Why PR is a Vital Force
Because it can alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors. Something of profound importance to businesses, non-profits and associations who can sink or swim on how well they employ this crucial dynamic.
Consider this simple blueprint that gets everyone working towards the same external audience behaviors insuring that your public relations effort stays focused: 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.
Winners use it to produce results like these: community leaders beginning to seek you out; welcome bounces in show room visits; capital givers or specifying sources looking your way; prospects starting to do business with you; customers making repeat purchases; membership applications on the rise; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; higher employee retention rates, and even politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.
Here’s how they do it.
They start by finding out who among their important outside audiences is behaving in ways that help or hinder the achievement of their objectives. Then, they list them according to how severely their behaviors affect their organization.
Next, they take steps to find out precisely HOW most members of that key outside audience perceive their organization. Now, if you don’t have the budget to pay for what could be costly professional survey counsel, you and your PR colleagues will have to monitor those perceptions yourself. Actually, they should be quite familiar with perception and behavior matters.
Best way to get that activity under way is to meet with members of that outside audience and ask questions like “Are you familiar with our services or products?” “Have you ever had contact with anyone from our organization? Was it a satisfactory experience?” Be sensitive to negative statements, especially evasive or hesitant replies. And watch carefully for false assumptions, untruths, misconceptions, inaccuracies and potentially damaging rumors. When you find such, they will need to be corrected, as they usually lead to negative behaviors.
Here, you must select the specific perception to be altered which then becomes your public relations goal. You obviously want to correct any untruths, inaccuracies, misconceptions or false assumptions.
Clearly, a PR goal without a strategy to show you how to get there, is like lasagna without the marinara sauce. As you select one of three strategies especially constructed to create perception or opinion where there may be none, or change existing perception, or reinforce it, what you want to do is insure that the goal and its strategy match each other. You wouldn’t want to select “change existing perception” when current perception is just right suggesting a “reinforce” strategy.
Now, you create a compelling message carefully put together to alter your key target audience’s perception, as specified by your public relations goal.
Here’s a thought. Combine your corrective message with another news announcement or presentation which may provide more credibility by downplaying the need for such a correction.
Your message must be compelling and quite clear about what perception needs clarification or correction, and why. Of course you must be truthful and your position logically explained and believable if it is to hold the attention of members of that target audience, and actually move perception in your direction.
I like to call the communications tactics you will use to move your message to the attention of that key external audience, “beasts of burden” because they must carry your persuasive new thoughts to the eyes and ears of those important outside people.
Happily, you have a wide choice because the list of tactics is long indeed. It includes letters-to-the-editor, brochures, press releases and speeches. Or, you might choose radio and newspaper interviews, personal contacts, facility tours or customer briefings. There are scores available and the only selection requirement is that the communications tactics you choose have a record of reaching people just like the members of your key target audience.
We are all lucky in this business because things can always be accelerated by adding more communications tactics, AND by increasing their frequencies.
Colleagues and others will soon be asking about progress. Of course, you will already be hard at work remonitoring perceptions among your target audience members. Using questions similar to those used during your earlier monitoring session, you’ll now be sharp-eyed and on the lookout for signs that audience perceptions are beginning to move in your general direction.
Satisfying curiosity in this regard is largely a matter of serving up the results you will receive when you undertake this aggressive public relations plan. Put another way, it’s Happy Hour time when you achieve the kind of key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your department, division or subsidiary objectives.
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.