PR: A Potent Force for Success

By: Robert A. Kelly

What’s REALLY potent for a business, non-profit or association manager is public relations’ ability to alter individual perception leading to changed behaviors. And then, to persuade those key outside folks to the manager’s way of thinking, and help move them to take actions that allow their department, division or subsidiary to succeed.

Potent because public relations does something positive for managers about the behaviors of the very outside audiences of theirs that MOST affect their operation.

And ESPECIALLY appropriate when such potency helps create the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving those manager’s managerial objectives.

But how potent is it when business, non-profit and association managers are handed the precise public relations blueprint they need designed to get all their team members and organizational colleagues working towards the same external stakeholder behaviors? Wouldn’t that insure that their PR thrust stays focused?

Talking about a PR blueprint plan like this one: 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.

Yes, potent’s a pretty darn good word when results like these start to crop up: a rebound in showroom visits; capital givers or specifying sources looking your way; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; membership applications on the rise; new feedback channels; community service and sponsorship opportunities; enhanced activist group relations; new thoughtleader and special event contacts; improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies; prospects starting to work with you; customers making repeat purchases; promotional contest overtures, and even stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities.

It must be a prime concern to you as to who carries out this PR plan for you. Just who is going to do the work anyway? Will it be a regular public relations staff? Or people sent to you by a higher authority? Or possibly a PR agency crew? Regardless of where they come from, they must be committed to you as the senior project manager, to the PR blueprint and its implementation, starting with key audience perception monitoring.

Something to keep your eye on. Simply because a practitioner describes him/herself as a public relations specialist doesn’t mean they’ve bought into the whole the program. Assure yourself that your team members really believe deeply why it’s SO 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.

Now spend some time reviewing the PR blueprint with your PR team, especially 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 interchange? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

Now you can use professional survey counsel for the perception monitoring phases of your program if your budget will allow. But remember 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.

It’s goal-setting time. Here, you do something about the most serious distortions you discovered during your key audience perception monitoring. In other words, establish your public relations goal. And that could be to straighten out that dangerous misconception, or correct that gross inaccuracy, or stop that potentially fatal rumor dead in its tracks.

For success, you need a solid strategy, one that clearly shows you how to proceed. To keep things simple, note that there are only 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. Of course, the wrong strategy pick will taste like week-old cole slaw, so be certain the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. Naturally, you don’t want to select “change" when the facts dictate a “reinforce" strategy.

Now you need to hit members of your target audience with a powerful message. But persuading an audience to your way of thinking is hard work. Which is why your PR folks must create some very special, corrective language. 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.

Check out your message with your communications specialists to make certain its impact and persuasiveness measure up. Then, sharpen it before selecting the communications tactics most likely to carry your message 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.

It’s well-known that the credibility of a message can depend on its delivery method. So you might consider unveiling it in presentations before smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile tactics such as news releases. People will soon request progress reports, which will alert you and your PR team to get back out in the field and start work on a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. You’ll want to use many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session. Difference this time is that you will be watching very carefully for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

Should program momentum slow, try speeding things up with more communications tactics and increased frequencies.

By now you know this secret about potent public relations: the right PR can alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors which, in turn, lead directly to achieving your managerial objectives.

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Robert A. Kelly ? 2004.

Business and Finance
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