organizations and businesses, whereas the second type of relationships pertained to linkages between actors from one nation and its strategic constituencies in other countries. The chosen research setting for this dissertation study was the nation of Latvia whose government, along with its domestic partners from the non-governmental sector, had been involved in international development cooperation in its neighboring regions of Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. These development cooperation initiatives were viewed as soft power instruments that influence a nation’s standing in the international community. Qualitative interviews were conducted with development cooperation and public relations officers in Latvian organizations that had been actively involved in development cooperation. These organizations represented government institutions, non-governmental organizations, and businesses. This dissertation study’s findings revealed that relationship management indeed can help a nation wield soft power. However, public relations was not the only organizational function responsible for relationship management. This dissertation also discussed ways that knowledge and sensitivity to transformational contexts—defined as environments undergoing political, economic, and social system changes—can strengthen relationships between constituencies of various nations.