A Sensible Way to Use PR
The most sensible way for business, non-profit or association managers to use public relations is to strive to alter individual perception among their target publics, which leads to changed behaviors, thus helping achieve their managerial objectives.
In so doing, managers employ their public relations resources to do something positive about the behaviors of those important external audiences of theirs that MOST affect their operations.
When you think about it, it’s a VERY sensible approach to PR that leads managers to persuade their key outside folks to their way of thinking, then move them to take actions that allow that manager’s department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.
What lets it all come to pass is the reality that 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.
If you are one of these managers, please remember that your PR effort must demand more than special events, brochures and press releases if you are to come up with the public relations results you believe you paid for.
This approach to public relations can richly reward its users: fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way; customers starting to make repeat purchases; membership applications on the rise; community leaders beginning to seek you out; welcome bounces in show room visits; prospects starting to do business with you; higher employee retention rates, and even politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.
You may count yourself fortunate that your PR people are already in the perception and behavior business. They should be of real use for this initial opinion monitoring project. But you must be certain of who among your PR team really understands the blueprint outlined above and shows commitment to its implementation, starting with key audience perception monitoring. Then, be certain that your public relations people really accept why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. And make sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.
Go over the whole process with your PR staff. In particular your method for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Questions 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?
When you compare the cost benefits of using those PR folks of yours in that monitoring capacity to the cost of using professional survey firms to do the opinion gathering work, you may conclude it’s a no- brainer. 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.
Now it’s goal-setting time. One that calls for doing something about the most serious problem areas you uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring. Will it be to straighten out that dangerous misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy? Or, stop that potentially painful rumor cold?
At the same time you establish your public relations goal, you must establish a strategy that tells you how to get there. So keep in mind that there are just three strategic options available when it comes to doing something about perception and opinion. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. The wrong strategy pick will taste like mint sauce on your corned beef, so be sure your new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. You wouldn’t want to select “change” when the facts dictate a strategy of reinforcement.
It’s never easy when you realize that you must now write an action-producing message that will help persuade one of your key audiences to your way of thinking. Well, you do, and it must be a well-written message targeted directly at your key external audience. Select your very best writer because s/he must produce really corrective language. Words that are 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.
Happily, it’s time to identify the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. There are tons available. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But you must be certain that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.
Incidentally, you may wish to unveil this kind of message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases. Reason is, the credibility of any message is fragile and always at stake, so how you communicate it is a concern.
Talk about progress reports will alert you and your PR team to begin 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. But now, you will be on red alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
Should program momentum be sluggish, you can always accelerate the effort by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.
Finally, the sensible use of public relations by managers is most apparent once they accept the fact that they must do something positive about the behaviors of those important outside audiences that most affect their operations.
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.