Want to Light a Fire Under Your PR?
Yes? Then do something positive about the behaviors of those important external audiences of yours that MOST affect your operation.
Those embers can leap into flame when business, non- profit or association managers use public relations to alter individual perception among their target publics, leading to changed behaviors and helping to achieve their managerial objectives.
In the process, things can really blaze when managers take steps to persuade their key external folks to their way of thinking, then move them to take actions that allow that manager’s department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.
The kindling for your new fire is the reality that 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.
Let’s assume you are such a manager and that you will keep in mind that your PR effort must demand more than special events, brochures and press releases if you are to achieve the quality public relations results you’re counting on.
And lots of good things CAN happen. Capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way; customers starting to make repeat purchases; membership applications on the rise; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; welcome bounces in show room visits; prospects starting to do business with you; and community leaders beginning to seek you out. Because your public relations professionals are already in the perception and behavior business, they can be of real use for your new opinion monitoring project. 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. And make sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.
Sit down and review with them your plans for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Questions along these lines: 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?
When you study the benefits of the program, you may conclude it’s a no-brainer as you measure the cost benefit of using those PR folks of yours in that monitoring capacity against the cost of using professional survey firms to do the opinion gathering work. 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.
It’s time to establish a goal calling for action on the most serious problem areas you uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring. Will it be to straighten out that dangerous misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy? Or, stop that potentially painful rumor cold?
Naturally, setting your PR goal requires an equally specific strategy that tells you how to get there. There are 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 onion gravy on your deep dish apple pie, 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 strategy of reinforcement.
Now comes the hard work. You must 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. Your very best writer will be needed because s/he must produce really 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.
At last you come to the fun part of the program. Selecting 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.
How you communicate is a concern since the credibility of any message is fragile and always up for grabs. Which is why you may wish to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.
You and your PR team will inevitably view any suggestions about progress reports as an alert 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.
The fact that you can always speed things up by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies, will be a source of comfort for you should program momentum slow.
The fastest way for managers to light a fire under their public relations efforts is to persuade those key external audiences of theirs to his or her way of thinking, thus moving those publics to take actions that allow the managers’ business, non-profit or association 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.