PR When Managers Take Control

    December 19, 2005

Things can change fast! Tactics will probably no longer dominate the public relations plan. Instead, when needed, they’ll hopefully assume their properly limited role as the primary means for moving a publicity message from one point to another.

But in their place, at the top of an organization’s public relations effort, professional business, non-profit, government agency and association managers will instead marshall the resources and action planning needed to alter individual perception leading to changed behaviors among their most important outside audiences. And then follow up by persuading those key folks to his or her way of thinking, moving them to take actions that allow their department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.

What a difference that’s going to make as managerial public relations is at last applied. The reason why is really the underlying premise of public relations: 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.

Implicit in that premise is yet another reality: public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors among key outside audiences. But you’ll only get there when your PR demands more than special events, news releases, brochures and talk show tactics. Only then will you receive the quality public relations results you deserve.

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

Look first to your public relations professionals for your new opinion monitoring project because they’re already in the perception and behavior business. But be certain that the PR staff really accepts why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Above all, be sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.

Take the time to review with them your plans for monitoring and gathering 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 interchange? Are you familiar with our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

Of course using professional survey firms to do the opinion gathering work will cost considerably more 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.

With that work under your belt, you must establish a goal calling for action on the most serious problem areas you uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring. You might decide to straighten out that dangerous misconception? Or correct that gross inaccuracy? Or, stop that potentially painful rumor cold.

No one sets their PR goal and forgets to link it with an equally specific strategy that tells you how to get there. 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. The wrong strategy pick will taste like sauteed mushrooms on your pumpkin pie. 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.

In public relations, a central talent is good writing. And sure enough, here, the best writer on your team will 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. Select that 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.

Now we move to what some practitioners feel are the “fun” part of PR action programming – the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. There are many 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.

As you probably know, the “believability” of any message is fragile and always suspect. The means by which you communicate should always be a concern. Which is why you may wish to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings through presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.

When chatter about a progress report surfaces, you might take it as a cue to begin a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. You’ll want 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.

Program momentum has been known to flag. In this event, you can always speed things up by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.

Once again, when managers take control of the public relations being performed on their behalf, the more perceptive tend to move away from dependence on communications tactics and on to a plan for doing something about the behaviors of those important external audiences of theirs that MOST affect their operation. That’s when they take steps to persuade those key outside folks to their way of thinking, then help move them to take actions that allow their department, division, group 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: