Managers: You Know Your Job, but What About Public Relations?

Robert A. Kelly

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Sure, you’re a business, non-profit, association or government agency manager specializing in activities like sales, human resources, distribution, finance, program management or any of many other operating functions.

So you know what you’re doing.

But what about the money you’re hopefully spending on public relations, which happens NOT to be your managerial specialty!?

Are you doing the action planning you need to alter individual perception leading to changed behaviors among your most important outside audiences? Are you trying to persuade those key folks to your way of thinking, then move them to take actions that lets your department, group, division or subsidiary succeed?

Or are you narrowly focused on tactics instead of that core PR strategy? Tactics like brochures, broadcast plugs and press releases which are simple devices public relations calls upon from time to time to move a message from here to there.

When you adopt the core PR strategy discussed in this article, you are then free to move beyond tactics and pay closer attention to the perceptions and behaviors of your most important external audiences, the very people who could hold your professional success as a manager in their hands.

Which means that you have little choice about doing something positive about the behaviors of those key external groups of people whose behaviors most affect your operation.

Energizing such an effort is the reality that 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.

Happily, results can come quickly when business, non-profit or association managers use public relations to alter individual perception among their target publics, leading to changed behaviors which helps achieve their managerial objectives.

But please keep in mind that your PR effort really must demand more than special events, brochures and press releases if you are to achieve the quality public relations results you’re counting on.

Fortunately, those results can happen right away. For example, capital givers or specifying sources begin to look your way; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures appear; politicians and legislators begin to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit, association or government communities; customers start to make repeat purchases; membership applications rise as do welcome bounces in show room visits, and even prospects starting to do business with you or community leaders beginning to seek you out.

Another bonus is that your PR people are already in the perception and behavior business, and can be of real use for your new opinion monitoring project. But be certain that the PR staff really accepts why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. And the reason why: perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.

Sit down with your PR staff and go over your plans for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Questions along these lines: 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?

Do a comparison using your PR people in the monitoring job versus the cost of using professional survey firms to do the opinion gathering work. You may find that using your public relations people is the better choice. But, whether it’s your people or a survey firm asking the questions, the objective is the same: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.

Here, you’ll need to establish a goal calling for action on 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, quickly stop that potentially painful rumor?

Of course you can’t move forward without a supporting strategy to show you HOW to reach that goal. Truth is, there are just three strategic options available to you when it comes to doing something about perception and opinion. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. The wrong strategy pick will taste like sun-dried tomatoes on your Lemon Meringue pie. So be sure your new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. You wouldn’t want to select “change" when the facts say “reinforce. "

It is here that you have the opportunity to write a persuasive message that will help move your key audience to your way of thinking. It must be a carefully-written message targeted directly at your key external audience. Your very best writer will be needed because s/he must produce really corrective language. Words that are 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.

If any step in the public relations problem solving sequence can be described as “fun, " it’s selecting the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. There are many available. 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.

It’s not generally recognized by many writers, but HOW you communicate must also concern you since the credibility of any message is very fragile. Which is why you may wish to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.

Sooner or later the subject of progress reports will surface, which means you and your PR team should view the notion as an alert to begin a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. You’ll want to use many of the same questions used in the benchmark session. But now, you will be on strict alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

The icing on the cupcake is the fact that you can always speed things up by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies, should program momentum slow.

Yes, it seems fairly safe to say that you know what you’re doing as a manager of one of the traditional operating functions in a business, non-profit, association or government agency.

But the seminal public relations questions still await your attention. What are you doing to alter individual perception leading to changed behaviors among your most important outside audiences? And are you trying to persuade those key folks to your way of thinking, then move them to take actions that let your department, group, division or subsidiary succeed?

Only in that way will you move beyond PR tactics like special events, brochures, broadcast plugs and press releases to truly achieve the best public relations has to offer.

Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at Robert A. Kelly © 2005.

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. Visit:


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