The Power of Applied Public Relations

Robert A. Kelly

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Especially powerful when business, non-profit, public entity and association managers plan for and create the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving their managerial objectives. All the more so when they persuade those key outside folks to their way of thinking, then move them to take actions that allow their department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.

What they will have done, of course, is apply public relations strategy to doing something positive about the behaviors of the very outside audiences that MOST affect their operations.

And the payoff from combining sound public relations strategy with effective communications tactics is achieving the bottom line – perception altered, behaviors modified, employer/client satisfied.

And now the hard part. What steps must managers take to apply this public relations approach to their operation? By employing public relations activity that creates first perception, then behavior change within that key outside audience.

You can do it if you accept the fact that the right PR really CAN alter individual perception and lead to those changed behaviors you need. Plus, that right PR comes with its own blueprint: 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.

Obviously, you will need a lot more than news releases, brochures, broadcast plugs and fun-filled special events to get a satisfactory return on your PR investment. Among the results business, non-profit, public entity and association managers can expect are renewed interest from your key external audiences, new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; rebounds in showroom visits; membership applications on the rise; new community service and sponsorship opportunities; and even new thoughtleader and special event contacts.

As time passes, you will notice such 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 perhaps even capital givers or specifying sources looking your way.

A caution here. Satisfy yourself that your PR people are really on board for the whole effort because you want your key outside audiences to really perceive your operations, products or services in a positive light. Reassure yourself that your PR staff accept the basic truth that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.

And by all means, invest the time to review your public relations plan with your entire staff. Especially so with regard to 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?

It’s our good fortune that our team members are also in the perception and behavior business and can pursue the same objective as the professional survey firms might were they to handle the perception monitoring phases of your program: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.

Now it’s time to directly address the problems that appeared during your key audience perception monitoring. Probably, your new public relations goal will call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or doing something about that awful rumor.

Let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves how we plan to reach that PR goal? You have just three strategic choices when it comes to dealing with 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 macadamia mousse on your gnocchi. 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.

Structuring your corrective message is especially crucial because persuading an audience to your way of thinking is the hardest kind of work. And never more so than when you’re looking for words that are compelling, persuasive, believable AND clear and factual. Hard work yes, but a must if you are to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading to the desired behaviors. Review your message with your communications specialists for its impact and persuasiveness.

Being particularly careful to select the precise communications tactics most likely to reach your target audience, you will find literally dozens of them available to you. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. Be certain that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.

Another wrinkle to guard against is this. The very credibility of your message can depend on how you deliver it. So, until you’re certain as to its impact, try introducing it initially to smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile communications such as news releases or talk show appearances. Before long, you’ll need to produce a progress report, which means it’s probably time for you and your PR folks to get back out in the field for a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. You can use the same questions used in the first benchmark session, but now you must stay alert for signs that your communications tactics have worked and that the negative perception is being altered in your direction.

I’m as impatient as the next person, so I suspect the same may be true of you. If things slow down, you can always accelerate matters with a broader selection of communications tactics AND increased frequencies.

Managerial public relations applied this way can be a beautiful thing to watch or, better yet, to happen to you. It also suggests that managers like yourself can take a giant step forward when you use public relations to do something positive about the behaviors of the very outside audiences that MOST affect your operation.

Please feel free to publish this article in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. Only requirement: you must use the Robert A. Kelly byline and resource box.

Robert A. Kelly © 2006

Bob Kelly counsels and writes for business, non-profit, public entity and association managers about using the fundamental premise of public relations to achieve their operating objectives. He has authored 250 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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