Is This the PR You Thought You Were Getting?
Author: Robert A. Kelly
You know, where you do something positive about the behaviors of those outside audiences that MOST affect your organization? And where you do so by persuading those important external folks to your way of thinking, then move them to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed?
Yes, that's right, it's where you use the fundamental premise of public relations to produce external stakeholder behavior change - the kind that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.
What it boils down to is (1) your public relations effort must involve more than special events, brochures and news releases if you really want to get your money's worth, and (2), the right PR really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors that help you succeed!
You can do it when you bring that fundamental premise of PR mentioned above, into play. It goes like this: people act on their own perception of the facts before them, which leads to predictable behaviors about which something can be done. When we create, change or reinforce that opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired-action the very people whose behaviors affect the organization the most, the public relations mission is accomplished.
What kind of results can you, as a business, non-profit or association manager, expect from such an approach? Well, for starters, improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies, stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities; prospects starting to work with you; customers making repeat purchases; and even capital givers or specifying sources looking your way
And that's not all. You also could see progress in the form of membership applications on the rise; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; rebounds in showroom visits; enhanced activist group relations, and expanded feedback channels; as well as community service and sponsorship opportunities; not to mention new thoughtleader and special event contacts.
Yes, that's promising quite a bit but that's what this approach to public relations is capable of delivering.
Of course the PR people supporting you as a manager - agency or staff - must be real team members and committed to you, as the senior project manager, to the PR blueprint and its implementation, starting with target audience perception monitoring.
Ask yourself how important it is that your most important outside audiences really perceive your operations, products or services in a positive light? Then assure yourself that your PR staff buys into that notion wholeheartedly. Be especially careful that they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.
Review the PR blueprint in detail with your team, especially the plan for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Use questions like these: how much do you know about our organization? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?
The perception monitoring phases of your program obviously can be handled by professional survey people, IF the budget is available. But keep in mind that your PR people are also in the perception and behavior business and can pursue the same objective: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.
Clearly, you will need a well-defined goal, one that responds to the aberrations that appeared during your key audience perception monitoring. As a flexible goal, it could call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or doing something about that damaging rumor.
Inevitably, a goal needs a strategy to show you how to get there. And here, you have three strategic choices for handling a perception or opinion challenge: create perception where there may be none, change the perception, or reinforce it. Unfortunately, a bad strategy pick will taste like fudge sauce on your spareribs, so be sure the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. For instance, you don't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a "reinforce" strategy.
Changing people's minds to your way of thinking is a tough assignment, so your PR team must set down the needed corrective language. Words that are compelling, persuasive and believable AND clear and factual. You must do this if you are to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading to the desired behaviors.
Sit down again with your communications specialists and review your message for impact and persuasiveness. Then, select the communications tactics most likely to carry your words to the attention of your target audience. You can pick from dozens that are available. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But be sure that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.
Because the credibility of a message can occasionally depend on its delivery method, you might introduce it to smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile tactics such as news releases or talk show appearances. One good thing about doing progress reports for clients or bosses is that they sound the alert for you and your PR folks to return to the field for a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Using many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session, you must now stay alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
If impatience shows up, you can always accelerate things with more communications tactics and increased frequencies.
It should be an irresistable premise for any manager! Do something positive about the behaviors of those outside audiences that MOST affect your organization. And do so by persuading those important external folks to your way of thinking, then move them to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed.
Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at bobkelly@TNI.net. Word count is 1125 including guidelines and resource box.
Robert A. Kelly © 2004.
About the author
Bob Kelly counsels, writes and speaks to business, non-profit and association managers about using the fundamental premise of public relations to achieve their operating objectives. He has been DPR, Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-PR, Texaco Inc.; VP-PR, Olin Corp.; VP-PR, Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of communi- cations, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press secretary, The White House. He holds a bachelor of science degree from Columbia University, major in public relations.
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