A Managerial PR System You Will Love
It’s a happy day indeed when business, non-profit, government agency or association managers end their preoccupation with (and reliance upon) the simple mechanics of press releases, broadcast plugs and special events.
What they’ve decided is, they no longer wish to be denied the best public relations has to offer, preferring instead the quality public relations results they believe they deserve.
Thus they begin construction of a workable managerial PR system by putting in place a high-impact action plan designed to do something meaningful about the behaviors of those important outside audiences that MOST affect the departmental, divisional or subsidiary units they manage.
Inevitably, the new plan helps create the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving their managerial objectives; in this case by persuading those key outside folks to the manager’s way of thinking by helping move audience members to take actions that help the manager’s unit succeed.
It rapidly becomes apparent to these managers that the good news implicit in PR’s underlying premise is the reality that good public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and result in changed behaviors among key outside audiences.
But what about PR’s underlying premise? As a manager, see if you can live with it. 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 usually accomplished.
With such an approach to public relations, an awful lot of warm and fuzzy end-products can appear: customers begin to make repeat purchases; new prospects actually start to do business with you; politicians and legislators begin looking at you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; capital givers or specifying sources begin to look your way; welcome bounces in show room visits occur; community leaders begin to seek you out; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures start showing up; and membership applications start to rise.
Of course, whether the PR people assigned to your unit come from an agency, parent company or are direct hires, they are already in the perception and behavior business. So look first to them to manage your data gathering activity. But be certain that they really accept why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. In a word or two, be sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.
Also spend some quality time with your PR people analyzing your plans for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Suggest queries along these lines: how much do you know about our organization? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? Are you familiar with our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?
Be aware that using a professional survey firm to do the opinion gathering work, can be an expensive alternative to using those PR folks of yours in that monitoring capacity. But whether it’s your people or a survey firm asking the questions, the objective remains the same: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.
This is when the establishment of a clearcut and realistic PR goal is necessary, one that calls for action on the most serious problem areas you uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring. You may decide to straighten out that dangerous misconception, bring to an end that potentially painful rumor, or correct that awful inaccuracy.
Part and parcel of your public relations goal is the right, action-oriented strategy that shows how to get to where you’re going. Actually, you have just three strategic options available to you when it comes to doing something about perception and opinion. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. Needless to say, the wrong strategy pick will taste like mushroom gravy on your sardines. So be sure your new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. You certainly don’t want to select “change” when the facts dictate a strategy of reinforcement.
Because you’re going to have to prepare a persuasive message that will help move your key audience to your way of thinking, ask the best writer on your team to get ready to prepare a carefully-written message targeted directly at your key external audience. The writer must produce some really corrective language that is not merely compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if they are to shift perception/ opinion towards your point of view and lead to the behaviors you have in mind.
Carefully selected communications tactics will carry your message to the attention of your target audience, and there are many such tactics available. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But be certain that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.
Another reason to stay alert to the means you use to communicate a message is that its credibility is fragile and always suspect. Thus, you may wish initially to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings rather than using higher profile news releases.
Demonstrating how far you’ve come compared to the starting point will highlight progress made. First, you’ll be demonstrating, in the form of periodic progress reports, how the monies spent on public relations can pay off. But it’s also an alert to start a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Here, you’ll use many of the same questions used in the benchmark interviews. Only difference now is, you will be on strict alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
It’s also possible that momentum could flag suggesting that adding more communications tactics, and/or increasing their frequencies, will adequately address that problem.
In brief, this is a management public relations system with a remarkable prognosis: as a manager, it will move you beyond preoccupation with communications tactics, freeing you to use the right PR system to alter the perceptions of your most important outside audiences, leading directly to achieving your managerial objectives.
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.