Managers: Super-Charge Your PR
Ain’t a gonna happen unless business, non-profit and association managers, possibly like you, do something positive about those important external audiences of yours that most affect your operation. And then, as you persuade those key outside folks to your way of thinking, help move them to take actions that allow your department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.
Fortunately for all of us, good public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors among key outside audiences.
Why should you believe it? Because of this public relations premise: 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.
Just look at the kind of reactions that can result: customers starting to make repeat purchases; politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way; prospects starting to work with you; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; welcome bounces in show room visits; membership applications on the rise; and community leaders beginning to seek you out.
But it doesn’t just happen, as I’m certain you already suspect. Your public relations people really must be on board this particular approach to PR. And especially, they must buy into why it’s so important to know how your outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. And do be sure they accept the reality that negative perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can damage your organization.
Now, how do you plan to monitor and gather perceptions of your key external audiences? Why, by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Meet with your public relations people and review possible questions like these: how much do you know about our organization? 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?
Hopefully it will not come as a surprise that your PR people are already in the perception and behavior business and can be of real use for the initial opinion monitoring project. You can always use professional survey firms, of course, but that can cost a bundle. So, whether it’s your people or a survey firm who handles the questioning, the objective is to identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, and misconceptions.
Soon you will have to decide which of the problems outlined above (or others) becomes your corrective public relations goal – clarify the misconception, spike that rumor, correct the false assumption or fix a variety of other possible inaccuracies?
At the same time you set your PR goal, you must select the right strategy from the three choices available to you. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. The right strategy will show you how to reach that goal. Of course, picking the wrong strategy will taste like peanut butter on a nice piece of Nova Scotia salmon. So be sure your new strategy fits comfortably with your new public relations goal. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to select “change” when the facts dictate a “reinforce” strategy.
At last we come to the “muscular” part of your public relations effort — writing a persuasive message aimed at members of your target audience. It’s always a severe test to come up with action-forcing language that will help persuade a target audience to your way of thinking.
It almost goes without saying that you must assign the task to your best writer. What is required are words that are not only 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 desire.
Now comes one of the less pressuresome chores — identifying the communications tactics needed to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. Always making certain that the tactics you select have a record of reaching folks like your audience members, you have at your disposal dozens of communications tactics ranging from speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others.
Do not overlook the fact that the believability of your message can be dependent on the credibility of its delivery method. And that means you may wish to deliver it in small getogether-like meetings and presentations rather than through a higher-profile media announcement.
As initial impact of your communications tactics is felt, you and your PR people will want to undertake a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. The same questions used in the benchmark session can be used again. But now, you will be looking very carefully for indications that the bad news perception is moving in your direction.
By the way, take comfort in the fact that that your PR program usually can be accelerated by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.
To recap: I strongly advise you to remember this as a business, non-profit or association manager: supercharging your managerial public relations effort will depend heavily on you doing something positive about those important external audiences of yours that most affect your operation – positive steps like those mentioned above. And as you persuade those key outside folks to your way of thinking, you will hopefully move them to take actions that allow your department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.
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.