Managers: Can We Agree on This?

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Your public relations effort really should involve more than press releases, brochures and special events if you are to get your PR money's worth.

In particular, you should be pursuing those three pots of gold at the end of the PR rainbow.

First, when you use the fundamental premise of public relations to produce external stakeholder behavior change ? the kind that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.

Second, when you do something positive about the behaviors of those outside audiences that most affect your business, non-profit or association.

And finally, when you persuade those important outside folks to your way of thinking, then move them to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed.

The fundamental premise of public relations mentioned above is the action blueprint you need to reach those objectives. 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.

Look at the kinds of results this process can achieve -- fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; community leaders beginning to seek you out; membership applications on the rise; prospects starting to do business with you; customers starting to make repeat purchases; welcome bounces in show room visits; capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way, and even politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.

If you wish to pursue such results, spend some time listing those outside audiences of yours who behave in ways that help or hurt you in achieving your objectives. Then prioritize them by how severely they impact your operation. Best place to start is with the target audience in first place on your list.

The chances of you having current information as to how most members of that key outside audience perceive your organization, are not that good. If you had been regularly sampling those perceptions, however, these data would be available to you.

You and your colleagues will have to monitor those perceptions yourselves if the dollars aren't there to pay for professional survey people. Interact with members of that outside audience by asking questions like "Have you ever had contact with anyone from our organization? Was it a satisfactory experience? Are you familiar with our services or products?" Be alert for negative statements, especially evasive or hesitant replies. Watch carefully for false assumptions, untruths, misconceptions, inaccuracies and potentially hurtful rumors. When you find such damaging perceptions, they will need to be corrected, because experience shows they usually lead to negative behaviors.

You must do something about such negativity before it morphs into injurious behavior, so you now select the specific perception to be altered, and that becomes your public relations goal.

Sorry to say, a PR goal without a strategy to show you how to get there, is like Huevos Rancheros without the hot sauce. That's why you must select one of three strategies especially designed to create perception or opinion where there may be none, or change existing perception, or reinforce it. The challenge here is to 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.

Here is where your writers earn their money. Someone on your PR team must put those writing skills to work and prepare a compelling message carefully designed to alter your key target audience's perception, as called for by your public relations goal.

A word of caution: combine your corrective message with another newsworthy announcement of a new product, service or employee, which may lend credibility by not overemphasizing the correction.

Your corrective message also must be multifaceted, including several values. Clarity for example. It must be clear about what perception needs clarification or correction, and why. Your facts must be truthful and your position must be persuasive, logically explained and believable if it is to hold the attention of members of that target audience, and actually move perception your way.

Here is a less rigorous part of your campaign, selecting the the actual tactics you will use to carry your persuasive new thoughts to the attention of that external audience.

There is no shortage of communications tactics available to you including letters-to-the-editor, brochures, press releases and speeches. Or, you might settle on tactics such as radio and newspaper interviews, personal contacts, newsletters, or group briefings, always making sure those you select have a record of reaching the same audiences as those that make up your target stakeholders.

Inevitably, you will be asked about progress and will have to once again monitor perceptions among your target audience members. Using questions similar to those used during your earlier monitoring session, the difference here is that you will now watch carefully for indications that audience perceptions are beginning to move in your direction.

Luckily, one option remains ours to exercise -- we can always expedite matters and put the pedal to the metal by employing additional communications tactics, AND by increasing their frequencies.

When you target behavior change that lets you achieve your operating objectives, you are doing what is necessary to move those important outside audiences towards actions that will lead to the success of your department, division or subsidiary.

About The Author

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:

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