So Many Managers Doubt PR’s Value

    March 17, 2006

As business, non-profit, government agency or association managers, what they’ll tell you they DO know is, “PR is pretty much all about press releases, broadcast plugs, brochures and special events.”

And that’s too bad.

Because what those managers are missing is ANY recognition that strategic public relations could lead directly to achieving their unit’s managerial objectives. Presumably their primary concern!

They appear unaware that, along the way, they would be doing something really significant about the behaviors of those important outside audiences that MOST affect the department, group, division or subsidiary unit they manage.

They seem equally unaware that they would then be in a position to persuade those key external audiences to their way of thinking, moving them to take actions that allow that manager’s own unit to succeed.

I suspect those managers have heard about public relations missions biased towards simple tactics, thus denying them the best that public relations has to offer.

Again, that’s too bad.

What they require is first-class public relations planning that really CAN alter individual perception resulting in changed behaviors among key outside audiences. But that only happens when they demand more than just communications tactics. That’s when they’ll receive the quality public relations results they deserve.

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

Obviously, there’s a highly proactive premise undergirding this approach to public relations, to wit: 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.

The public relations people on your staff are positioned to help you achieve your managerial objectives. They’re already in the perception and behavior business and can be of real use for your new opinion monitoring project. But be certain 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.

Better take the time to sit down and review your new PR plan with those public relations professionals, be they agency, staff or parent. Discuss how you will monitor and gather perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Suggest asking 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?

You may conclude that you should pursue your key audience data with a professional survey firm. But be cautious because that course of action may require more expense than using those PR folks of yours in that monitoring capacity. However, regardless of 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.

Of course you must set a realistic public relations goal which addresses the most serious problem areas uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring. And it must be both realistic and achievable. 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?

A matching strategy will be just what the doctor ordered. But you have just 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. Because the wrong strategy pick will taste like pork gravy on your white bean salad, 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.

If there’s any magic to public relations, it’s writing persuasive messages. And the goal is almost always moving a key audience to your way of thinking, so that the resulting behaviors will be to your liking. But such a message must be carefully written, and aimed directly at that key external audience. Get your best writer on this job 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.

Now that your perception-moving message is ready to go, you and your people must wade through a wide selection of communications tactics. They range from speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But be sure the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.

Reminder: the way you communicate your message will bear heavily on its believability, always fragile at best. Which is why, initially, you may wish to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.

Obviously, to show how far the program has come in impacting perception, and thus behaviors, a second perception monitoring session will be needed. The result will be your first progress report and, happily, you can use many of the same questions used in your benchmark session. Only difference now, you’ll be watching for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

No program can keep running at 90 miles per hour, so if yours slows down, either add more communications tactics, or increase their frequencies, or both.

No, public relations is not “pretty much all about press releases, broadcast plugs, brochures and special events.”

It IS all about achieving an organization’s operating objectives. And in the process doing something really significant about the behaviors of those important outside audiences that MOST affect the organization, then persuading them to the unit’s way of thinking, and moving them to take actions that allow the organization to succeed.

In that way, you get both the quality public relations results you deserve, and the best that public relations has to offer

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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: