Your public relations people are busy. The buzz is all
about hits on a radio show or mentions in a newspaper
column. Or, which to do first, the trade show exhibit or
the video clip. All useful tactics, but hardly the detailed
planning needed to REALLY do something about the
behaviors of those outside audiences that impact you
Without that planning, those changes in target audience
behaviors you'll almost certainly need to achieve your
objectives is unlikely to come about. And that just
Here's a simple plan that can get everyone working
towards the same external audience behaviors, and put
the public relations effort back on track. 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
Which makes this worth mentioning one more time:
whether you are a business, non-profit or association
manager, you need what that fundamental premise promises
- the kind of key stakeholder behavior change that leads
directly to achieving your objectives.
I'm talking about behavior changes like community leaders
beginning to seek you out; new members signing up:
customers starting to make repeat purchases; organizations
proposing strategic alliances and joint ventures; prospects
starting to do business with you; politicians and legislators
unexpectedlyviewing you as a key member of the business,
non-profit or association communities; and even capital
givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way.
It all starts when you sit down and actually list those
outside audiences of yours who behave in ways that help
or hinder you in achieving your objectives. Then prioritize
them by impact severity. Now, let's work on the target
audience in first place on that list.
I'll wager you don't have access to data that tells you just
how most members of that key outside audience perceive
Assuming you don't have the budget to accommodate
professional survey work, you and your colleagues
must monitor those perceptions yourself. Interact with
members of that outside audience by asking questions like
"Have you ever had contact with anyone from our organization?
Was it a satisfactory experience? Are you familiar with our
services or products?" Stay alert to negative statements,
especially evasive or hesitant replies. Watch carefully for
false assumptions, untruths, misconceptions, inaccuracies
and potentially damaging rumors. Any of which will need
to be corrected, because experience shows they usually lead
to negative behaviors.
So, because the obvious objective here is to correct those
same untruths, inaccuracies, misconceptions and false
assumptions, you now select the specific perception to be
altered, and that becomes your public relations goal.
But a PR goal without a strategy to show you how to get
there, is like a Mint Julep without the mint. That's why you
must select one of three strategies especially designed to
create perception or opinion where there may be none, or
change existing perception, or reinforce it. The challenge
here (a small one) is to insure that the goal and its strategy
match each other. You wouldn't want to select "change
existing perception" when current perception is just right
suggesting a "reinforce" strategy.
Now you must morph into a writer, if you are not already
endowed with that talent, and prepare a compelling
message carefully designed to alter your key target audience's
perception, as called for by your public relations goal.
You may find that combining your corrective message
with another newsworthy announcement of a new product,
service or employee will lend credibility by not overempha-
sizing the correction.
Your corrective message should contain several values,
clarity for example. It must be clear about what perception
needs clarification or correction, and why. And your facts
must be truthful, of course. In addition, your position must
be logically explained and believable if it is to hold the
attention of members of that target audience, and actually
move perception in your direction.
At last, the easy part - selecting the "beasts of burden" -
the communications tactics you will harness to carry your
persuasive new thoughts to the attention of that external
The tactics list is a long one. It includes letters-to-the-editor,
brochures, press releases and speeches. Or, you might select
others such as radio and newspaper interviews, personal
contacts, facility tours or customer briefings. There are
dozens awaiting your pleasure.
Sooner rather than later, your colleagues will ask you if any
progress is being made. By which time you will already be
striving to answer that question by again monitoring
perceptions among your target audience members. Using
questions similar to those used during your earlier monitoring
session, you will now look sharply for indications that audience
perceptions are beginning to move in your direction.
Fortunately, you can always put the pedal to the metal by
employing additional communications tactics, AND by
increasing their frequencies.
But, as this article suggests, concentrating on tactics is
important, but only at the right moment. What must come
first is an aggressive public relations plan that (as, by now,
you have no doubt surmised) targets the kind of key
stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving
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.