Public Relations’ Grand Illusion
"Public Relations is really all about communications tactics and publicity. " Sorry, no. Whether you are a business, non-profit, government agency or association manager, PR actually is all about a high- impact action plan which does something meaningful about the behaviors of those important audiences that most affect your organization; creates the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives; and does so by persuading those key outside folks to your way of thinking by helping move them to take actions that allow your department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.
Communications tactics are nice, and really necessary when you need to move a message from here to there. But that’s all they are.
The PR illusion that simple tactics like press releases, broadcast plugs, special events or brochures can deliver the end-products outlined in the first paragraph all by themselves, is not merely misguided, it’s wishful thinking.
Worse, it can become a dangerous tactical preoccupation with many managers, diverting their attention from the PR end-product he or she has a right to expect. Unfortunately, it also denies that manager the best that public relations has to offer.
Of course, all options are open when our manager bases his or her 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.
At the core of PR’s premise is the fact that good 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 news releases, special events and broadcast plugs. Only then will you receive the quality public relations results you deserve.
What kind of PR end-products can you expect? Here are several: politicians and legislators begin looking at you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; new prospects actually start to do business with you; capital givers or specifying sources begin to look your way; 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; customers begin to make repeat purchases; and membership applications start to rise.
I’d suggest that you look first to your public relations professionals for your new opinion monitoring project since they’re already in the perception and behavior business. 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.
Take the time needed to go 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 fact, however, is this. When you use professional survey firms to do the opinion gathering work, your costs can exceed 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.
Setting a clearcut and realistic PR goal now comes front and center. As with most strategic programs, it must call for action on the most serious problem areas you uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring. Possibly, you will decide to stop that potentially painful rumor cold. Or straighten out that dangerous misconception? Or correct that gross inaccuracy?
Equally key, you must link your goal to an equally action-oriented strategy that shows how to get to where you’re going. Actually, 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. Needless to say, the wrong strategy pick will taste like some brands of vegetarian meatballs. 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.
Because good writing is central to the public relations business, the best writer on your team must prepare a persuasive message that will help move your key audience to your way of thinking. It has to be a carefully-written message targeted directly at your key external audience. Your writer 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.
Here’s a lighter topic. 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.
Of course how you communicate must concern you at this point. The reason is that the credibility of any message is fragile and always suspect. Which is why the means by which you communicate is always be a concern. And that’s also why you may wish to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings through presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.
To establish comparative progress, you may wish to demonstrate how the monies spent on public relations can pay off in the form of periodic progress reports. But, it’s also 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.
Any program can suffer from occasional slowdowns in momentum. Your options include speeding things up by adding more communications tactics and/or increasing their frequencies.
Clearly, it is no illusion when managers move beyond communication tactics, and create a high-impact, PR action plan certain to deliver to them the very 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 bobkelly@TNI.net.
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