PR Where it Matters Most
What’s more crucial to the success of a business, non-profit or association than its most important outside audiences and stakeholders?
Those stakeholder behaviors directly impact virtually every management and operating activity of the organization. From retail patronage, recruiting, civic activity, contributions, and strategic alliances to membership, program participation, plain old sales, and just about everything else.
Which means, if you are such a manager, you may have a real opportunity to do something positive about the behaviors of those important outside audiences of yours that most affect YOUR operation.
In other words, you can create the kind of external stakeholder behavior changes that lead directly to achieving your own managerial objectives.
You can do so by persuading those key outside folks to your way of thinking, then help move them to take actions that allow your department, division or subsidiary to succeed.
When you decide to move your managerial public relations to a whole new level, here’s some real help for you.
It’s called the fundamental premise of public relations and it goes like this: 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.
But it won’t be of much use unless the PR team members assigned to your unit understand that blueprint and commit themselves to its implementation, starting with key audience perception monitoring. Truth is, your PR people are already in the perception and behavior business, so they will be of real use for this initial opinion assessment project.
But pause here. You must reassure yourself that your public relations people truly understand just WHY it’s so important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Be certain they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.
Why not take some time to review with them your plan for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. 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?
Yes, survey specialists can always be brought in to do the opinion monitoring work, and they also can run up your costs. But, no matter who asks 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.
Your objective, obviously, is to do something about the most serious distortions you discover during your key audience perception monitoring. Will it be to straighten out that dangerous misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy? Or, stop that potentially bloody rumor dead in its tracks?
Unfortunately, you’ll make no headway at all without the right strategy to tell you how to proceed. But keep in mind that there are just three strategic options available 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 bleu cheese dressing on your liver and onions, so be sure your new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. You wouldn’t want to select “change” when the facts dictate a “reinforce” strategy.
The challenge now is to prepare a nicely put together message and direct it to members of your target audience. It’s always a problem to create an actionable message that will help persuade an audience to your way of thinking.
Obviously, you need your best scribes for this one because s/he must build some very special, corrective language. Words that are 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.
Once your PR team has vetted the work product, it’s on to the next selection process — the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. There are tons available. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But you must be certain that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks like your audience members,
By the way, you may wish to avoid distributing such a corrective message from the rooftops, and unveil your message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases Reason is, the credibility of any message is fragile and always at stake.
You’ll soon hear calls for progress reports which will tell you and your PR team to get busy on a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. You’ll also want to use many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session. Big difference this time is that you will be on constant alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
I’ve always thought it fortunate that such matters usually can be accelerated simply by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.
At the end of the day, what you want your new PR plan to do is persuade your most important outside stakeholders to your way of thinking, then move them to behave in a way that leads to the success of your department, division or subsidiary.
Your biggest success secret will be when your “target publics” — those all important outside stakeholder audiences – actually act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about you and your operation. Which means you really have little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions by doing what is necessary to reach and move those key external audiences of yours to actions you desire.
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.