Even after a nice piece in a national publication, or a
stint on a popular talk show, do you still have a feeling
that your public relations dollar could be better spent?
As a business, non-profit or association manager, do
questions like that linger in your mind?
Because if they do, you may be coming down with a real
case of "I want my PR money's worth!"
If that's how you feel, I'd guess that you're probably doing
very little that's positive about the behaviors of those
important outside audiences of yours that most affect your
Which means you may be failing to create external stakeholder
behavior change that leads directly to achieving your
managerial objectives. In other words, failing to persuade
those key outside folks to your way of thinking, or move them
to take actions that allow your department, division or
subsidiary to succeed.
Be assured that the right public relations really CAN alter
individual perception and lead to the changed behaviors you
need. But it will require more than special event parties,
brochures and news releases if you honestly want that PR
Fortunately for all of us, people really do 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.
The results of such activity can be truly surprising: stronger
relationships with the educational, labor, financial and
healthcare communities; prospects starting to work with
you; customers making repeat purchases; improved
relations with government agencies and legislative bodies,
and even capital givers or specifying sources looking your
The passage of time should add still more results: for
example, enhanced activist group relations, membership
applications on the rise; new proposals for strategic alliances
and joint ventures; rebounds in showroom visits; community
service and sponsorship opportunities; and expanded
feedback channels, not to mention new thoughtleader and
special event contacts.
The fact that your most important outside audiences really
perceive your operations, products or services in a positive
light is a key plank in your PR platform. So vital, in fact,
that your PR people must buy into the effort from the get-go.
Be especially careful that they accept the reality that
perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or
hurt your unit.
Take the time to review the PR blueprint in detail with
your staff, especially how you will gather and monitor
opinion by questioning members of your most important
outside audiences. Questions like these: how much do you
know about our organization? How much do you know
about our services or products and employees? Have you
had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the
interchange? Have you experienced problems with our
people or procedures?
Gathering opinion data for the perception monitoring
phases of your program can certainly be handled by
professional survey people, should the budget be available.
But always 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.
A word about your all-important public relations goal. You'll
need one that speaks to the problems that cropped up during
your key audience perception monitoring. Probably, it will
require correcting that gross inaccuracy, straightening out that
dangerous misconception, or doing something about that
In this business, a goal needs a strategy to show you how to
get where you want to go. Also, there are just three strategic
choices available to you when it comes to handling a perception
or opinion challenge: create perception where there may
be none, change the perception, or reinforce it. As luck would
have it, the wrong strategy pick will taste like marshmallows
on your refried beans, so be certain the new strategy fits well
with your new public relations goal. For example, you don't
want to select "change" when the facts dictate a "reinforce"
What's needed here is the right, corrective phrases.
Persuading an audience to your way of thinking is genuinely
hard work. We need words that are compelling, persuasive and
believable, as well as clear and factual. This must be done
if you are to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards
your point of view, leading to the desired behaviors.
Now we pick out those communications tactics most likely
to carry your words to the attention of your target audience.
Sit down again with your communications specialists and read
your message for impact and persuasiveness. Then select
from dozens of available tactics such as speeches, facility tours,
emails, brochures, consumer briefings, media interviews,
newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But be certain
that the tactics you use are known to reach folks just like
your audience members.
Since the credibility of a message can depend on its delivery
method, you could introduce it to smaller gatherings rather than
using higher-profile communications such as news releases or
talk show appearances.
When the topic of progress reports comes up, it's your reminder
that the PR team should return to the field for a second perception
monitoring session with members of your external audience.
Using many of the same questions used in the first benchmark
session, you'll now be watching very carefully for signs that
your communications tactics have worked and that the negative
perception is being altered in your direction.
Should you want to move things along a little faster, accelerate
your PR program with a wider selection of communications
tactics AND increased frequencies.
Now, hopefully, when it becomes obvious to you that publicity
performance just is not enough, you will undertake to do
something positive about the behaviors of those important
outside audiences of yours that most affect your operation.
In other words, create external stakeholder behavior change
that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.
Again hopefully, you will do the job by persuading those key
outside folks to your way of thinking, thus moving them to
take actions that allow your business, non-profit or association
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.