How to Create Quality PR Results
For many of us, the word quality is closely related to our expectations. When we receive the public relations results we planned for, we feel, understandably, that we have generated quality results.
Another interpretation says quality PR may simply be in the eye of the beholder. But yet another take holds that quality public relations occurs when business, non-profit or association managers use public relations to alter individual perception among their target publics, which leads to changed behaviors, thus helping achieve their managerial objectives.
I like that interpretation because, logically in my view, those 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.
Logical yes, but also sensible when managers then take steps 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.
It happens, of course, due to 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 such a manager, keep in mind that your PR effort must demand more than special events, brochures and press releases if you are to come up with the quality public relations results you believe you planned for.
An array of quality results can occur: politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; welcome bounces in show room visits; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way; prospects starting to do business with you; customers starting to make repeat purchases; membership applications on the rise; and community leaders beginning to seek you out.
Your PR people are already in the perception and behavior business and can be of real use for your new opinion monitoring project. But be certain that your PR staff 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.
Share with them your plans 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?
The cost benefit of using those PR folks of yours in that monitoring capacity versus the cost of using professional survey firms to do the opinion gathering work, may lead you to the conclusion that 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 you must set a goal 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?
While setting your PR goal, you must establish a strategy that tells you how to get there. There are 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. The wrong strategy pick will taste like strawberry vinaigrette on your mashed potatoes, 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.
Hard work looms ahead because you must now write a persuasive message that will help move your key audience to your way of thinking. It must be a carefully-written message targeted directly at your key external audience. Your very best writer will be needed 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.
Now you must think about the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. There are many 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.
Because the credibility of any message is fragile and always at stake, how you communicate it is a concern. Thus, you may wish to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.
Conversation about progress reports will give you warning that your PR team should 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 strict alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
Take comfort, should there be a slowdown in the effort, in the fact that you can always speed things up by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.
One of the certain pathways to quality public relations results is the equally certain reality that good public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors among key outside audiences.
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.