Public Relations
Don't Get Caught With Your PR Down!
By Robert A. Kelly
Feb 13, 2005 - 3:05:00 PM

Why risk the embarassment when with a little basic PR training, you as a business, non-profit or association manager can always be ready for battle?

Never again will you fail to do something positive about the behaviors of those important outside audiences of yours that MOST affect your operation.

Never again will you fail to create external stakeholder behavior change leading directly to achieving your managerial objectives.

And never again will you fail 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.

In fact, once you digest the underlying premise of public relations, you�ll understand how the right PR really CAN alter individual perception and lead to those changed
behaviors you need. Here�s how it goes: 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 accomplished.

However � and this is a big however � it requires more than special events, brochures and news releases if you really want to get your PR money�s worth.

For example, business, non-profit and association managers who employ this kind of public relations can benefit from results such as new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; rebounds in showroom visits; membership applications on the rise; community service and sponsorship opportunities; enhanced activist group relations, and expanded feedback channels, not to mention new thoughtleader and special event contacts.

As time passes, you should see customers making repeat purchases; prospects reappearing; stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities; improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies, and even capital givers or specifying sources looking your way.

Obviously, you want your most important outside audiences to really perceive your operations, products or services in a positive light. So be certain that your PR staff has bought into the whole effort. Convince yourself that they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.

Get together and go over the PR blueprint carefully with your staff, especially regarding how you will gather and monitor perceptions 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 how things went? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

You can depend on professional survey people to handle the perception monitoring phases of your program IF the budget is available. But luckily, 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.

Let�s chat for a moment about your public relations goal. You need one that addresses the problems that cropped up during your key audience perception monitoring. Chances are, it will call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or doing something about that damaging rumor.

But as you surely know, goals need strategies to show you how to get there. And you have just three strategic choices when it comes to handling a perception or opinion challenge: create perception where there may be none, change the perception, or reinforce it. Unfortunately, selecting a bad strategy will taste like peanut butter on your sea scallops,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� strategy.

Here the right, corrective language must be created, because persuading an audience to your way of thinking is awfully hard work Especially when you�re looking for words that are compelling, persuasive, believable AND clear and factual. This is a must if you are to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading to the desired behaviors. So, meet again with your communications specialists and review your message for impact and persuasiveness.

In order to carry your words to the attention of your target audience, you need to select the communications tactics most likely to reach them. Happily there are dozens of available tactics. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. Just be sure that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.

Occasionally, the credibility of your message can depend on its delivery method. So, consider introducing it to smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile communications such as news releases or talk show appearances.

When you sense the need to provide a progress report, it�s probably time for you and your PR folks to 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, stay alert for signs that your communications tactics have worked and that the negative perception is being altered in your direction.

Should those around you wax impatient, things can always be accelerated with a broader selection of communications tactics AND increased frequencies.

You won�t get caught with your PR down when you apply your budget to public relations activity that creates behavior change among your key outside audiences that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.

That�s when it will become clear to you that the right PR really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors that help you win.

Robert A. Kelly
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.; director of communications, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press secretary, The White House. [email protected] or

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