For many of us, the word quality is closely related to our
expectations. When we receive the public relations results
we planned for, we feel, understandably, that we have
generated quality results.
Another interpretation says quality PR may simply be in
the eye of the beholder. But yet another take holds that
quality public relations occurs when business, non-profit
or association managers use public relations to alter
individual perception among their target publics, which
leads to changed behaviors, thus helping achieve their
I like that interpretation because, logically in my view,
those managers employ their public relations resources to
do something positive about the behaviors of those
important external audiences of theirs that MOST affect
Logical yes, but also sensible when managers then take
steps 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
It happens, of course, due to 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 such a manager, keep in mind that your PR
effort must demand more than special events, brochures
and press releases if you are to come up with the quality
public relations results you believe you planned for.
An array of quality results can occur: politicians and
legislators starting to view you as a key member of the
business, non-profit or association communities;
welcome bounces in show room visits; fresh proposals
for strategic alliances and joint ventures; capital givers
or specifying sources beginning to look your way;
prospects starting to do business with you; customers
starting to make repeat purchases; membership
applications on the rise; and community leaders
beginning to seek you out.
Your PR people are already in the perception and
behavior business and can be of real use for your new
opinion monitoring project. But be certain that your
PR staff 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.
Share with them your plans 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?
The cost benefit of using those PR folks of yours in
that monitoring capacity versus the cost of using
professional survey firms to do the opinion gathering
work, may lead you to the conclusion that 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 you must set a goal 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?
While setting your PR goal, you must establish a
strategy that tells you how to get there. There are
just three strategic 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.
The wrong strategy pick will taste like strawberry
vinaigrette on your mashed potatoes, 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.
Hard work looms ahead because you must now
write a persuasive message that will help move
your key audience to your way of thinking. It
must be a carefully-written message targeted
directly at your key external audience. Your very
best writer will be needed 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.
Now you must think about the communications
tactics most likely to carry your message to the
attention of your target audience. There are many
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 folks just like your
Because the credibility of any message is fragile
and always at stake, how you communicate it is a
concern. Thus, you may wish to unveil your
corrective message before smaller meetings and
presentations rather than using higher-profile news
Conversation about progress reports will give you
warning that your PR team should 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 strict alert for signs that
the bad news perception is being altered in your
Take comfort, should there be a slowdown in the
effort, in the fact that you can always speed things
up by adding more communications tactics as well
as increasing their frequencies.
One of the certain pathways to quality public
relations results is the equally certain reality that
good public relations planning really CAN alter
individual perception and lead to changed behaviors
among key outside audiences.
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.