Powering Up Managerial PR

    March 1, 2006

For many managers, talking about how to power up managerial public relations means talking about favored communications tactics such as press releases, broadcast plugs, special events and brochures.

Tactical devices which, as a manager, you may call upon from time to time to simply move a message from here to there.

Of course, calling them just that – tactical devices – does avoid confusing them with the broader, more comprehensive mission known as public relations.

A mission which, compared to a tactical orientation, instead assembles the resources and action planning needed to alter individual perception leading to changed behaviors among a business, government agency, non-profit, or association’s most important outside audiences. Then goes on to help managers persuade those key folks to their way of thinking, and move them to take actions that allow their department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.

In brief, and building on the tactical base, what such an approach to public relations does, is power up managerial PR by creating the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving those managerial objectives of yours. Then it persuades those key outside folks to your way of thinking by helping move audience members to take actions that help your unit get to where it wants to go.

Before long, all concerned will notice that the reality implicit in PR’s underlying premise is that good public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and result in changed behaviors among key outside audiences.

But what about that underlying premise? Spend a moment digesting it and see if it fits your style: 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.

Results will appear sooner rather than later: new prospects actually start to do business with you; community leaders begin to seek you out; capital givers or specifying sources begin to look your way; customers start to make repeat purchases; politicians and legislators begin looking at you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; welcome bounces in show room visits occur; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures start showing up; and membership applications start to rise.

Your PR people need to analyze and input your plans for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Suggest queries along these lines: how much do you know about our organization? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the exchange? Are you familiar with our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

You’ll be best served by looking first to your PR staff to manage your data gathering activity. But, take the time to satisfy yourself that they really accept why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Be sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.

If you ask a survey firm to handle your data gathering work, the cost could be substantial. Alternatively, using those PR folks of yours in that monitoring capacity could be a much better choice as they are already in the perception and behavior business. 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.

A clearcut and realistic PR goal is an absolute necessity. It must call for action on the most serious problem areas you uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring. You may, for example, decide to straighten out that dangerous misconception, bring to an end that potentially painful rumor, or correct that awful inaccuracy.

In like manner, establishing the right action-oriented strategy will show you how to get to where you’re going. Truth is, you have 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. Needless to say, the wrong strategy pick will taste like marinara sauce on your grilled squab and chicory salad. So be sure your new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. You certainly don’t want to pursue “change” when the facts dictate a strategy of reinforcement.

Now you must move your key audience to your way of thinking. Which means you’re going to have to write a persuasive message. Ask the best writer on your team to get ready to prepare a carefully-written message targeted directly at your key external audience. S/he must produce some really corrective language that is 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.

To carry your message to the attention of your target audience, you’ll need carefully selected communications tactics, and there are many such 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.

By the way, because a message’s credibility is always fragile and often suspect, depending on the method by which it was delivered, you may wish initially to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings rather than using higher profile news releases or broadcast announcements.

How will you demonstrate how the monies spent on public relations can pay off? Progress reports, of course. But they’ll also be your alert to start a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Here, you’ll use many of the same questions used in the benchmark interviews. Only difference now is, you will be on strict alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

Should you detect a modest slowing in activity, you can always add more communications tactics, and/or increase their frequencies to address that problem.

Thus, powering up managerial PR is best accomplished by (1) creating the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving those managerial objectives of yours. And (2) supported by a high-impact PR action plan focused on your key external audiences, and designed to deliver the very best public relations has to offer.

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.
bobkelly@TNI.net Visit:http://www.prcommentary.com