Where is there a business, non-profit or association
manager who does not need all the help he or she can
find in achieving their managerial objectives?
Help like altering individual perception leading to
changed behaviors among their key outside audiences?
Help in the form of positive actions affecting the
behaviors of those important external audiences that
most affect their operations. And the help afforded
when the manager persuades those key outside folks
to his or her way of thinking, then moves those people
to take actions that let the department, group, division
or subsidiary succeed?
Of course they can use that kind of help. It's called
And here's the premise upon which it's based: 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.
Managers who adopt this course of action are then free
to move beyond tactics like fun-to-manage special events,
press releases and brochures and pay closer attention to
the perceptions and behaviors of the very people who
could hold their professional success as a manager
in their hands.
And there's no end to the positive results. Savor these
for a moment: new approaches by capital givers
and specifying sources; community leaders beginning
to seek you out; prospects starting to do business with
you; welcome bounces in show room visits; rising
membership applications; customers making repeat
purchases; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and
joint ventures; not to mention politicians and
legislators viewing you as a key member of the
business, non-profit or association communities.
Will an outside PR agency team do this sort of work?
Folks assigned to your operation? Your own public relations
people? Point is, regardless of where they come from,
they need to be committed to you and your PR plan
beginning with key audience perception monitoring.
As with any manager, you need to talk to your public relations
people in order to be certain 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.
Take the time to sit with them and go over how you plan to
implement the PR program, especially how 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? How much do you
know about our services or products and employees? Have
you experienced problems with our people or procedures?
Budget is always a concern, so if you have the resources,
by all means use professional survey firms in the perception
monitoring phases of your program. And 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
You're employing the heavy artillery when you set the kind
of PR goal that lets you deal effectively with the worst
aberations you discovered during your key audience perception
monitoring. In fact, the new goal will undoubtedly call for
straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting
that gross inaccuracy, or stopping that potentially fatal rumor
right in its tracks.
The importance of selecting the right strategy telling you
how to move forward cannot be overemphasized. Keep in
mind that you have just three strategic options available
when it comes to handling a perception and opinion challenge.
Change existing perception, create perception where there
may be none, or reinforce it. Since the wrong strategy pick
will taste like red eye gravy on your pumpkin pie, 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.
Somebody on the PR staff (hopefully your best writer) must
prepare a strong corrective message and aim it at members
of your target audience. It's hard work, no doubt about it, but
you must have 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. It's that simple.
You can have some fun with the next task -- selecting the
communications tactics most likely to carry your message
to the attention of your target audience. (Suggest you do this
after you run the draft by your PR people for impact and
persuasiveness). There are many tactics available to you.
From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to
consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal
meetings and many others. But be sure that the tactics you
pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.
As you probably know, a message's believability can sink or
swim on the credibility of the means used to deliver it. So, you
may decide to unveil it (and monitor reactions) before smaller
meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile
You will soon hear suggestions that progress reports might be
a good idea. Best reaction is to take it as a signal that you and
your PR team should think about a second perception
monitoring session with members of your external audience.
Many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session
can be used again. But this time, you will be watching carefully
for signs that the problem perception is being altered in your
If program momentum appears to slow, you can always speed
things up by adding more communications tactics, and increasing
In as few words as possible, what is the PR advantage managers
need? Public relations' ability to alter individual perception
leading to changed behaviors among key outside audiences.
Particularly when the effort persuades key outside stakeholders
to the manager's way of thinking, and then moves those folks to
behave in a way that leads to the success of the manager's
operation. It doesn't get any better than that.
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.