For discerning business, non-profit and association managers, PR success is pretty much a matter of achieving their managerial objectives by altering
perceptions leading to changed behaviors among those important external audiences that MOST affect their department, group, division or subsidiary.
If, however, as a manager you choose to view public
relations as simply a collection of tactics, you might
see PR success through the lens of press release
pickups, successful special events, or newspaper
columns mentioning your chief executive.
I don't believe the underlying premise of public
relations allows such a limited interpretation. See
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.
I believe that premise implies that the work that
precedes such tactics will determine the success of
your public relations effort.
It also implies that you might want to broaden
your view of public relations requiring that you
do something meaningful about your key external
audiences instead of concentrating on a brochure
versus a DVD versus a broadcast interview.
There's really no end to the benefits that may
come your way. Prospects starting to do business
with you; community leaders beginning to seek
you out; welcome bounces in show room visits;
rising membership applications; customers making
repeat purchases; fresh proposals for strategic
alliances and joint ventures; and new approaches
by capital givers and specifying sources not to
mention politicians and legislators viewing you
as a key member of the business, non-profit or
Will an outside PR agency team do all this work
for you? Or folks assigned to your operation? Or,
ideally, your own public relations people? No matter
where they come from, they need to thoroughly
understand this approach to public relations, AND,
be really committed to the program beginning with key
audience perception monitoring.
Nothing beats sitting down and having (as the Brits say)
a good chin wag with your people in order to be sure
that those assigned to you are clear on why it's vital to
know how your most important outside audiences
perceive your operations, products or services. They
must accept the reality that perceptions almost always
lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.
Go over the details as to how you plan to proceed,
especially when and where you will 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?
Don't hesitate to use professional survey firms in the
perception monitoring phases of your program if your
budget can stand it. If the money isn't there, remember
that 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.
You can be pretty sure that you will prevail over the
worst distortions you discovered during your key
audience perception monitoring. Actually, your new
PR goal will probably require straightening out that
dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross
inaccuracy, or stopping that potentially fatal rumor
You also really need the right strategy. One that lays
out how to proceed. Do not forget 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. The wrong strategy pick will
taste like rice vinegar on your scones, so 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 "reinforce" strategy.
What's needed now is a strong message aimed squarely at
members of your target audience. Admittedly, crafting
action-forcing language to persuade an audience to your way
of thinking is not an easy job. That's why you will need a
heavy-hitter writer because 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.
At last, one of the more entertaining chores -- selecting the
communications tactics most likely to carry your message to
the attention of your target audience. You might do this after
you run a final draft by your PR people for impact and
persuasiveness. There are dozens of tactics available to you.
From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer
briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and
many others. Only caveat: be certain that the tactics you pick
are known to reach folks just like your audience members.
As a message's believability has been known to rely on the
credibility of the means used to deliver it, you may think about
unveiling it before smaller meetings and presentations rather
than using higher-profile news releases.
Someone, somewhere will ask when a progress report will be
available. Your smartest reaction is to take yourself and your PR
team back to the field and begin a second perception monitoring
session with members of your external audience. Many of the
same questions used in the first benchmark session will fit
perfectly the second time around. But now, you will be on keen
alert for signs that the problem perception is being altered in your
As we know, any program can slow down for one reason or
another. Tuck this away for future use: if program momentum
peters out, you can always speed things up by adding more
communications tactics, and increasing their frequencies.
The reason we say up front that public relations success CAN
start right here with this article, is that, in our view, managers
must pursue their managerial objectives by concentrating on
the work outlined here that precedes their use of tactics.
That will determine the success of their public relations effort.
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.