I address this article to businesses, associations, non-profits and public entity managements seeking a direct connection between the money they’re planning to spend on public relations, and the achievement of their organizational objectives.
We can save a lot of time – you and I – if we can agree on one point: I believe that deep down – and I mean DEEP down – most chief executives understand that doing something about the behaviors of their most significant external audiences can rank in importance right up there with increased sales and earnings.
Whether they do anything about it or not is another question. But I believe many sense – as do legislators who know they cannot govern without the consent of the governed – that managements cannot “govern” their enterprises without the support and understanding of their most important audiences. I refer to audiences such as members, supporters, customers, sponsors, prospects, regulators, employees, thoughtleaders, public interest groups, journalists, suppliers, strategic partners, educators, trade unions, community residents and the like.
If I’m right, there are some bright days ahead in this brand new century not only for public relations people but world commerce as well.
Fortunately for all concerned, that success will spring from the fundamental premise of public relations: people act on their own perception of the facts, and those perceptions lead to behaviors about which something can be done. When public relations creates, changes or reinforces that opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired-action those people whose behaviors affect the organization, the public relations effort is a success.
What that should mean to a CEO seems obvious. “I guess that money I’m spending on public relations really could result in the kind of change in behaviors of my key stakeholders that leads directly to the achievement of my organizational objectives.”
That conclusion will let us do what we do best – reach those key audience perceptions with the facts as we know them. Hopefully, the messages we use will be clear and persuasive, and will create, change or reinforce perceptions as needed, then alter behaviors in the employer/client’s direction.
When the problem solving sequence is completed, that particular public relations mission is accomplished. However, we must constantly guard against simply emphasizing those communications tactics we fervently HOPE will reach the target audience. Instead, we must go further and actively track how well those tactics and persuasive messages are altering the perception of that target audience. And then monitor to what degree audience behaviors have moved in our direction.
This matters in a very important way. Management really CAN establish the desired behavior change up front in the planning phase, then insist on getting that result before pronouncing the public relations effort a success.
What that means is that management’s comfort level with their public relations investment will increase when that investment produces the behavior modification they said they wanted at the beginning of the program. Because they’ll KNOW they’re getting their money’s worth.
This is powerful stuff! A chief executive of an association, a business, a non-profit and even a public entity can work with his or her public relations counsel and agree in the planning phase what they must do to achieve a specified adjustment in the behaviors of a really important external audience.
Even better, the way to do this is well-known in the public relations business:
select your target audience;
gauge its perception levels;
gauge the behaviors that have resulted;
set your public relations goal;
set your public relations strategy;
prepare the persuasive message;
select and implement the communications tactics that will carry the message to that key audience;
monitor for perception change;
monitor for behavior change and, hopefully, a public relations success.
What will the employer/client want from us as we move ahead into the 21st Century? I believe s/he will want us to apply our special skills in a way that helps achieve his or her business objectives. But, as always, no matter what strategic plan we create to solve a problem, no matter what tactical program we put in place, at the end of the day, we must modify somebody’s behavior if we are to deliver value to the employer/client and earn our money.
Now, you ask, if public relations is so good, why do some managers shy away from it? I believe it’s because they don’t understand or believe the direct connection between what public relations is capable of delivering , and their need to achieve their specific business objectives.
It’s lost opportunity of the worst kind. And a shame because the reason we do public relations in the first place is to change the behaviors of certain groups of people important to the success of those very Doubting Thomases (and Thomasettes!).
When at last we come to the end game, we’ll continue to ask the $50 question – did we meet the behavior modification goal we established up front? If we did, our public relations program is successful. If we didn’t, we must reevaluate our goal, strategy, messages, communications tactics and our audience perception data gathering methods, and adjust them for the next effort.
Now, when will that employer/client of ours be fully satisfied with the public relations results we have achieved? Only when our “reach, persuade and move-to-desired-action” efforts have produced the visible modification in the behaviors of those target audiences they wish to influence.
Let me conclude our look at Public Relations: Power Tool For The 21st Century by highlighting once again the three benefits our employer/client will continue to receive when the behavioral changes become apparent and meet the program’s original behavior modification goal.
1. Their public relations program will be a success.
2. By achieving the behavioral goal they set at the beginning of the program, they will be using a dependable and accurate public relations performance measurement.
3. When our “reach, persuade and move-to-desired-action” efforts produce that visible modification in the behaviors of those people they wish to influence, they will be using public relations’ core value to its very best advantage ensuring that they really DO receive their “money’s worth.”
Bob Kelly, public relations counselor, was director of public relations for Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-Public Relations, Texaco Inc.; VP-Public Relations, Olin Corp.; VP-Public Relations, Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of communications, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press secretary, The White House. For program information and booking him for your next event contact him at [email protected] or
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