Where is there a business, non-profit or association manager who does not need all the help he or she can find in achieving their managerial objectives?
Help like altering individual perception leading to changed behaviors among their key outside audiences?
Help in the form of positive actions affecting the behaviors of those important external audiences that most affect their operations. And the help afforded when the manager persuades those key outside folks to his or her way of thinking, then moves those people to take actions that let the department, group, division or subsidiary succeed?
Of course they can use that kind of help. It’s called public relations.
And here’s the premise upon which it’s based: 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.
Managers who adopt this course of action are then free to move beyond tactics like fun-to-manage special events, press releases and brochures and pay closer attention to the perceptions and behaviors of the very people who could hold their professional success as a manager in their hands.
And there’s no end to the positive results. Savor these for a moment: new approaches by capital givers and specifying sources; community leaders beginning to seek you out; prospects starting to do business with you; welcome bounces in show room visits; rising membership applications; customers making repeat purchases; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; not to mention politicians and legislators viewing you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.
Will an outside PR agency team do this sort of work? Folks assigned to your operation? Your own public relations people? Point is, regardless of where they come from, they need to be committed to you and your PR plan beginning with key audience perception monitoring.
As with any manager, you need to talk to your public relations people in order to be certain that those assigned to you are clear on why it’s vital to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. They must accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.
Take the time to sit with them and go over how you plan to implement the PR program, especially how you will monitor and gather perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. For instance, how much do you know about our chief executive? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?
Budget is always a concern, so if you have the resources, by all means use professional survey firms in the perception monitoring phases of your program. And remember that your PR people are also in the perception and behavior business and can pursue the same objective: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.
You’re employing the heavy artillery when you set the kind of PR goal that lets you deal effectively with the worst aberations you discovered during your key audience perception monitoring. In fact, the new goal will undoubtedly call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or stopping that potentially fatal rumor right in its tracks.
The importance of selecting the right strategy telling you how to move forward cannot be overemphasized. Keep in mind that you have just three strategic options available when it comes to handling a perception and opinion challenge. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. Since the wrong strategy pick will taste like red eye gravy on your pumpkin pie, be certain the new strategy fits comfortably with your new public relations goal. You don’t want to select “change" when the facts dictate a “reinforce" strategy.
Somebody on the PR staff (hopefully your best writer) must prepare a strong corrective message and aim it at members of your target audience. It’s hard work, no doubt about it, but you must have words that are not only compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if they are to correct something and shift perception/opinion towards your point of view leading to the behaviors you are targeting. It’s that simple.
You can have some fun with the next task - selecting the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. (Suggest you do this after you run the draft by your PR people for impact and persuasiveness). There are many tactics available to you. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But be sure that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.
As you probably know, a message’s believability can sink or swim on the credibility of the means used to deliver it. So, you may decide to unveil it (and monitor reactions) before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.
You will soon hear suggestions that progress reports might be a good idea. Best reaction is to take it as a signal that you and your PR team should think about a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session can be used again. But this time, you will be watching carefully for signs that the problem perception is being altered in your direction.
If program momentum appears to slow, you can always speed things up by adding more communications tactics, and increasing their frequencies.
In as few words as possible, what is the PR advantage managers need? Public relations’ ability to alter individual perception leading to changed behaviors among key outside audiences. Particularly when the effort persuades key outside stakeholders to the manager’s way of thinking, and then moves those folks to behave in a way that leads to the success of the manager’s operation. It doesn’t get any better than that.
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 © 2005.
Bob Kelly counsels, writes and speaks to business, non-profit and association managers about using the fundamental premise of public relations to achieve their operating objectives. He has been DPR, Pepsi-Cola Co. ; AGM-PR, Texaco Inc. ; VP-PR, Olin Corp. ; VP-PR, Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. ; director of communi- cations, 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