PR: Let's Dump the Smoke and Mirrors
Author: Robert A. Kelly
O.K., press releases, broadcast plugs, special events and
brochures help business, non-profit, government agency
and association managers move a message from here to
there. And that's an important and useful function, but
that's all they are.
Communications tactics by themselves are not the
high-impact PR action plan those managers need if they
are to experience the best public relations has to offer.
That action plan will call for them to do something about
the behaviors of those important outside audiences that
most affect their operation; create the kind of external
stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to
achieving their managerial objectives; and do so by
persuading those key outside folks to their way of
thinking by helping move them to take actions that
allow their department, group, division or subsidiary
What, you may ask, is going on here? Well, you're
preparing to do something positive about the behaviors
of the very outside audiences of yours that MOST
affect your operation.
It is then - absent any smoke and mirrors - that PR
actually creates the kind of external stakeholder
behavior change that leads directly to achieving your
most important managerial objectives. And what
sweeter music can there be for a professional manager?
Managers like that really need a public relations game
plan if they are to get all their team members and
organizational colleagues working towards the same
external stakeholder behaviors.
While public relations plans vary all over the map,
here's one that can keep a manager's public relations
effort "on message:" 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.
The only thing that really satisfies are results, so
this is what a manager might expect when he or she
approaches PR this way: improved relations with
government agencies and legislative bodies; a
rebound in showroom visits; membership
applications on the rise; new thoughtleader and
special event contacts; capital givers or specifying
sources looking your way; new proposals for
strategic alliances and joint ventures; fresh
community service and sponsorship opportunities;
prospects starting to work with you; customers
making repeat purchases; and even stronger
relationships with the educational, labor, financial
and healthcare communities.
Your strongest public relations tool will prove to be
of the utmost importance. Will you use your regular
public relations staff? People assigned to you from
a higher authority? Or might it be PR agency staff?
No matter, they must be committed to you as the
senior project manager, and to the PR blueprint
starting with key audience perception monitoring.
And by all means, take as much time as needed to
satisfy yourself that team members really believe that
it's crucially important to know how your most
important outside audiences perceive your operations,
products or services. Be certain they buy the reality
that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that
can help or hurt your unit.
Be sure to confide in your PR people by going over
the blueprint with them, in particular your plan for
monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning
members of your most important outside audiences.
Questions like these: how much do you know about
our organization? Have you had prior contact with us
and were you pleased with the exchange? How much
do you know about our services or products and
employees? Have you experienced problems with our
people or procedures?
Among your options at this point is the use of
professional survey counsel for the perception
monitoring phases of your program. But 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.
Wait no longer to set down your public relations goal
from which you can do something about the most
serious distortions you discovered during your key
audience perception monitoring. The new public
relations goal might call for straightening out that
dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross
inaccuracy, or stopping that potentially fatal rumor.
By now, you know you need a solid strategy behind
that new goal if you are to be successful. A strategy
that clearly indicates to you and the PR staff how to
proceed. But do keep in mind that there are just three
strategic options available to you when it comes to
handling a perception and opinion challenge. Change
existing perception, create perception where there
may be none, or reinforce it. The wrong strategy pick
will taste like fluffernutter on your susage balls. So,
be certain the new strategy fits well with your new
public relations goal. It goes without saying that you
don't want to select "change" when the facts dictate
a reinforce" strategy.
You can't avoid sitting down at your computer and
preparing a powerful corrective message with members
of your target audience. But persuading an audience
to your way of thinking is no easy task. Which is
why your PR folks must come up with words that
are not only compelling, persuasive and believable,
but clear and factual. Only in this way will you be
able to correct a perception by shifting opinion
towards your point of view, leading to the behaviors
you are targeting.
This is the time to bring your staff into the planning
cycle and, together, decide if your message's
impact and persuasiveness measure up. Then select
the communications tactics most likely to carry your
message to the attention of your target audience.
You can pick from dozens of available tactics. From
speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to
consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters,
personal meetings and many others. But be sure that
those you pick are known to reach folks just like your
A bit of advice: you might want to unveil the message
before smaller gatherings rather than using higher-
profile tactics such as news releases. Reason is,
the credibility of the message itself can actually
depend on the perception of its delivery method.
You will want to lead your PR team on a second visit
to the field where you can gather data for a followup
perception monitoring session with members of
your external audience. You'll need comparative data
to produce progress reports, and you'll want to use
many of the same questions used in the first
benchmark session. Only this time, you will be
watching very carefully for signs that the bad news
perception is being altered in your direction.
Of course, your new PR effort can always slow
down, so be prepared to accelerate matters with
more communications tactics and increased frequencies.
This is the time to move beyond tactics like special
events, brochures, broadcast plugs and press releases
to achieve the very best public relations has to offer.
Clearly, by reducing your preoccupation with
communications tactics, you insure that never again
will you fail to persuade those key outside folks to
your way of thinking, or move them to take actions
that allow your department, group, division or
subsidiary to 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 1340 including guidelines and resource box.
Robert A. Kelly © 2006.
About the author
Robert A. Kelly
Bob Kelly counsels and writes for business, non-profit and
association managers about using the fundamental premise of public
relations to achieve their operating objectives. He has published over
200 articles on the subject which are listed at EzineArticles.com, click
Expert Author, click Robert A. Kelly. He has been DPR, Pepsi-Cola
Co.; AGM-PR, Texaco Inc.; VP-PR, Olin Corp.; VP-PR, Newport
News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of communications, 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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