What You Don’t Know About PR Can Hurt You
And hurt bad if you are a business, non-profit or association manager. Especially when you rely too heavily on tactics like special events, brochures and press releases to get your money’s worth.
Instead, pursue public relations that does nothing less than alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors among those key outside audiences of yours.
In other words, the best approach does something positive about the behaviors of those key external audiences that MOST affect your operation.
That approach persuades your important external folks to your way of thinking, and moves them to take actions that allow your department, division or subsidiary to succeed.
Thus it creates the kind of stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.
Best part is, once you digest the underlying premise of public relations, you’ll understand how the right PR really CAN alter individual perception and lead to those changed behaviors you need. Here’s how it goes: 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.
Keep in mind that it requires more than good old special events, brochures and news releases if you really want to end up with your PR money’s worth.
Fact is, business, non-profit and association managers who employ this kind of public relations can benefit from results such as new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; rebounds in showroom visits; membership applications on the rise; community service and sponsorship opportunities; enhanced activist group relations, and expanded feedback channels, not to mention new thoughtleader and special event contacts.
Over time, you’ll notice customers making repeat purchases; prospects reappearing; stronger developing relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities; improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies, and even capital givers or specifying sources glancing your way.
It goes without saying that you want your most important outside audiences to really perceive your operations, products or services in a positive light. So take pains to be sure that your PR staff has bought into the whole effort. Convince yourself that they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.
Spend some time together and review the PR blueprint very carefully with your staff, especially regarding how you will gather and monitor perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Questions such as: how much do you know about our organization? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the how things went? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?
Certainly you can count on professional survey people to handle the perception monitoring phases of your program IF the budget is available. But luckily, your PR people are also in the perception and behavior business and can pursue the same objective: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.
We should spend a moment on your public relations goal. You need one that addresses the problems that cropped up during your key audience perception monitoring. Chances are, it will call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or doing something about that damaging rumor.
Another truism is that goals need strategies to show you how to get there. And you have just three strategic choices when it comes to handling a perception or opinion challenge: create perception where there may be none, change the perception, or reinforce it. Unfortunately, selecting a bad strategy will taste like maple syrup on your ziti, so be certain the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. For example, you don’t want to select “change” when the facts dictate a “reinforce” strategy.
Because persuading an audience to your way of thinking is awfully hard work, you now must create the right corrective language including words that are compelling, persuasive, believable AND clear and factual. This is a must if you are to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading to the desired behaviors. So, meet again with your communications specialists and review your message for impact and persuasiveness.
Now you need to select the communications tactics most likely to carry your words to the attention of your target audience. Happily there are dozens available. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But be sure that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.
Sad, but the credibility of your message could depend on its delivery method. So, consider introducing it to smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile communications such as news releases or talk show appearances. Progress reports will suggest themselves in due course. And that probably will mean you and your PR folks should return to the field for a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Using many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session, watch carefully for signs that your communications tactics have worked and that the negative perception is being altered in your direction.
If you sense your colleagues or your client becoming impatient, you can always accelerate matters with a broader selection of communications tactics AND increased frequencies.
You won’t get hurt when you apply your budget to public relations activity that creates behavior change among your key outside audiences that leads directly to achieving your goals.
That will demonstrate conclusively that the right PR really CAN alter individual perception. And better yet, lead to changed behaviors that help you reach those managerial objectives and come out on top.
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.