Hey, Mr/Ms Manager!
Does it really make sense to bet your PR budget on results like newspaper mentions and zippy brochures while your all-important outside audience behaviors are probably receiving much less attention than they need?
I mean, the concern is valid. What your most important external audiences believe about your organization, and then to what behaviors those perceptions lead, has a lot to do with whether it – and you – succeed.
Ignore that reality and you invite a lot of pain and suffering. But, bite the bullet now and you can begin seeing results like growing repeat purchases, higher levels of membership applications, new engineering firm specifications of your components, a boost in capital contributions or brand new community support.
Public relations isn’t that different from any other professional discipline you employ on the job – you need a plan to succeed. And the plan must be based on a foundation that makes sense.
Try on this fundamental premise for a moment and 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 accomplished.
Because if you CAN live with it, you’ll soon be working with a blueprint that helps persuade those important stakeholders to your way of thinking. And that should move them to take actions that lead to your success as a business, non-profit or association manager.
Give it a try. Sit down with the public relations folks assigned to your department, division or subsidiary and tell them you’re going to find out what those external audiences whose behaviors affect you the most, REALLY think about the organization, then list them in priority order – i.e., which audience behaviors have the greatest impact on your organization – so that we can work on the one you assign first place.
Because this approach to public relations may be unfamiliar to those PR folks assigned to your unit, you must take a personal role in getting it off the ground, as well as inputting each major decision point. Your incentive to do so lies in the fact that dealing effectively with key stakeholder behaviors, talks directly to your own success on the job.
First big question? How do members of your key target audience actually perceive your unit, that is, your department, division or subsidiary? You can commit a large portion of your budget to professional survey counsel or you and the PR folks assigned to your unit can do it the grass roots way and interact with members of your target audience, and ask a number of questions.
“What do you know about us? Have you had any contact with our people? Did it work out to your satisfaction? Is there a problem with our products or services?” All the while you remain alert to exaggeration, inaccuracies, misconceptions, untruths or rumors, as well as paying attention to hesitant or evasive answers to your questions.
The responses you collect will help you set down your public relations goal, which could read this way: tone down that exaggeration, neutralize that rumor, or clarify that misconception.
Next challenge? How do you reach that public relations goal? It may surprise you, but there are just three strategy choices when it comes to matters of perception and opinion: create perception where there may be none, change existing perception, or reinforce it. But be sure that the strategy you select fits your new public relations goal.
This step in the public relations problem solving sequence may be the most challenging – preparing the message you will count on to correct the offending perception you discovered during your monitoring session. Since it will be delivered in online, print, telecommunications, speaker and broadcast modes, it must be prepared in a compelling yet believable manner. It must explain why the current perception is untrue and unfair. And it must be written clearly. After all, you are trying to alter what people believe in a way that leads to the target audience behaviors you need to achieve your unit objectives.
How you deliver the message turns out to be less complex. There are dozens of communications tactics at your disposal ranging from newsletters, open houses, media interviews and brochures to emails, speeches, seminars and many more.
Curiosity will soon overtake all concerned as to whether the program looks like it will reach the goal. Quickest way to find out is another Q&A session with members of your target audience. And you and your PR team should ask the same questions used in the earlier monitoring session.
Big difference the second time around is, you’ll be on the lookout for signs that you have actually altered the offending perceptions as planned. And that is a giant step towards creating the target audience behaviors you need.
Yes, as a manager, what you now have is your own workable, department or division public relations program that will work well on behalf of any business, non-profit or association. In other words, a PR blueprint that will help lead you directly towards achieving your operating 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.