The public relations bar, should such a proficiency measure ever come about, may well include a test of PR's fundamental premise: 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.
And the premise should be tested because it's of such
utility to many business, non-profit and association
managers in achieving their managerial objectives.
They use the right public relations to alter individual
perception leading to changed behaviors among their
key outside audiences.
In other words, they do something positive about the
behaviors of those important external audiences, then
persuade those key outsiders to their way of thinking,
then move them to take actions that allow their
department, group, division or subsidiary succeed.
What that approach does is let those managers avoid
over concentration on tactics such as fun-to-manage
special events, press releases and brochures. Instead,
they focus resources on the very external folks who
may hold their professional success as a manager in
A variety of results can occur -- membership applications
on the rise; customers starting to make repeat purchases;
fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures;
community leaders beginning to seek you out; welcome
bounces in show room visits; prospects starting to do
business with you; higher employee retention rates,
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
Can you say your PR team really gets it? Will they
understand the blueprint outlined above and will they show
commitment to its implementation, starting with key
audience perception monitoring? As luck would have it,
your PR people are already in the perception and behavior
business, so they should be of real use for this initial
opinion monitoring project. 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. Make sure they
believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors
that can help or hurt your operation.
Sit down with them and review your public relations plan.
Talk it over with them, especially your game plan 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
You may feel its best to use professional survey firms
to do the opinion monitoring work, but that can run into
real money. So you may wish to use those PR folks
of yours in that capacity since they're already in the
perception and persuasion business. 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.
Since you need a PR goal that does something about the
most serious distortions you discover during your key
audience perception monitoring, you must now answer
these questions. Is the purpose of this drill to straighten
out that dangerous misconception? Correct that gross
inaccuracy? Stop that potentially painful rumor cold?
Or something else?
With your PR goal in hand, you now must pursue the right
strategy to tell you how to proceed, or you won't reach that
goal at all. But 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 beef bouillion on your
Canoli, 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.
Next product on the assembly line is a well-crafted
message to be sent to members of your target audience. It's
difficult to create an actionable message that will help
persuade any audience to your way of thinking. What you
want now is your strongest writers because s/he must build
some very special, 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.
Moving right along with the PR problem solving sequence,
we find those communications tactics most likely to carry
your message to the attention of your target audience. There
are scores that are 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 like your audience members.
Should you wish to avoid too loud a voice with this kind of
"corrective" message, you might unveil it during smaller
meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile
news releases, as the credibility of any message is fragile and
always at stake.
Around this time, someone will mention "progress reports,"
which will be your signal 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 direction.
Should you notice a slackening pace, your program can be
accelerated simply by adding more communications tactics
as well as increasing their frequencies.
Passing the PR bar ? should it ever become necessary ?
will suggest that the people you deal with behave like
everyone else ? they act upon their perceptions of the facts
they hear about you and your operation. Which, in turn, will
suggest that you are constantly planning to do something
positive about the behaviors of those key external audiences
of yours, thus helping you achieve your managerial objectives.
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.