PR: What’s the Point?
Here’s the point: 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.
The point is simply stated for businesses, non-profits and associations. Many concentrate their public relations effort on newspaper and radio exposures or funding management’s favorite special event.
This when they should be driving an action plan that persuades their key external stakeholders to their way of thinking, then moving those important outside audiences to take actions that help their departments, divisions or subsidiaries succeed.
This difference in emphasis can turn into real trouble for managers who work hard to achieve their operating objectives.
Why not meet with the public relations people assigned to your unit and make sure they buy into a blueprint for PR success like the one above: the results might amaze you. How about prospects starting to do business with you; membership applications on the rise; customers starting to make repeat purchases; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; community leaders beginning to seek you out; welcome bounces in show room visits; higher employee retention rates, capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way, and even politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.
You can create those kinds of results when you do something positive about the behaviors of those outside audiences that MOST affect your business, non-profit or association?
When you use the promise of PR to deliver external stakeholder behavior change – the kind that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.
And when you persuade those important outside folks to your viewpoint, then move them to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed.
If this is the kind of PR you need and want, list those outside audiences of yours whose behavior helps or hinders you in achieving your objectives. And list them according to their impact on your operation.
If experience is any guide, you probably don’t have access to data showing how most members of that key external audience perceive your organization.
Truth is, hiring professional survey people to monitor those perceptions can be expensive, so you and your colleagues will have to do it yourselves. Interact with members of that outside audience by asking questions like “Have you ever had contact with anyone from our organization? Was it a satisfactory experience? Are you familiar with our services or products?”
Listen carefully for negative statements, especially evasive or hesitant replies. Watch for false assumptions, untruths, misconceptions, inaccuracies and potentially damaging rumors. Any of which will need to be corrected because we know counterproductive perceptions usually lead to negative behaviors.
Of course you want to correct such problems before they create negative behaviors. So you select the actual perception to be altered, and that becomes your public relations goal.
Fact is, your PR goal without a strategy to show you how to get there, is like catfish without the lemon and tartar sauce. That’s why you must pick one of three strategies structured to create perception or opinion where there may be none, or change existing perception, or reinforce it. What you want to do here is insure that the goal and its strategy match each other. It wouldn’t do to select “change existing perception” when current perception is OK suggesting a “reinforce” strategy.
Here is where writing talent is needed. Someone on your PR team must create a compelling message written in a way that can alter your key target audience’s perception, as called for by your public relations goal.
You can always combine your corrective message with a product or personnel announcement and increase message credibility by not highlighting the correction itself.
The corrective message should have several attributes, clarity for one. Be specific about what perception needs clarification or correction, and why. Your facts must be accurate and they must be persuasive, logically explained and believable if the message is to hold the attention of members of that target audience, and actually move perception your way.
Now you pick your “beasts of burden” – the actual tactics you will use to carry your corrective message to the attention of that external audience.
There are plenty of communications tactics available including letters-to-the-editor, brochures, press releases and speeches. Or, you might select others such as radio and newspaper interviews, personal contacts, newsletters, or group briefings, always making sure the tactics you select have a record of reaching the same audiences as those that make up your target stakeholders.
You’ll want to be ready for queries about progress by again monitoring perceptions among your target audience members. Using questions similar to those used during your earlier monitoring session, you will now watch carefully for indications that audience perceptions are beginning to move in your direction.
We are fortunate in the PR business that we can always put the pedal to the metal by employing additional communications tactics, AND by increasing their frequencies.
So what IS the point? Consider using an aggressive new public relations blueprint, like the one at the top of this article, that targets the kind of key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your 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.