Managers and PR: One Thing Is Clear
As a business, non-profit or association manager, you have a clear choice when you set up your public relations.
Arrange your resources to generate a variety of product and service plugs on radio, and in newspapers and in magazines. Or, use a broader, more comprehensive and workable public relations blueprint to alter key external audience perceptions that lead to changed behaviors – behaviors you will need to reach your managerial objectives.
Which is why it also seems clear that your department, division or subsidiary can fail or succeed depending on how well you employ a crucial dynamic like this one: persuade your key external stakeholders with the greatest impacts on your organization to your way of thinking, then move them to take actions that help your unit succeed.
Best place to start is with the blueprint itself: 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.
As you can see, because they are important, publicity placements are still part of the blueprint – they just are not, and should not be the tail that wags the PR dog.
So, if this approach to public relations is of interest, you may be amazed at what could happen. Fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; Customers starting to make repeat purchases, and even prospects starting to do business with you; welcome bounces in show room visits; rising membership applications, and community leaders beginning to seek you out; new approaches by capital givers and specifying sources not to mention politicians and legislators viewing you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.
Who shoulders the work needed to produce such results? Your own full-time public relations staff? A few folks assigned by the corporate office to your unit? An outside PR agency team? No matter where they come from, they need to be committed to you, to the PR blueprint and to its implementation, starting with key audience perception monitoring.
Please keep in mind that simply because someone describes him/herself as a public relations person doesn’t guarantee they’ve bought the whole shebang. So by all means make certain the public relations people assigned to your unit really believe – deep down — why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Make sure they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.
Layout your plan – your blueprint — for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Questions like these: how much do you know about our chief executive? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?
Use professional survey firms in the perception monitoring phases of your program if you can afford them. But your PR people are also in the perception and behavior business and can pursue the same objective: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.
Now, set your PR goal, one that aims to do something about the worst distortions you turned up during your key audience perception monitoring. It could be to straighten out that dangerous misconception, correct that gross inaccuracy, or stop that potentially fatal rumor dead in its tracks.
With your PR goal established, select the right strategy, one that tells you how to proceed. But keep in mind that there are only three strategic options available to you when it comes to handling a perception and opinion challenge. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. Since the wrong strategy pick will taste like mustard on your pancakes, be certain the new strategy fits comfortably with your new public relations goal. You don’t want to select “change” when the facts dictate a “reinforce” strategy.
With that homework complete, write a moving message and aim it at members of your target audience. Because crafting action-forcing language to persuade an audience to your way of thinking is tough work, you need your best writer because s/he must create some very special, corrective language. Words that are not only compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if they are to correct something and shift perception/opinion towards your point of view leading to the behaviors you are targeting.
Run it by the entire PR team for impact and persuasiveness. Then, select the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. You can pick from dozens that are available. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But be sure that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.
You may decide to unveil it before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases since a message is often dependent for its credibility on the means used to deliver it. Before long, questions about progress will be heard, which tells you and your PR team to get busy on 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. Difference this time is that you will be watching very carefully for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
Should the program begin to slow down, you can always accelerate matters by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.
When it comes down to it, you want your new PR blueprint to persuade your most important outside stakeholders to your way of thinking, then move them to behave in a way that leads to the success of your department, division or subsidiary.
And, when you think about it, we are fortunate indeed that our key stakeholder audiences behave like everyone else – they act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about you and your operation. Leaving you little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions by doing what is necessary to reach and move your key external audiences to actions you desire.
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.