Are You the Culprit?

Robert A. Kelly

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Are you a business, non-profit or association manager who pretty much ignores your organization’s important outside audiences?

If that’s you, do you realize how difficult you’re making it to achieve the important behavior changes you really need and want? I mean changes that lead directly to achieving your department, division or subsidiary’s objectives?

I’m talking about achieving new levels of membership applications; growing the repeat purchase rate; capital givers looking your way; attracting new prospects; expanding the list of organizations officially specifying your service and products; or suppliers newly motivated to meet your strict quality and delivery requirements.

Start operating in your own best interest by taking a closer look at the public relations work underway on behalf of your unit.

Is it focused more on communications tactics than upon a workable, comprehensive plan for dealing with those key external audience behaviors that impact your operation the most?

What may be needed is a refocus on the fundamental 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 accomplished.

When you meet with the PR people assigned to your unit, be clear about the need to list and prioritize those key external audiences, and then monitor how your unit is perceived by members of those audiences. That means interacting with those folks and asking lots of questions. Now, and only now, can you mount an effort to alter those perceptions, and thus behaviors, in your direction.

You need to evaluate the data gathered during the perception monitoring session. Is there a glaring inaccuracy about your organization mentioned by several members of that audience? Any false assumptions come bubbling up about your products, services or management? Are misconceptions, rumors or distinctly negative attitudes obvious during your monitoring interviews?

From these data, you frame your public relations goal. For example, spike that rumor, correct that inaccuracy, clarify that misconception or “we’d better do a better job of communicating our service benefits. ”

Every good PR goal needs an equally good strategy showing you how to achieve your goal. But when it comes to matters of opinion and perception, there are only three choices available to you: reinforce existing perception/ opinion, create perception where there is none, or change existing perception. Just be certain your choice of strategies is a natural fit for your new PR goal.

Your public relations people should be especially useful to you for the next step, writing a message positioned to alter perception among members of the target audience. You should, however, be closely involved in putting the message together. It must be not only persuasive, but compelling as well. And it must be very clear as to why the offending perception is simply wrong, or unfair, including the language needed to correct, clarify or change it. I’m certain you will agree that, as you make the case for your point of view, you must be believable.

No easy task to alter what people have come to believe, but certainly worth the effort.

Your public relations people will help you deliver your message to the attention of members of your key target audience. They will identify the communications tactics to help you do the job. As they will tell you, you have a broad choice of tactics such as newsletters, radio and newspaper interviews, newsworthy special events, brochures, speeches and scores of others. The only caveat here, check carefully that your chosen tactics have a record of reaching people like those who make up your target audience.

In short order, all concerned will wonder aloud whether progress is being made toward the public relations goal. Obviously, to satisfy yourself that offending perceptions are actually being altered, leading to the behavior change you desire, you must remonitor the perceptions of members of your target audience.

The difference this time is, you will be watching carefully for clear indications that perceptions are, in fact, being altered.

Now, if you’re not pleased with the rate of progress, add a few more communications tactics, as well as using them more frequently, to increase the impact.

So, as a manager, you’ve pretty much ignored those important outside audiences until now. But, hopefully, these comments have convinced you to ramp up your unit’s public relations effort and pursue the behavior changes you really need and want, and that lead directly to achieving your department, division or subsidiary’s objectives.


Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at Word count is 890 including guidelines and resource box. Robert A. Kelly © 2004.

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. Visit:


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