Still, as a business, non-profit or association manager, if
you're not getting the behavior changes you paid for, you're
wasting your money.
Here's why I say that. People act on their perception of the
facts, and those perceptions lead to certain behaviors. But
something can be done about those perceptions and behaviors
that leads to achieving your organization's objectives.
Which means you really CAN establish the behavior change
you want, up front, then insist on getting that result before
you pronounce the public relations effort a success.
In other words, the way to increase your comfort level about
your public relations investment, is to make certain that
investment produces the behavior modification you said you
wanted at the beginning of the program.
That way, you KNOW you're getting your money's worth.
Just what, you may ask, does your public relations team
have to do to achieve that result?
Here's one approach.
Because public relations problems are usually defined by
what people THINK about a set of facts, as opposed to the
actual truth of the matter, it will be especially helpful if
the public relations program is built upon the premise
mentioned above and, for emphasis, again here:
1. People act on their perception of the facts;
2. Those perceptions lead to certain behaviors;
3. Something can be done about those perceptions and behaviors
that leads to achieving the organization's objectives.
Now, Rank Your External Audiences
Identifying key audiences and prioritizing them - a crucial
step in any public relations action plan -- starts with a
priority-ranking of those audiences with a clear interest
in your organization, often described as "stakeholders" or
"publics." Included would be customers, prospects, employees,
media, the business community and local thought-leaders as
well as any number of other interest groups.
Those with the public relations assignment must stay aware
of negative or counterproductive behaviors among the
organization's key stakeholders or "publics."- customers,
prospects, media, community activists, union leaders, competitors
the business community and others.
Interaction of one kind or another with key audiences will
tell you how they feel - and how they perceive -- your
organization, and in particular areas where problems may be
brewing. This is informal polling, but essential
to any public relations effort. If resources are available,
a limited opinion poll of the priority audience would be
There are many ways to gather such information. For example,
regular monitoring of headquarters and field location media,
staff activity reports, employee and community feedback,
regulatory and other local, state and federal government activities
involving your organization. High on any such intelligence
list is the Internet with its emails, ezines, chatrooms and
Identify the Behavior Modification Problem or Challenge
Now is the time to identify the behavior modification
problem such as declining sales in a specific product line.
Or, is it an allegation of wrongdoing? Or a quality or
performance issue? Has an elected official spoken negatively
about your industry? Have you learned that a national activist
group may target a unit of your organization? Or, is there
clear evidence of negative behavior among a key audience?
Similarly, a behavior modification challenge might include
creating positive, first time impressions of a new soft drink
during a new market introduction. Or reinforcing the
reputation of a category leader whose sales have begun to
Verify the Accuracy and Severity of the Problem
Is it true and how bad is it? Determine through field
staff, key customers, media monitoring and, if the budget
is there, opinion sampling, just how serious the problem
is. If an allegation, is it true or false? If a drop-off in
sales, gather and carefully evaluate the likely reasons.
If a quality issue, probe deeply for its real cause.
After an exhaustive review of all evidence surrounding the
behavioral problem, establish conclusively its size and shape.
Does it threaten employee or public safety, financial
stability, reputation, the organization's mission, or sales?
The answers to these questions help determine the resources
to be assembled.
The Public Relations Goal
Simply stated: the goal is to begin the process of altering
public perception and, thus, behaviors, to a view consistent
with that held by your organization.
The Public Relations Strategy
Now, you must select one of three choices available to you
when you determine the public relations strategy. You can
create opinion where none exists, change existing opinion or
reinforce existing opinion.
Let's assume that we will strive to change existing opinion
on the key issue. With your perception, behavior modification
goals and now, the strategy, established, progress will be
measured in terms of specific altered behaviors, i.e., floor
traffic returns to the showroom; activist rhetoric declines;
a low employee retention rate reverses. Such progress
indicators can be set down, and agreed upon, once the
negative perceptions are truly understood, thus establishing
the degree of behavioral change that realistically can be
A Persuasive message
What do we say? Well, we prepare persuasive messages designed
to inform, clarify, and impact individual perception in such
a way that individual behaviors flowing from those perceptions
are consistent with that desired by our organization. Bringing
important target audiences around to one's way of thinking
really does depend heavily on the quality of the message
The messages must contain clear evidence supporting your
organization's views on the issue such as a credible
third-party endorsement of your position. Regular assessments
of how opinion is currently running among employees,
suppliers and community leaders should be made. Finally,
action-producing incentives leading individuals to change
their perceptions of the issue, thus altering their behaviors,
should be included in the message - incentives that testify
to the organization's good intentions and veracity.
It's Tactics Time
Now, you select the most effective communications tactics
available to you.
The question is, how will you reach your target audiences -
especially in various locations? You have many choices.
Face-to-face meetings, email, hand-placed feature articles
and broadcast appearances, special employee, supplier or
community briefings, news releases, announcement luncheons,
onsite media interviews, facility tours, promotional contests,
brochures and a host of other carefully targeted communications
Reaching such audiences with the message through special
events is particularly effective. They offer news value and
include activities such as financial roadshows, awards
ceremonies, celebrity appearances, open houses and trade
Your public relations effort can be accelerated, even
amplified by carefully selecting the very best tactics from
among print or broadcast media, key podium presentations,
special events or top-level personal contacts. When
these tools communicate with each target audience, they must
score direct bullseyes.
And remember that vital to the success of any action
program is the selection and perceived credibility of the
actual spokespeople who deliver the messages. They must
speak with authority and conviction if they are to be believed,
and if meaningful media coverage is to be achieved.
While it's pull-the-trigger time, you should insure that you
approach your target audiences with a tactical schedule
calculated to reach them consistently as well as through
varied media such as newspapers, radio and television
appearances, high-profile speeches, facility tours and
How are we Doing?
The key activity here is monitoring progress, seeking signs
of improvement in target audience perceptions and behaviors.
You and your colleagues should speak regularly with members
of each target audience, monitor print and broadcast media
for clear evidence of the organization's messages or viewpoints
and regularly interact with key customers, prospects and
Indicators that the messages are moving community opinion -
read perceptions and behaviors -- in your organization's
direction will start appearing. For example, indicators like
comments in community meetings, local newspaper editorials,
e-mails from suppliers as well as public references by
political figures and local celebrities.
The End Game
You'll know when you arrive at the public relations end game
because the changes in behaviors will become truly apparent --
among them, encouraging supplier and thought-leader comment,
increasingly upbeat employee and community feedback and
an increased pace of positive media reports.
Bottom line? The public relations program can be deemed a
success when you clearly meet the original behavior
modification goal you set when it all began.
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 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: http://www.prcommentary.com; bobkelly@TNI.net