When Does PR Help Managers Manage?
The quick answer is, PR helps managers manage when it (1) moves business, non-profit, government agency and association managers away from a preoccupation…
… with simple tactics like press releases, special events, broadcast plugs and brochures.
Then (2), moves them on to PR that creates the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving their managerial objectives.
But it does beget a question: how do those managers shakeoff that tactical orientation?
A good first step might be to digest public relation’s underlying premise: 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.
What sticks out there, is the reality that good public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and result in changed behaviors among key outside audiences.
Obviously, that helps managers manage. Especially if you, as that manager, decide once and for all that you want the best public relations has to offer. Which is why you may be interested in hearing more about a high-impact action plan designed to do something meaningful about the behaviors of those important outside audiences that MOST affect the departmental, divisional or subsidiary unit you manage.
What you are doing here, is creating the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving those managerial objectives of yours; in this case by persuading those key outside folks to your way of thinking by helping move audience members to take actions that help your unit succeed.
Thus, the good news implicit in PR’s underlying premise is the reality that good public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and result in changed behaviors among key outside audiences.
Consider PR’s underlying premise for a moment: 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.
Happily, the results you want, public relations can deliver: for example, community leaders begin to seek you out; customers begin to make repeat purchases; new prospects actually start to do business with you; politicians and legislators begin looking at you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; capital givers or specifying sources begin to look your way; welcome bounces in show room visits occur; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures start showing up; and membership applications start to rise.
It’s especially important to analyze, along with your PR people, your plans for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Suggest interview 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?
Because your PR staff already operates in the world of perception and behavior, you are ahead in the opinion monitoring game. While looking first to them to manage your data gathering activity, be certain that they really accept why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. In a word or two, be sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.
By the way, it can be very costly asking professional survey firms to do the opinion gathering work, when compared to using those PR folks of yours in that monitoring capacity. 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.
Because you need to take action on the most serious problem areas you uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring, you must set a clearcut and realistic PR goal. It may be that you’ll decide to straighten out that dangerous misconception, bring to an end that potentially hurtful rumor, or correct that disastrous inaccuracy.
Of course, establishing the right action-oriented strategy will tell you how to reach that goal. But be aware that you have just three 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. Needless to say, the wrong strategy pick will taste like butterscotch sauce on your pig’s feet. So be sure your new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. Obviously, you don’t want to select “change” when the facts dictate a strategy of reinforcement.
A persuasive message stands at the core of your new PR thrust, and will be tasked with helping move your key audience to your way of thinking. So ask the best writer on your team to prepare a carefully-written message targeted directly at your key external audience. The writer must produce some really corrective language that is 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.
Communications tactics will carry the ball, and your message to the attention of your target audience. Many are available ranging 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.
In the interest of not getting too far out front too early, you may want to initially unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings rather than using higher profile news releases. And that’s because a message’s credibility is always fragile and often suspect depending on the method by which it is delivered.
As your program proceeds and succeeds, you’ll be demonstrating, in the form of periodic progress reports, how the monies spent on public relations can pay off. But it’s also an alert to start a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Here, you’ll use many of the same questions used in the benchmark interviews. Only difference now is, you will be on strict alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
Any program can suffer a slowdown for a variety of reasons. Just keep in mind that adding more communications tactics, and/or increasing their frequencies, should adequately address that problem.
Clearly, this approach to public relations does deliver the best PR has to offer, PR designed to do something meaningful about the behaviors of those important outside audiences that MOST affect the unit you manage.
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.