Do You Really Need PR?

by : Robert A. Kelly

The right kind of PR, that is, the kind that puts you in charge of the care and feeding of a lot of people who play a major role in just how successful a manager you’re going to be?

As that manager, it also helps if you accept the fact that you need the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that helps you reach your business, non-profit or association objectives.

And it’s also helpful if you believe it’s a good idea to try and persuade those important outside folks to your way of thinking, then move them to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed.

Given all of that, if it now appears that you need to do something positive about the behaviors of those outside audiences that most affect your operations, yes, you really need public relations!

I mean, look at the sort of results you could be getting: politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; prospects starting to do business with you; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; membership applications on the rise; customers starting to make repeat purchases; community leaders beginning to seek you out; welcome bounces in show room visits; higher employee retention rates; and even capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way.

So we agree that, yes, you really need public relations. But here’s what’s got to happen.

From the get-go, assure yourself that the public relations people assigned to your department, division or subsidiary know you’re determined to find out what your most important outside audiences actually think about your organization. Reason being that target audience perceptions usually lead to behaviors that can help or hinder you in achieving your operating objectives.

Pin down which audiences are really key to your success then build and prioritize your list of important outside groups of people whose actions most affect your unit. And begin work on that top external audience.

Your new public relations effort will depend for its success on how efficient you are in gathering the perceptions of your organization held by your key target audiences.

Put your public relations team to work interacting with members of that #1 outside audience. Or, if you can tap a good sized budget, you can ask a professional survey firm to do the job for you. However, because your PR folks are already in the perception and behavior business, my choice would be to use them for this assignment.

Either way, someone must interact with members of that prime audience and ask questions like “What do you know about our operation? Are you familiar with our services or products? Have you had any negotiations with us? If so, were they satisfactory?"

Keep a careful eye on responses. Notice any evasive or hesitant comments about your organization? Be especially alert for misconceptions or untruths. Are there false assumptions or inaccuracies you need to remedy in light of experience that shows negative perceptions inevitably lead to negative behaviors – the kind you must correct to protect your unit’s operations.

All this work prepares you to set your public relations goal. For instance, clarify a hurtful inaccuracy, fix that misconception or flatten that rumor once and for all.

As with just about any goal you pursue, you don’t reach it without the right strategy to show you how to get there. Fact is, with matters of perception and opinion, you have three strategic options: change an offending opinion/perception, create it where there isn’t any, or reinforce an existing perception.

Here, perhaps the hardest work connected to a public relations program rears its ugly head -- preparing the persuasive message you will use to carry your corrective facts and figures to members of your key target audience.

Several characteristics are required in such a message. It must be clearly written as to why that misconception, inaccuracy or false assumption should be corrected or clarified. Supporting facts must be truthful so that they lead to a finished message that is persuasive, believable and compelling.

How would you plan to move your message to your audience? This is the least complex step in the sequence because there are so many communications tactics ready to do the message delivery job for you. They range from op-eds in local newspapers, radio and TV interviews, speeches, consumer briefings and brochures to newsletters, special events, emails, personal meetings and many, many others. Only caution: be sure the tactics you assign to the job have a good record of reaching people just like the members of your target audience.

Can we point to progress? Only way to know for certain if offending perceptions have been altered, is to interact out there once again with those audience members asking the same questions as before. But this time, you and your PR team will be watching carefully for indications that the troublesome perception really is correcting in your direction.

That IS where “the public relations rubber meets the road," isn’t it? Business, non-profit or association managers use mission-critical public relations to alter an offending perception, leading directly to the predictable behavior…which helps them reach their department, division or subsidiary objectives.