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Trust research in public relations: an assessment of its conceptual, theoretical and methodological foundations

Chiara Valentini (Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics, Jyväskylä, Finland)

Corporate Communications: An International Journal

ISSN: 1356-3289

Article publication date: 15 October 2020

Issue publication date: 16 February 2021




During the past few years, public trust in organisations, institutions and systems has decreased. Trust is an important antecedent not only for relationship-building but also for image and reputation management. This study aims to systematically review scientific publications on public relations and trust to explore the current status of trust research, including its conceptual definition, measurement and theorisation.


Only English-language scientific papers published in key public relations journals were analysed. Titles, abstracts and keywords were searched with the terms “public relations” and/or “strategic communication” and/or “communication management” and “trust”, returning 254 discrete articles. Quantitative content analysis and thematic analysis were used to extract information.


Trust research has limited methodological and intellectual diversity. Most studies have been published by North American scholars using surveys and interviews as the primary methods, and most are positioned within the public relations literature. One-third of papers do not use any specific theory to define trust, and about 13% of those in which trust is a central element do not refer to any conceptual foundation. The majority of papers are centred on professional and managerial problems, with limited discussion of publics/stakeholders' or societal problems.


This study offers important information about the development of trust research in public relations and sheds light on current knowledge gaps that can inform future research.



Valentini, C. (2021), "Trust research in public relations: an assessment of its conceptual, theoretical and methodological foundations", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 26 No. 1, pp. 84-106.



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