PR: Here’s What Works

    March 1, 2006

When it comes to public relations, what can work best for you as a business, non-profit, government agency or subsidiary manager, is doing something meaningful about the behaviors of those key outside audiences of yours that MOST affect the department, group, division or subsidiary you manage.

You confirm that success by helping persuade those key folks to your way of thinking, then moving them to take actions that allow your unit to succeed.

What you’ve actually done is apply public relation’s underlying premise. Namely, 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.

What you will soon come to see is that the right public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and actually lead to changed behaviors among your key outside audiences.

You will do well to recall that your PR effort should require more than talk show tactics, special events and news releases if you are to receive the quality public relations results you believe you deserve.

The payoff for using this approach to public relations will soon be apparent: community leaders begin to seek you out; capital givers or specifying sources begin to look your way; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures start showing up; 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; customers commence making repeat purchases; membership applications begin to rise; and prospects actually start to do business with you. You’ll want to be certain your PR people really accept why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Because they’re already in the perception and behavior business, they can be of real use for your new opinion monitoring project. But, most important, be sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.

Also insure that a solid discussion with your PR staff takes place re: your plans for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Suggest that questions like these be asked: 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?

Please stay aware that it could cost considerably more to use a professional survey firm to do the opinion gathering work versus using those PR folks of yours in that monitoring capacity. 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.

In all likelihood, you uncovered a few serious problem areas during your key audience perception monitoring. Because you now must call for action on the most serious distortions, you will have to set down your public relations goal. Will it be to straighten out that dangerous misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy? Or, stop that potentially painful rumor dead in its tracks?

An equally specific strategy that tells you how to get there is now called for. However, only three strategic options are 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. The wrong strategy pick will taste like crme anglaise on your bratwurst. So, be sure your new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. You certainly don’t want to select “change” when the facts dictate a strategy of reinforcement.

Good writing becomes crucial when you realize that you have to prepare a persuasive message that will help move your key audience to your way of thinking. It must be a carefully-written message targeted directly at your key external audience. Assign the task to your very best writer because s/he must come up with 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.

How will you carry your message to the attention of your target audience? By selecting the communications tactics most likely to reach those key folks. There are many such tactics 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 people just like your audience members.

HOW you communicate your message can affect its credibility and fragility. Because of such uncertainty, you may wish to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.

In order to produce a comparison between opinion at the beginning of the program and now, you will need to begin a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. The need for such a progress report will cause you to use many of the same questions used in the benchmark session. But now, you will be on strict alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

Should the program lose any of its steam and actually slow down, you can always speed things up by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.

What will have worked at the end of the day, are your efforts to marshall the resources and action planning you need to alter individual perception leading to changed behaviors among your most important outside audiences. During which, you will have helped persuade those key folks to your way of thinking, and moved 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. Visit: