Managers, Which PR Is Right For You?

by : Robert A. Kelly

An effort built around a string of print and broadcast exposures? Or, a public relations initiative that delivers results far beyond simple publicity tactics. Namely, real behavior change among your most important outside audiences leading directly to reaching your objectives. Achieved, incidentally, by persuading key outside people with the greatest impacts on your organization to your way of thinking, then moving them to take actions that help your unit succeed.

It’s a clear choice between limiting PR activity to simply placing product and service plugs on radio and in newspapers and magazines. Or, using a workable public relations blueprint to alter individual perceptions that lead to changed behaviors – something that should be of profound importance to businesses, non-profits and associations who can sink or swim on how well they employ this crucial dynamic on behalf of their department, division or subsidiary.

So, as a manager, why support that business, non-profit or association operation with press release public relations when a basic PR blueprint like this one can hold the key to your success? 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.

Just look at the types of things that could transpire as a result: fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; customers making repeat purchases; prospects starting to look your way; community leaders beginning to seek you out; and even politicians and legislators viewing you as an innovator.

But careful here. Because the cost of gathering key audience perception data – an absolute must in this business – can be substantial, it should be built into your original budget request, and hopefully approved because the entire public relations effort is riding on the perception monitoring function.

So, with the key stakeholders whose perceptions of your operation you care most about now the target of your PR effort, you are ready to launch a well-planned public relations program that can reach, persuade and move those individuals to actions you desire.

For your own success, you have to be certain your staff or agency public relations people are REALLY committed to (1) knowing how your outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services, and (2) the reality that negative key audience perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can hurt you (and them). Luckily, they already are in the perception and behavior business, so they should be able to really help out with your opinion monitoring project.

Professional survey firms are always available, but that can be a budget buster. So, whether it’s your people or a survey firm asking the questions, your objective is the same: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and other “nasties."

Best way to get that activity under way is to meet with members of your most important 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?" Be sensitive to negative statements, especially evasive or hesitant replies. And watch carefully for those false assumptions, untruths, misconceptions, inaccuracies and potentially damaging rumors. When you find such, they will need to be corrected, as they usually lead to negative behaviors.

Now you must select the specific perception to be altered, which then becomes your public relations goal.

But clearly, a PR goal without a strategy to show you how to get there, is like French Toast without syrup and bacon. So you select one of three strategies especially constructed to create perception or opinion where there may be none, or change existing perception, or reinforce it. But 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.

Here, you put together a compelling message carefully structured to alter your key target audience’s perception, as specified by your public relations goal.

A thought. Combine your corrective message with another news announcement or presentation which may provide more credibility by downplaying the need for such a correction.

Clearly you have to produce a compelling message, one that’s quite clear about what perception needs clarification or correction, and why. Goes without saying that you must be truthful, believable and your position logically explained if you are to hold the attention of members of that target audience, and actually move perception in your direction.

On a light note, we sometimes 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.

There is no shortage of communications tactics because the list is long indeed. It includes customer briefings, brochures, press releases and speeches. Or, you might choose facility tours, radio and newspaper interviews, personal contacts, or letters-to-the-editor. There are many available to you 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.

If things slow down on you, accelerate them by adding more communications tactics, AND by increasing their frequencies.

With the passage of time, you’ll anticipate that folks will soon be questioning you about progress, so you will already 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 watching carefully for signs that audience perceptions are beginning to move in your general direction.

Satisfying curiosity in this regard is largely a matter of laying out the results you will receive when you undertake this aggressive public relations plan. Put another way, you may be excused for relaxing when you achieve the kind of key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your department, division or subsidiary objectives.


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Robert A. Kelly © 2004.