A Manager’s 2006 New Year’s Resolution
Many business, non-profit, government agency and association managers, like the rest of us, want to kick our bad business habits and start the year 2006 anew.
And for many managers, public relations may be a good place to prepare such a 2006 New Year’s Resolution. For example, it’s hard to ignore the fact that many business, non-profit, government agency and association managers harbor a single-minded preoccupation with simple communications tactics like press releases, broadcast plugs, special events and brochures, which denies them the best that public relations has to offer.
Instead, in 2006, they might resolve to use a strategic PR plan that alters the individual perception of members of a manager’s MOST important outside audiences. This starts the process of changing their behaviors by actually persuading many of those key, outside folks to a manager’s way of thinking. Then, he/she helps move audience members to take actions that allow that manager’s department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.
If what I’m about to say sounds like theory, it isn’t. It’s both reality AND the underlying premise of public relations: 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.
Resolution-making managers will be pleased to note that the right public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors among key outside audiences. It’s equally encouraging when you remember that your PR effort must demand more than special events, news releases and talk show tactics if you are to receive the quality public relations results you believe you deserve.
What results, you say? Try these: community leaders begin to seek you out; welcome bounces in show room visits; customers begin to make repeat purchases; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures showing up; capital givers or specifying sources begin to look your way; membership applications start to rise; politicians and legislators begin looking at you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; and prospects actually start to do business with you. Of course, as the manager in charge of all your direct reports, you have a ready-made support staff on the PR side. The public relations people assigned to you can be of real use for your new opinion monitoring project because they are already in the perception and behavior business. But double check that your PR folks really accept why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. In brief, be sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.
It’s also essential that your PR staff buy into the need to monitor and gather perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Ask questions like these: how much do you know about our organization? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the exchange? Are you familiar with our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?
If your budget will allow, a survey firm can do the opinion gathering work, but the cost can be heavy. Alternatively, you can use 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.
One of the most important steps in establishing your new strategic public relations plan is setting a PR goal drawn from the most serious problem areas you uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring. Will you correct that gross inaccuracy? stop that potentially painful rumor dead? Or straighten out that dangerous misconception?
The right strategy will show you the way to that PR goal. But just three strategic options are available to you when it comes to solving perception and opinion problems. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. The wrong strategy pick will taste like marshmallows on your pot roast. So be certain 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.
In public relations, you’re never far from the need to write something. And that’s true here. Your staff must prepare a persuasive message that will help move your key audience to your way of thinking. It must be a carefully- written message aimed directly at your key external audience. Select your very best writer because s/he must come up with 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.
Moving your new message to your target audience requires selecting those communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of those folks. And many of them await your pleasure. 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 people just like your audience members.
Now, communicating your message can be a problem because the credibility of any message is always fragile. And that’s why, at first, you may wish to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.
When progress reports are contemplated, your first thought should lead you to begin a second perception monitoring session among members of your external audience in order to measure headway. You can use many of the same questions used in your benchmark session. But this time, you will be on guard for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
Any program can lose momentum, but you have two options for speeding up the action: add more communications tactics and increase their frequencies.
This manager’s 2006 New Year’s Resolution can put your public relations program back on track. Especially when it moves you away from a major emphasis on communications tactics and on to a plan for doing something positive about the behaviors of those important external audiences of yours that most affect your operation. And particularly so when you persuade those key outside folks to your way of thinking by helping to move them to take actions that allow your department, division or subsidiary to succeed.
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.