Are You Making These PR Mistakes?

Robert A. Kelly

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As a business, non-profit, government agency or association manager, are you overly preoccupied with communications tactics like special events, broadcast plugs, press releases and brochures?

Yes? Well then, you’re probably not getting the best public relations has to offer, and you’re missing the core PR mission you need to pull together the resources and action-planning required to alter individual perception leading to changed behaviors among your most important outside audiences. The plan helps a manager persuade those key folks to his or her way of thinking, then moves them to take actions that allow their department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.

How did you get into this pickle? In all probability, you ignored the underlying premise of public relations: 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.

This is what such a premise can end up meaning to you: the right public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors among your key outside audiences. But your PR effort must demand more than special events, news releases and talk show tactics if you are to receive the quality public relations results you believe you deserve.

When you take this approach, the desired end-products will soon appear. And they won’t be long in coming, especially when capital givers or specifying sources begin to look your way; customers begin to make repeat purchases; membership applications start to rise; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures start showing up; politicians and legislators begin looking at you as a key member of the business, non- profit or association communities; welcome bounces in show room visits occur; community leaders begin to seek you out; and prospects actually start to do business with you.

Keep in touch with the public relations people assigned to you. They can be of real use for your new opinion monitoring project because they are already in the perception and behavior business. But be certain those PR folks really accept why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Above all, be sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.

Invest the time needed to review with them your plans for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Ask questions like these: how much do you know about our organization? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? Are you familiar with our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

On the other hand, introducing professional survey firms to do the opinion gathering work can cost a lot more than using those PR folks of yours in that monitoring capacity. But whether it’s your people or a survey firm asking the questions, the objective remains the same: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.

As with the balance of your programming, you’ll need to establish an action goal here for the most serious problem areas you uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring. Will it be to straighten out that dangerous misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy? Or, stop that potentially painful rumor before it does more damage?

Of course few goals are achieved without a strategy to show you how to reach it. However, just three strategic options are available to you when it comes to solving perception and opinion problems. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. But the wrong strategy pick will taste like Ceasar salad dressing on your popcorn. So be certain your new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. You certainly don’t want to select “change" when the facts dictate a strategy of reinforcement.

This is the point where some good writing is needed, and where you must prepare a persuasive message that will help move your key audience to your way of thinking. It should be a carefully-written message aimed directly at your key external audience. Ask your very best writer to accept the assignment because s/he must come up with language that is not merely compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if they are to shift perception/opinion towards your point of view and lead to the behaviors you have in mind.

And this is also the moment to identify the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. There are many waiting for you. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But be certain that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.

I’m certain you’ll agree that the method by which you communicate your message can be a concern because the credibility of any message is always fragile. Which is why you may wish to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.

Talk of progress reports should spur you to commence a second perception monitoring session among members of your external audience in order to measure headway. You can use many of the same questions used in your benchmark session. But this time, you will be on guard for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

A slowing in your PR program’s forward movement will alert you to the need to speed things up by either adding more communications tactics and/or increasing their frequencies, or both.

Thus, avoid making the worst PR mistakes by moving beyond tactics. Then you are free to use the right public relations to alter the perceptions of your most important outside audiences, leading directly to achieving your managerial objectives.

Bob Kelly counsels and writes for business, non-profit and association managers about using the fundamental premise of public relations to achieve their operating objectives. He has published over 200 articles on the subject which are listed at, click Expert Author, click Robert A. Kelly. He has been DPR, Pepsi-Cola Co. ; AGM-PR, Texaco Inc. ; VP-PR, Olin Corp. ; VP-PR, Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. ; director of communications, 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.


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