Why the Usual PR Doesn’t Cut It
How could it when so many business, non-profit, government agency and association managers apparently believe public relations is all about creating some publicity by moving a message from one point to another using tactics like broadcast plugs, press releases and brochures?
When you think about it, that belief doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when the managers who hold that view have such an obvious need for public relations that leads directly to achieving their managerial objectives.
I’m talking about public relations that really does something meaningful about the behaviors of those manager’s important outside audiences that MOST affect the departmental, divisional or subsidiary unit they manage.
Perhaps most important, I refer to public relations that persuades those key outside folks to the managers’ way of thinking by helping move audience members to take actions that help each manager’s unit succeed.
With that kind of promise, how COULD the usual kind of tactical PR cut it?
Especially when PR’s underlying premise further sweetens the promise: 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 they soon come to realize is that the right public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and actually lead to changed behaviors among key outside audiences.
Should you count yourself among such managers, please remember that your PR effort must demand more than special events, news releases and talk show tactics if you are to receive the quality public relations results you believe you deserve.
And what a variety of results should come your way: politicians and legislators begin looking at you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures start showing up; welcome bounces in show room visits occur; capital givers or specifying sources begin to look your way; customers commence making repeat purchases; membership applications start to rise; prospects actually start to do business with you; and community leaders begin to seek you out. Since they are already in the perception and behavior business, the PR pros on your staff can be of real use for your new opinion monitoring project. But be certain they really accept why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. In the final analysis, be sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.
During your planning sessions with the PR staff, cover your plans for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Ask 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?
Should someone suggest using a professional survey firm to do the opinion gathering work, be aware that it could cost considerably more than using those PR folks of yours in that monitoring capacity. So, 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.
Now you must call for action on the most serious problem areas you uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring. And that means setting a public relations goal. Will it be to straighten out that dangerous misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy? Or, stop that potentially painful rumor dead in its tracks?
It is obvious that setting your PR goal means you must set an equally specific strategy that tells you how to get there. Only three strategic options are 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 sorghum syrup on your anchovies. So be sure 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.
Because you must prepare a persuasive message that will help move your key audience to your way of thinking, good writing becomes crucial. It must be a carefully-written message targeted directly at your key external audience. Assign the task to your very best writer because s/he must come up with 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.
How will you carry your message to the attention of your target audience? By selecting the communications tactics most likely to reach those key folks. There are many such tactics 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 people just like your audience members.
Because the WAY in which you communicate can affect the credibility and fragility of your message, you may wish to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.
No doubt you’ve anticipated that you will need to begin a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience in order to compare how far your public relations program has come. The need for such a progress report will cause you 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.
Any slowdowns in the program should not be a source of concern since you can always speed things up by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.
At the end of the day, what you will have done is marshall the resources and action planning needed to alter individual perception leading to changed behaviors among your most important outside audiences. During which, you will have helped persuade those key folks to your way of thinking, and moved them to take actions that allow your department, group, division or subsidiary 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.