Business, non-profit or association managers hurt their own public relations results when they become fascinated with PR tactics – press releases, publications and brochures and, particularly, fun-to-manage special events – while failing to plan for the perceptions and behaviors of the very people who probably hold their managerial success in their hands.
We’re talking about those important outside audiences whose behaviors most affect their departments, groups, divisions or subsidiaries.
Obviously, some of the less sensitive among those managers just don’t get it – the fact that the right public relations alters individual perceptions leading to changed behaviors among key external audience members and, thus, the achievement of managerial objectives.
When they compound that oversight by not persuading those awfully important outside folks to their way of thinking, then moving them to take actions that allow their units to succeed, bingo!, they badly hurt their PR results.
Needn’t be the case. Take a moment and savor this approach: 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.
Look at what could come their way: fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; community leaders beginning to seek you out; rising membership applications; welcome bounces in show room visits; prospects starting to do business with you; customers making repeat purchases; and new approaches by capital givers and specifying sources not to mention politicians and legislators viewing you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.
A few questions as to how this work might be assigned. To an outside PR agency team? To folks assigned to your operation? To your own public relations people? Just realize that regardless of where they come from, they need to be committed to you and your PR plan beginning with key audience perception monitoring.
You should meet with your public relations team in order to be certain that those assigned to you are clear on why it’s vital to know precisely 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.
Discuss your PR operating plan with them, 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 with the interchange? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?
Have no hesitation (other than budget) in using professional survey firms in the perception monitoring phases of your program. But remember that your PR people are also in the perception and behavior business and can go after the same objective: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.
The most damaging distortions you discovered during your key audience perception monitoring will respond to the right kind of PR goal by calling for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or stopping that potentially fatal rumor as quickly as possible. .
Big challenge here is selecting the right strategy. Namely, a strategy that tells you how to move forward. Please remember that there are just three strategic options available to you 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 sea salt on your rice pudding, 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.
It’s inevitable and unavoidable - someone on your PR staff will have to write a strong message and aim it at members of your target audience. Because crafting action-forcing language to persuade an audience to your way of thinking really is hard work, you need your best, first-string writer to put together some very special, corrective language. 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.
Less taxing, and occasionally fun, is the selection of the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. Do this after you run the draft by your PR people for impact and persuasiveness. There are dozens of 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 we all know, the method by which we communicate a message, if tainted in any way, can affect its believability and credibility. So, if unsure, you may wish to limit its initial scope by unveiling it before smaller meetings and presentations rather than through higher-profile news releases.
Suggestions that progress reports might be a nice touch, should be viewed as an early warning that a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience, be undertaken. 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 you suspect the program is lagging, accelerate matters with more communications tactics, then increase their frequencies.
Thus, instead of hurting your PR results, you will indeed increase the chances of program success. And once you as a manager digest the underlying premise of managerial public relations, as outlined above, you’ll understand how the right PR really CAN alter individual perception and lead to those changed behaviors you need.
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 1135 including guidelines and resource box. 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. bobkelly@TNI.net