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What Many PR Users Ignore

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Author: Robert A. Kelly

Simply that the behaviors of their most important outside audiences rank pretty low on their list of things to worry about. And this despite the reality that, properly cared for, those behaviors can affect whether or not those managers achieve their managerial objectives.

Unfortunately, many business, non-profit and association public relations budgets are used pretty much to produce newspaper and radio mentions, or to fund somebody's favorite special event. And this at a time when they should be driving an action plan that persuades those key external stakeholders to the PR user's way of thinking, then moves those audiences to take actions that help departments, divisions or subsidiaries succeed.

After all, since that's public relations' strongest suit, shouldn't you be getting that first, THEN incremental publicity exposure?

Run this idea by the public relations team assigned to your unit: 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.

If you get agreement, you'll share a simple blueprint that gets everyone working towards the same external audience behaviors insuring that your public relations effort stays focused.

And there's no end to the possible benefits: capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way; prospects starting to do business with you; membership applications on the rise; customers making repeat purchases; community leaders beginning to seek you out; welcome bounces in show room visits; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; higher employee retention rates, and even politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.

But first, you need to find out who among your important outside audiences is behaving in ways that help or hinder the achievement of your objectives. And then, list them according to how severely their behaviors affect your organization.

Are you really certain as to HOW most members of that key outside audience perceive your organization? Since there's a good chance you don't have the budget to accommodate expensive professional survey work, you and your PR colleagues (they should be quite familiar with perception and behavior matters) must monitor those perceptions yourself.

Sit down with members of that outside audience and ask questions like "Are you familiar with our services or products?" "Have you ever had contact with anyone from our organization? Was it a satisfactory experience?" Stay alert to negative statements, especially evasive or hesitant replies. Watch carefully for false assumptions, untruths, misconceptions, inaccuracies and potentially damaging rumors. Any of which will need to be corrected, because experience shows they usually lead to negative behaviors.

Now, because the obvious objective here is to correct those same untruths, inaccuracies, misconceptions and false assumptions, you must select the specific perception to be altered which, in turn, becomes your public relations goal.

Unfortunately, a PR goal without a strategy to show you how to get there, is like Shrimp Lo Mein without the noodles. That's why you must select one of three strategies especially designed to create perception or opinion where there may be none, or change existing perception, or reinforce it. The challenge here (albeit small) is to insure that the goal and its strategy match each other. You wouldn't want to select "change existing perception" when current perception is just right suggesting a "reinforce" strategy.

Writing ability comes to the fore here as you create a compelling message carefully designed to alter your key target audience's perception, if called for by your public relations goal.

Here's a tip. Combining your corrective message with another news announcement or presentation may lend more credibility by downplaying the need for such a correction.

Be very clear about what perception needs clarification or correction, and why. Your facts must be truthful and your position must be logically explained and believable if it is to hold the attention of members of that target audience, and actually move perception in your direction. In other words, your message must be compelling.

You could call the communications tactics you will use to move your message to the attention of that key external audience, "beasts of burden" because they must carry your persuasive new thoughts to the eyes and ears of those important outside people.

Luckily, the list of tactics is extensive. It includes letters- to-the-editor, brochures, press releases and speeches. Or, you might select radio and newspaper interviews, personal contacts, facility tours or customer briefings. There are dozens in waiting and the only selection requirement is that the communications tactics you choose have a record of reaching people just like the members of your key target audience.

By the way, things can always be moved along at a faster clip by adding more communications tactics, AND by increasing their frequencies.

It won't be long before those around you will be asking if any progress is being made. By which time you already will be hard at work remonitoring perceptions among your target audience members. Using questions similar to those used during your earlier monitoring session, you'll now be on the lookout for indications that audience perceptions are beginning to move the way you want them to move.

The best way to satisfy your associates' curiosity is with the results you will receive when you undertake this aggressive public relations plan. In other words, targeting the kind of key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your department, division or subsidiary objectives.

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Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at mailto:bobkelly@TNI.net. Word count is 1035 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. mailto:bobkelly@TNI.net. Visit: http://www.prcommentary.com


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