The most sensible way for business, non-profit or association managers to use public relations is to strive to alter individual perception among their target publics, which leads to changed behaviors, thus helping achieve their managerial objectives.
In so doing, managers employ their public relations
resources to do something positive about the behaviors
of those important external audiences of theirs that MOST
affect their operations.
When you think about it, it's a VERY sensible approach to
PR that leads managers to persuade their key outside folks
to their way of thinking, then move them to take actions
that allow that manager's department, group, division or
subsidiary to succeed.
What lets it all come to pass is the reality that 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
If you are one of these managers, please remember that
your PR effort must demand more than special events,
brochures and press releases if you are to come up with
the public relations results you believe you paid for.
This approach to public relations can richly reward its
users: fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint
ventures; capital givers or specifying sources beginning
to look your way; customers starting to make repeat
purchases; membership applications on the rise;
community leaders beginning to seek you out; welcome
bounces in show room visits; prospects starting to do
business with you; higher employee retention rates, and
even politicians and legislators starting to view you as
a key member of the business, non-profit or association
You may count yourself fortunate that your PR people
are already in the perception and behavior business.
They should be of real use for this initial opinion
monitoring project. But you must be certain of who
among your PR team really understands the blueprint
outlined above and shows commitment to its
implementation, starting with key audience perception
monitoring. Then, be certain that your public relations
people really accept why it's SO important to know how
your most important outside audiences perceive your
operations, products or services. And make sure they
believe that perceptions almost always result in
behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.
Go over the whole process with your PR staff. In
particular your method for monitoring and gathering
perceptions by questioning members of your most
important outside audiences. Questions along these
lines: how much do you know about our organization?
Have you had prior contact with us and were you
pleased with the interchange? Are you familiar with
our services or products and employees? Have you
experienced problems with our people or procedures?
When you compare the cost benefits of using those
PR folks of yours in that monitoring capacity to the
cost of using professional survey firms to do the
opinion gathering work, you may conclude it's a no-
brainer. 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.
Now it's goal-setting time. One that calls for doing
something about the most serious problem areas you
uncovered during your key audience perception
monitoring. Will it be to straighten out that dangerous
misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy? Or,
stop that potentially painful rumor cold?
At the same time you establish your public relations
goal, you must establish a strategy that tells you how
to get there. So keep in mind that there are just three
strategic options available 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 mint sauce on your corned beef, so be
sure your new strategy fits well with your new public
relations goal. You wouldn't want to select "change"
when the facts dictate a strategy of reinforcement.
It's never easy when you realize that you must now
write an action-producing message that will help
persuade one of your key audiences to your way of
thinking. Well, you do, and it must be a well-written
message targeted directly at your key external
audience. Select your very best writer because s/he
must produce really corrective language. Words
that are 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.
Happily, it's time to identify the communications
tactics most likely to carry your message to the
attention of your target audience. There are tons
available. From speeches, facility tours, emails
and brochures to consumer briefings, media
interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and
many others. But you must be certain that the
tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like
your audience members.
Incidentally, you may wish to unveil this kind of
message before smaller meetings and presentations
rather than using higher-profile news releases.
Reason is, the credibility of any message is fragile
and always at stake, so how you communicate it is
Talk about progress reports will alert you and
your PR team to begin a second perception
monitoring session with members of your external
audience. You'll want to use many of the same
questions used in the first benchmark session.
But now, you will be on red alert for signs that
the bad news perception is being altered in your
Should program momentum be sluggish, you can
always accelerate the effort by adding more
communications tactics as well as increasing their
Finally, the sensible use of public relations by
managers is most apparent once they accept the
fact that they must do something positive about
the behaviors of those important outside audiences
that most affect their operations.
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 ? 2005
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.