I believe this about public relations.
People act on their own perception of the facts before them,
which leads to predictable behaviors about which something
can be done. So, when we create, change or reinforce that
opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired-action
those people whose behaviors affect the organization, the public
relations mission is accomplished.
That fundamental premise grew out of many years in the public
relations business. A time when I became increasingly appalled
at what many general management people believe about public
relations, if anything, and how the discipline does or does not fit
into their organization's strategic plan.
The result is, I've become a "preacher," but not to public relations practitioners. Rather, I direct my commentary to those general
management people who, daily, pursue their goals and objectives
largely without the insights, behavioral strategies and sheer power
public relations can bring to the table.
Here's what I believe they're missing, i.e., the essentials that flow
from the fundamental premise at the top of this article.
Any organization - non-profit, association, business, public
entity, including your own -MUST take into account the
perceptions held by those external audiences whose behaviors
affect your organization, or the behaviors flowing from those
perceptions can hurt.
What my commentaries often say to these managers is this: Is it
just a matter of "hits?" You know, articles or interviews sold to
editors? Is that all there is to public relations?
Or, could there be more to it?
Of course there's more to it!
Why do you want the "hits" in the first place? What are you
trying to accomplish?
I believe you want the same thing every other buyer of public
relations services wants: to change somebody's behavior in a
way that really helps your organization reach its objectives.
So, wouldn't it make more sense to start at the beginning and
save tactics like "publicity hits" for that moment when you need
those "beasts of burden" to do their thing? Namely, to efficiently
carry persuasive messages to a key target audience of yours?
Sure it would.
So let's start by taking a close look at those external target
publics. They're so important because how they think and
behave can actually determine the success or failure of your
Don't believe it? Look at those audiences whose behaviors
directly affect the organization's operations, in particular
those completely unaware that the organization even exists.
Are they likely to buy its products or services?
Look at an external audience where members harbor a serious misconception about the organization. Does this reduce their
desire to do business with you?
Look at an external audience some of whose members believe
a grossly negative and inaccurate set of facts about the
organization. Will those people be first in line to buy its products
Obviously, what your key target audience believes about your
organization matters, and matters a lot!
Why not begin by heading-off such a situation by listing those
outside groups - those target audiences - in order of how much
their behaviors affect your organization?
We'll use #1 on your list as our trial "public."
Start by interacting with that group of people. Of course, if the
budget will stand it, you could use a survey firm to gather their
feelings, thoughts and perceptions.
Minus such a budget, do it yourself, and with colleagues, by
carefully monitoring how these people feel about your organization.
When you interact this way, you get to ask a lot of questions and
gather a lot of information you really need.
What are you hearing? Misconceptions that need straightening out?
Rumors that should not be allowed to fester? Inaccurate beliefs
about your products and services that could drive people away
from you? Notice other perceptions about you and your organization
that need to be altered?
The answers to such questions prepare you to create your public
relations goal. In brief, alter, and thus correct, each misconception,
or inaccuracy, or rumor. Worthy goals all!
You've made some real progress by monitoring perceptions within
your key target audience. You've established your public relations
goal, and selected the right strategy to achieve it.
Sad to say, there's a little more work to do in the form of "The
Message." Hopefully, this will alter people's inaccurate perceptions
about you and the organization.
But it must be carefully written so that it is persuasive and perceived
as creditable and believable. And it must speak the truth clearly
and with authority.
Now, here is where your "beasts of burden" come in. They are the communications tactics that will carry your newly-minted message
from your computer direct to the attention of those key target
audience members whose behavior you hope to alter in your
Happily, there are scores of communications tactics awaiting your
pleasure. You might use a speech to communicate your message,
or letters-to-the-editor, press releases, emails, brochures or face-
to-face meetings, and many other tactics.
Sooner or later, you'll wonder if you're making any progress towards
your behavioral goal. Of course, you'll monitor local print and
broadcast media, but REmonitoring those key audience members by interacting with them all over again is the real ticket.
This time around, you'll be looking for perception and attitude
changes hopefully produced by the combination of your persuasive messages and carefully targeted communications tactics. And
you'll be asking lots of questions all over again.
If you note considerable movement in opinion in your direction,
you may consider your public relations goal as having been
Should little movement be noted, adjustments to the frequency and
quantity of you communications tactics should be made. Your
message also should be reviewed for its content and direction,
and tested again for effect with a panel of target group members.
Either way, your public relations program is on track and preparing
to deliver the key target audience behaviors your business needs
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 ? 2003.
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.