Sure. What else do you call a human discipline whose very
nature is firmly rooted in the principle that people act on their
own perception of the facts. Then goes on to create, change or
reinforce that opinion by reaching, persuading and
moving-to-desired-action the very people whose behaviors
affect the organization?
I call it public relations, and one heck of a natural
In fact, I believe it's the fundamental premise of public
relations. Especially when it deals with the survival of
just about any organization by successfully altering the perceptions
and, hence, the behaviors of certain groups of people important
to the success of that organization.
Because public relations problems are usually defined by
what people THINK about a set of facts, versus the truth of
the matter, we are well-advised to focus on that fundamental
Does it become any less of a phenomenon as it works its
magic in the real world?
No. Instead, it's the degree of human behavioral change it
produces - through quality planning and execution - that
defines the success or failure of a public relations program.
In my experience, most agree that people really do act on
THEIR perception of the facts, and that how they
react to those facts actually does affect their behaviors.
So, to me, it follows that individual understanding of those
facts must be continually informed if the follow-on behaviors
are to help achieve the business' goal and objectives.
When all is said and done, a sound public relations strategy
combined with effective communications tactics leads
directly to success - perceptions altered, behaviors modified, client/employer satisfied.
In other words, when those changes in perceptions and
behaviors clearly meet the original behavior modification
goal set at the beginning of the program, the public relations
effort is successful.
So, what comes first? I believe acceptance that
individual perception of the facts is the guiding light
leading to behavioral change, and that something can be
done about those perceptions. While not everyone buys
that, I must say that it actually helped shape my career in
I asked myself some time ago, why am I working in public
relations anyway? The answers only strengthened my
conviction. Was it simply to create major publicity for my
employer or client? Often yes, but I realized that the tactic
called publicity - like all tactics -- is designed primarily as
a message carrier to a target audience in order to alter its
perceptions and behaviors.
Tactics are not the endgame of public relations because,
fact is, NO organization - business, non-profit, association
or public sector - can succeed today unless the behaviors
of its most important audiences are in-sync with the
organization's objectives. And that means public relations
professionals must modify somebody's behavior if they are
to help hit the employer/client's objective and earn a
paycheck. Everything else leads to that end.
Once public relations' "phenomenonal" characteristics
are understood, an action pathway begins to appear:
-- identify the problem
-- identify target audiences
-- set the public relations goal
-- set the public relations strategy
-- prepare persuasive messages
-- select and implement key communications tactics
-- monitor progress
-- and the end-game? Meet the behavior modification goal
And we get a bonus because we're using a near-perfect
public relations performance standard. I mean, how can
you measure the results of an activity more accurately
than when you clearly achieve the goal you set at the
beginning of that activity? You can't. It's pure success.
So, as we apply our tactics, we'll nurture the relationships
between our target audiences and our employer/client's
business by burnishing the reputation of the organization,
its services and products. We'll do our best to persuade
those key audiences to do what our employer/client wants
them to do. And while seeking public understanding and
acceptance of that employer/client, we'll insure that our
joint activities not only comply with the law, but clearly
serve the public interest.
Then, we pull out all tactical stops to actually move
those individuals to action. And our employer/client will
be pleased that we have brought matters along to this point.
But when will s/he be fully satisfied with the public
relations results we have produced? Only when our
"reach, persuade and move-to-desired-action" efforts have
produced visible change in the behaviors of those target
audiences they wish to influence.
Big words but, in my view, the fundamental premise of a
natural phenomenon called public relations, and the
strategic context in which we must operate.
Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your
ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would
be appreciated at bobkelly@TNI.net.
Robert A. Kelly ? 2003.
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 communications, 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.
Visit: http://www.prcommentary.com; bobkelly@TNI.net