PR Performance You Should Expect

    February 27, 2006

As a business, non-profit, government agency or association manager, one way or the other (and sooner or later), you’ll be paying for some kind of public relations results.

And hopefully, results that do something meaningful about the behaviors of those important audiences of yours that MOST affect the organization you manage.

Better yet, results that create the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.

And even better still when those results reflect how your follow through persuaded those key outside folks to your way of thinking as you helped move them to take actions that allowed your department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.

In my view, the alternative is unacceptable: managers preoccupied with simple tactics like press releases, broadcast plugs, special events and brochures, which deny them the best that public relations has to offer.

Instead, what is needed is good public relations planning that really CAN alter individual perception resulting in changed behaviors among key outside audiences. But that only happens when you demand more than just communications tactics. That’s when you’ll receive the quality public relations results you deserve.

Results, incidentally, based on a highly proactive premise that can easily go your way: 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.

When managers adopt such an approach to public relations, the desired end-products should soon emerge. For instance, prospects begin to do business with you; membership applications start to rise; welcome bounces in show room visits occur; customers starting to make repeat purchases; capital givers or specifying sources beginning 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; and community leaders begin to seek you out.

Still another epiphany occurs when you realize that the public relations people on your staff can be of real use for your new opinion monitoring project. After all, they’re already in the perception and behavior business. But to be certain, determine if those PR folks really accept why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. And this is really important: be sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.

Is your PR plan now complete? Better sit down and review it carefully with the public relations professionals on your team, be they agency, staff or parent. Discuss how you will monitor and gather perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Ask questions like these: 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?

If you decide that, instead of mobilizing your PR staff as key audience data gatherers, you may try professional survey firms to do the job. Just know that that may require more expense than 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.

The most serious problem areas uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring call for setting a realistic, achievable PR goal. For example, will your goal be to straighten out a dangerous misconception? Correct a gross inaccuracy? Or, stop a potentially painful rumor before it does more damage?

To show you how to reach that new goal, a matching strategy should be established. However, there are only three strategic options available to you when it comes to solving perception and opinion problems. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. But the wrong strategy pick will taste like raspberry jam on your collard greens . So be certain 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.

One of the keys to success in public relations is the persuasive message, one that helps move a key audience to your way of thinking. It must be carefully written, and aimed directly at your key external audience. Lean on your best writer to accept the assignment because s/he must produce language that is not merely compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if it is to shift perception/opinion towards your point of view and lead to the behaviors you have in mind.

Who will carry that message to the attention of your target audience? Well, with your message written, approved and ready to go, you and your people must answer that question this way:”Communications tactics.” And there is no shortage of such tactics available to you. >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.

It’s an unfortunate, but true aspect of public relations that HOW you communicate your message will bear heavily on its believability, always fragile at best. Which is why you may wish to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.

Fact is, a second perception monitoring session will be needed to measure your progress in moving key audience perception,. The results will be your first progress report. Happily, you can use many of the same questions used in your benchmark session. But now, you will be watching for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

Oh, yes. Because a program occasionally can lose some of its early velocity, here are two remedies. Either add more communications tactics, or increase their frequencies, or both.

And finally, publicity placements are satisfying, but when it’s REAL public relations performance you want, you had best shoot for creating the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives. And do so by persuading those key outside folks to your way of thinking by helping move them to take actions that allow your unit 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: