Managers: Don't Write Off Public Relations!

Robert A. Kelly

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There are those among America’s managerial cadre who will write off public relations because they’ve been getting little more for their PR dollar than brochures, special events, reporter chatter and press releases.

While they have a right to expect more – a LOT more, from their PR investment, truth is, they ARE getting valuable tactical devices which they can call upon from time to time to move a message from here to there.

But it’s what they are NOT getting that causes unhappiness with their business, non-profit, government agency or association’s current public relations expenditure.

Like assembling the resources and action planning they need to alter individual perception leading to changed behaviors among their most important outside audiences. And doing something to persuade those important folks to their way of thinking, then moving them to take actions that allow their department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.

No wonder they decide to write off public relations!

What they need is the right public relations plan, one dedicated to getting every member of the PR team working towards the same external audience behaviors which insures that the organization’s public relations effort stays sharply focused.

Not just any plan, but one based on a solid approach to public relations. One, perhaps, like this: 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 complete.

That manager shouldn’t have to wait long for results to appear, such as membership applications on the rise, bounces in showroom visits; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; customers making repeat purchases; prospects starting to work with them; and capital givers or specifying sources looking their way.

Heads up managers always get results with this approach by finding out who among their key external audiences is behaving in ways that help or hinder the achievement of their objectives. Then, they list them according to how severely their behaviors affect their organization.

Next they decide how most members of that key outside audience perceive their organization. If resources to cover professional survey counsel aren’t there, the man- ager and his or her PR colleagues will have to monitor those perceptions themselves. Of course the PR folks should already be up to speed about assessing and gathering perception and behavior data.

Once back in the field, they must meet with members of that outside audience asking questions like “Are you familiar with our services or products?" “Have you ever had contact with anyone from our organization? Was it a satisfactory experience?" And if you are that manager, you must be sensitive to negative statements, especially evasive or hesitant replies. Watch carefully for false assumptions, untruths, misconceptions, inaccuracies and potentially damaging rumors. When you find such, you will need to take steps to correct them, as they inevitably lead to negative behaviors.

Now it’s time to identify the specific perception to be altered which then becomes your public relations goal. You obviously want to correct those untruths, inaccuracies, misconceptions or false assumptions.

Once you isolate your public relations goal, you immediately need a strategy to show you how to get there. The wrong strategy, of course, will taste like pickled beets on your Braunschweiger sandwich. It’s just not right.

When you pick out one of three strategies (especially constructed to create perception or opinion where there may be none, or change or reinforce it, ) you must insure that the goal and its strategy match each other. You wouldn’t want to select “change existing perception" when current perception is just right suggesting a “reinforce" strategy.

Here you create a compelling message carefully constructed to alter your key target audience’s perception, as specified by your public relations goal.

Fortunately, you can always combine your corrective message with another news announcement or presentation which may give it more credibility by downplaying the apparent need for such a correction.

It seems obvious that the content of your message must be compelling and crystal clear about what perception needs clarification or correction. Of course you must be truthful and your position must be logically explained and believable if it is to hold the attention of members of that target audience, and actually move perception in your direction.

With our own PR jargon, you may notice folks in the PR business alluding to the communications tactics necessary to move your message to the attention of that key external audience, as “beasts of burden" because they must carry your persuasive new thoughts to the eyes and ears of those important outside people.

Luckily, there is no shortage of communications tactics. They include letters-to-the-editor, brochures, press releases and speeches. Or, you might choose radio and newspaper interviews, personal contacts, facility tours or customer briefings. There are scores available and the only selection requirement is that the communications tactics you choose be on record as reaching people just like the members of your key target audience.

The good news is that you can always move things along by adding more communications tactics, AND by increasing their frequencies.

Someone is bound to bring up progress reports which will lead you to return to the field again remonitoring perceptions among your target audience members to test the effectiveness of your communications tactics. Using questions similar to those used during your earlier monitoring session, you’ll now be on ready alert for signs that audience perceptions are beginning to move in your general direction.

You will be well-served to keep your eye on the core of this approach: 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, division or subsidiary prevail.

In this way, rather than measuring the narrow results achieved by the tactical subsets of your public relations program like special events, brochures, broadcast plugs or press releases, you will have discovered the only true measure of public relations: the results of your strategic efforts to alter individual perception among your key outside audiences leading to changed behaviors, helping you achieve your managerial objectives.

Put another way, instead of writing off public relations, managers are best advised to assemble the resources and action planning they need to achieve changed behaviors among their most important outside audiences. Then do something to persuade those important folks to their way of thinking, and move them to take actions that allow their department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.


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 1245 including guidelines and resource box. 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 ExpertAuthor, 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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