Ready For A Business Recovery?
Who wants to face the challenges of a business recovery without a ton of firepower? Especially when getting your piece of the action almost certainly depends upon how well you modify the behaviors of your target audiences.
That’s why public relations had better play a central role in your business planning. Particularly since any recovery that takes place will be the result of industrial, commercial and individual consumers alike starting to behave like buyers, whether of luxury real estate, frozen pizzas, industrial transformers or information technology.
So, before this train leaves the station, if you are unsure how best to use public relations in the expected recovery, consider its basic mission firmly rooted in the principle that people act on their own perception of the facts. Then it strives to create, change or reinforce public opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-action those people whose behaviors affect the organization. When the behavioral changes become apparent, and meet the program’s original behavior modification goal, the program has succeeded.
But what comes first? How about a real acceptance that (1) individual perception of the facts is THE guiding light leading to behavioral change, and (2) that something really CAN be done about those perceptions. Think about that for a moment – not every one buys it. For me, I can tell you it was an epiphany of immense proportion that actually helped shape my career in public relations.
First, we set the goal whether it be to move consumers to try a new soft drink flavor; or to perceive your organization in a new light thus strengthening its reputation; or to lead them to a positive perception of the company in turn leading to new investments in the company’s shares.
Next, what strategy will it take to reach that goal? Opinion Creation, Change or Reinforcement?
Here, the real public opinion work begins. The public relations squad must decide whether opinion among key audiences is to be created from scratch, requiring a lot of basic data, information and interpretation from which a person can form an initial opinion.
Or, are we talking about a change in opinion, a nudge in one direction or the other requiring a clear, credible and well-supported explanation of, and rationale for why anyone should alter their current views?
Or, do we simply reinforce opinion that pretty much tracks with the opinion level we desire? In this case, we use simple corroboration and additional third-party support to strengthen existing public opinion.
But for each of the three choices, the information and data to be communicated must be creditably sourced, crystal-clear and logically presented.
On to reach, persuade and move-to-action
Now, it’s time to actually reach your key audiences, people whose behaviors will affect your organization. Among others, these stake-holders include customers, employees, prospects, retirees, media, legislators, regulators, and both financial and plant communities.
But reaching these target groups means applying the most effective communications tactics available to you. These will include such tools as media relations and publicity- generating news conferences and press releases, newsletters and e-mails, high-profile speeches, charitable contributions, investor relations, informal opinion surveys and many others.
Special events also will be high on the “reach” action list: newsworthy events like trade shows, open houses, awards ceremonies, contests, VIP receptions, financial roadshows, and even media-attracting stunts.
Persuading your key audiences, the third leg of the opinion troika, is yet another challenge because bringing these important groups of stakeholders around to your way of thinking depends heavily on the quality of the message you prepare for each target audience.
It’s hard work. You must understand and identify what is really at issue at the moment; impart a sense of credibility to your comments; perform regular assessments of how opinion is currently running among that group, constantly adjusting your message; as well as highlighting those key issue points most likely to engage their attention and involvement.
Equally important to moving into action with highly effective communications tactics will be the selection and perceived credibility of the actual spokespeople who will deliver your messages. They must be seen as people of stature, and they must speak with authority, personal confidence and conviction if meaningful media coverage is to be achieved.
Now, Let’s Gain and Hold
By this time, your action program should begin to gain and hold the kind of public understanding and acceptance that will lead to the desired shift in public behavior.
And The End-Game? Modify Behavior, Achieve your Goal
When the changes in behaviors become truly apparent through media reports, thought-leader comment, employee and community chatter and a variety of other feedback — at the same time clearly meeting your original behavior modification goal — I’ll say again that your public relations program can be deemed a success.
Obviously, your piece of the action in the business recovery ahead will come at a price. And that will be your cost to efficiently modify the behaviors of your target audiences. But, the payoff makes it all worthwhile — nothing less than the achievement of your business objectives and, at slight risk of overstatement, a real contribution to the survival of your organization.
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.