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PR: Let's Dump the Smoke and Mirrors

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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 succeed.

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 audience members.

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 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, 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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