Managers: Here’s a PR Template For You
Let’s start out with a caution for business, non-profit and association managers: the premise of public relations implies that the work you do BEFORE you use PR tactics, such as press releases, brochures and broadcast interviews, will determine the success of your public relations effort.
Reason is, if you are one of those managers, the PR plan that flows from that premise will call for achieving your managerial objectives by altering perception leading to changed behaviors among those important external audiences that MOST affect your department, group, division or subsidiary.
Here, read that public relations premise for yourself. 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.
Of all the things the premise tells you about public relations, the most basic may be that you need to do some serious planning early-on about the behaviors of those vital outside audiences rather than exploding right out-of-the-gate with a tactical broadside.
For example, you don’t want to move prematurely into press releases, talk show appearances, zippy publications and fun-filled special events before you get answers to questions like these: Who are you trying to reach? What do you know about them? How do they perceive your organization? If troublesome, how might we alter their perceptions? And perhaps MOST important, what behaviors do we want those perceptions to lead to?
That is a critical planning concern because the people with whom you interact every day behave like everyone else – they act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about you and your operation. And that means you should deal effectively with those perceptions (and their follow-on behaviors) by doing what is necessary to reach and move those key external audiences to action.
Once the preliminary public relations planning is complete, you can look forward to PR results such as rising membership applications; customers making repeat purchases; new approaches by capital givers and specifying sources; community leaders beginning to seek you out; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; prospects starting to do business with you; welcome bounces in show room visits, not to mention politicians and legislators viewing you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.
But who will do this specialized kind of work? An outside PR agency team? Folks assigned to your operation? Your own public relations people? Regardless of where they come from, they need to be committed to you and your PR plan beginning with key audience perception monitoring.
Are the folks assigned to you really serious about knowing how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services? Do they really accept the truth that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your operation?
Take the time to review with them in detail how you plan to monitor and gather perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. For instance, 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?
If there’s enough money in the PR budget, be sure to use professional survey firms in the perception monitoring phases of your program. If not, you’re still fortunate because 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.
It’s quite clear that setting just the right public relations goal allows you to deal effectively with the most serious problems you turned up during your key audience perception monitoring. Your new goal could call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that inaccuracy, or neutralizing that fateful rumor.
At this point, take special care because you must now identify the right strategy, one that tells you how to move forward. Remember that there are just 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 crumbled Gorganzola cheese on your bread pudding, 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.
Like it or not, a strong message is needed here, one aimed at members of your target audience. There is no doubt that crafting action-forcing language to persuade an audience to your way of thinking is very hard work. Which is why you need your strongest writer. 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.
How are you going to carry your message to the attention of your target audience? With the communications tactics most likely to reach that group of people, of course. After you run the draft message by your PR people for impact and persuasiveness, you can choose from among dozens that are available to you. 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.
Because we know that message credibility can depend on the credibility of the means used to deliver it, you may want to try it out before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases. About now, talk of progress reports may be heard, and they are a signal that it’s time for you and your PR team to begin a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Many of the same questions used used in thebenchmark session can be asked again. Now however, you will be watching carefully for signs that the problem perception is being altered in your direction.
Don’t forget that you can always speed up program momentum by adding more communications tactics and increasing their frequencies.
This template can be effective for most public relations challenges you face. When you successfully alter the perceptions of your key external stakeholders, in most cases moving their behaviors in your direction, you should soon enjoy the satisfaction of achieving your managerial 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.