Managers, Want a Killer Edge?
Business, non-profit, government agency and association managers with public relations reporting to them are likely to miss achieving a killer edge when they focus strictly on communications tactics like press releases, special events, broadcast plugs or brochures.
On the other hand, those managers striving to alter the individual perception of members of their key outside audiences, as they create change in their behaviors, are surely moving towards that killer competitive edge.
And progress will accelerate as they persuade many of those important outside folks to their managerial way of thinking, helping to move them to take actions that let their department, group, division or subsidiary succeed.
In the proverbial nutshell, such managers take a giant step forward by using public relations to do something positive about the behaviors of the very outside audiences that MOST affect their operations.
Thus, their reward arrives when PR creates the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving their most important managerial objectives.
However, getting to this point means you need a clearcut public relations blueprint designed to get every member of your PR team working towards the same external stakeholder behaviors.
The team might well implement a blueprint along these lines: 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.
In due course, the plan should deliver results like these: a rebound in showroom visits; capital givers or specifying sources looking your way; prospects starting to work with you; fresh community service and sponsorship opportunities; improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; customers making repeat purchases; membership applications on the rise; new thoughtleader and special event contacts; and even stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities.
Whom, do you suggest, will do the work? The usual public relations staff? People on-loan from above? Or could it be specialists from a PR agency? Nevertheless, they must be committed to you as the senior project manager, and to the PR blueprint starting with key audience perception monitoring.
Another caution. Check to insure that your team members accept the reasons as to why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Be certain they buy the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.
It will be time well spent for you to review your PR blueprint with your team members, especially your plan for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. 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?
One option at your disposal is professional survey counsel for the perception monitoring phases of your program. However, keep in mind that 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.
By now, you will face the need to set down your public relations goal. This gives you the chance to do something about the most serious distortions you discovered during your key audience perception monitoring. Your new public relations goal might call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or stopping that potentially fatal rumor.
It almost goes without saying, but to achieve success, you must employ a solid strategy, one that clearly shows you HOW to proceed. To keep things simple, note 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. Of course, the wrong strategy pick will taste like pancake syrup on your garlic pickles, so be certain the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. Naturally, you don’t want to select “change” when the facts dictate a “reinforce” strategy.
One of the most difficult moments in public relations is selecting the ideal writer for a challenging writing assignment. And now is such a time when you must share a powerful corrective message with members of your target audience. But persuading an audience to your way of thinking is hard work! And that’s why your PR folks must come up with words that are not only compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual. This is how you will be able to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading to the behaviors you are targeting.
This is also the time to decide if your message’s impact and persuasiveness are good enough to do the job. If it is, you can move on to selecting 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 might also decide if you would rather unveil your message before smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile tactics such as news releases. Reason is, the credibility of a message can depend on the credibility of its delivery method.
Someone’s going to suggest that progress be summed up in a special report, so you and your PR team should be prepared to return to the field and start work on a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. To create this before-and-after comparison, you’ll want to use many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session. But this time, you will be watching very carefully for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
Should progress slow, you also have at your disposal the option of speeding up matters with more communications tactics and increased frequencies.
So, the manager’s quest for a killer competitive edge really IS dependent upon doing something positive about the behaviors of the very outside audiences that MOST effect his or her operations.
Which is precisely why PR must create the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving that manager’s most important 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.