Avoiding PR's Biggest Pitfall

Robert A. Kelly

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Falling victim to this #1 pitfall is the business, non-profit, government agency and association manager who fails to achieve the best that public relations has to offer. And that’s because he or she is preoccupied with simple communications tactics like press releases, broadcast plugs, special events and brochures.

So severe is the preoccupation with PR tactics that such a manager actually fails to do something really positive about the behaviors of those important outside audiences that most affect his or her operation.

And if that is not alarming enough, he/she then compounds matters by overlooking the creation of stakeholder behavior CHANGE that leads directly to achieving their managerial objectives.

The sad result is that such managers fail both to persuade those key outside folks to their way of thinking, AND to move them to take actions that allow their department, division, group or subsidiary to succeed.

Now that really IS public relation’s biggest pitfall!

But it needn’t be that way when managers base their public relations planning on its underlying premise: 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.

Implicit in that premise is this reality: public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and result in changed behaviors among key outside audiences. But you’ll only get there when your PR demands more than special events, news releases, and brochures. Only then will you receive the quality public relations results you deserve.

But what kind of results? Here are a few: new prospects actually start to do business with you; welcome bounces in show room visits occur; community leaders begin to seek you out; 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; customers begin to make repeat purchases; capital givers or specifying sources begin to look your way; or membership applications start to rise.

Because they’re already in the perception and behavior business, look first to your public relations professionals 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. Essentially, be sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.

Spend a period of time with them going over 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?

The use of professional survey firms to do the opinion gathering work can run up your costs way beyond the expense of 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.

Of course no program succeeds without a clearcut, realistic goal. And it must be a goal calling for action on the most serious problem areas you uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring. You might decide to stop that potentially painful rumor cold. Or straighten out that dangerous misconception? Or correct that gross inaccuracy?

The reality is that you cannot set your PR goal without linking it to an equally specific strategy that tells you how to get there. Fact is, you have 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 Crème Brulee on your Kosher pickles. So be sure 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.

Good writing, of course, is a core aptitude for public relations people. And sure enough, here, the best writer on your team will have to prepare 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. Select that best writer because s/he must come up with really corrective 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.

Now we move to what some practitioners feel comprise the “fun" part of PR action programming – 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.

As you probably know, the “believability" of any message is fragile and always suspect. The means by which you communicate should always be a concern. Which is why you may wish to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings through presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.

You must take suggestions for progress reports as a cue 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.

Because any action program can suffer slowdown periods, please be aware that you can always speed things up by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.

Above all, do keep your eye on the core of this approach to public relations. Namely, persuade your most important outside audiences with the greatest impacts on your organization to your way of thinking. Then move them to take actions that help your department, group, division or subsidiary prevail.

Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at bobkelly@TNI.net. Word count is 1215 including guidelines and resource box.
Robert A. Kelly © 2006

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 EzineArticles.com, 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. mailto:bobkelly@TNI.net Visit:http://www.PRCommentary.com


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