Let's start out with a caution for business, non-profit and
association managers: the premise of public relations
implies that the work you do BEFORE you use PR
tactics, such as press releases, brochures and broadcast
interviews, will determine the success of your public
Reason is, if you are one of those managers, the PR plan
that flows from that premise will call for achieving your
managerial objectives by altering perception leading to
changed behaviors among those important external
audiences that MOST affect your department, group,
division or subsidiary.
Here, read that public relations premise for yourself.
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.
Of all the things the premise tells you about public
relations, the most basic may be that you need to do
some serious planning early-on about the behaviors
of those vital outside audiences rather than exploding
right out-of-the-gate with a tactical broadside.
For example, you don't want to move prematurely into
press releases, talk show appearances, zippy publications
and fun-filled special events before you get answers to
questions like these: Who are you trying to reach?
What do you know about them? How do they perceive
your organization? If troublesome, how might we alter
their perceptions? And perhaps MOST important, what
behaviors do we want those perceptions to lead to?
That is a critical planning concern because the people
with whom you interact every day behave like everyone
else ? they act upon their perceptions of the facts they
hear about you and your operation. And that means you
should deal effectively with those perceptions (and
their follow-on behaviors) by doing what is
necessary to reach and move those key external
audiences to action.
Once the preliminary public relations planning is
complete, you can look forward to PR results such as
rising membership applications; customers making
repeat purchases; new approaches by capital givers
and specifying sources; community leaders beginning
to seek you out; fresh proposals for strategic alliances
and joint ventures; prospects starting to do business
with you; welcome bounces in show room visits, not
to mention politicians and legislators viewing you as
a key member of the business, non-profit or association
But who will do this specialized kind of work? An
outside PR agency team? Folks assigned to your
operation? Your own public relations people?
Regardless of where they come from, they need to be
committed to you and your PR plan beginning with
key audience perception monitoring.
Are the folks assigned to you really serious about
knowing how your most important outside audiences
perceive your operations, products or services? Do they
really accept the truth that perceptions almost always
lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your operation?
Take the time to review with them in detail how you
plan to monitor and gather perceptions by questioning
members of your most important outside audiences. For
instance, how much do you know about our chief executive?
Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased
with the interchange? How much do you know about our
services or products and employees? Have you experienced
problems with our people or procedures?
If there's enough money in the PR budget, be sure to use
professional survey firms in the perception monitoring
phases of your program. If not, you're still fortunate because
your PR people are also in the perception and behavior
business and can pursue the same objective: identify
untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors,
inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative
perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.
It's quite clear that setting just the right public relations
goal allows you to deal effectively with the most serious
problems you turned up during your key audience
perception monitoring. Your new goal could call for
straightening out that dangerous misconception, or
correcting that inaccuracy, or neutralizing that fateful
At this point, take special care because you must now
identify the right strategy, one that tells you how to move
forward. Remember that there are just three strategic options
available to you when it comes to handling a perception
and opinion challenge. Change existing perception, create
perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. Since
the wrong strategy pick will taste like crumbled Gorganzola
cheese on your bread pudding, be certain the new strategy
fits comfortably with your new public relations goal. You
don't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a
Like it or not, a strong message is needed here, one aimed
at members of your target audience. There is no doubt that
crafting action-forcing language to persuade an audience
to your way of thinking is very hard work. Which is why
you need your strongest writer. S/he must create some very
special, corrective language. Words that are not only
compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and
factual if they are to correct something and shift
perception/opinion towards your point of view leading to
the behaviors you are targeting.
How are you going to carry your message to the attention
of your target audience? With the communications tactics
most likely to reach that group of people, of course. After
you run the draft message by your PR people for impact
and persuasiveness, you can choose from among dozens
that are available to you. From speeches, facility tours,
emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media
interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many
others. But be sure that the tactics you pick are known to
reach folks just like your audience members.
Because we know that message credibility can depend on
the credibility of the means used to deliver it, you may
want to try it out before smaller meetings and presentations
rather than using higher-profile news releases.
About now, talk of progress reports may be heard, and they
are a signal that it's time for you and your PR team to begin
a second perception monitoring session with members of
your external audience. Many of the same questions used
used in thebenchmark session can be asked again. Now
however, you will be watching carefully for signs that
the problem perception is being altered in your direction.
Don't forget that you can always speed up program
momentum by adding more communications tactics and
increasing their frequencies.
This template can be effective for most public relations
challenges you face. When you successfully alter the
perceptions of your key external stakeholders, in most
cases moving their behaviors in your direction, you should
soon enjoy the satisfaction of achieving your managerial
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.
Word count is 1245 including guidelines and resource box.
Robert A. Kelly ? 2005.
Bob Kelly counsels, writes and speaks to business, non-profit and
association managers about using the fundamental premise orelations 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.