By Robert A. Kelly
You know, those really important outside groups of people whose behaviors can help or hinder any business, non-profit or association manager in achieving his or her objectives? Are you persuading those key stakeholders – especially those whose behaviors affect your unit the MOST – to your way of thinking, then moving them to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed?
Oh, as a manager, you say you’re covered in that regard – your public relations team is racking up some juicy print and broadcast placements, and you say those kinds of exposures are what your PR program is all about?
At the risk of becoming a skunk at this picnic, I suggest you consider broadening your public relations field-of-fire to where it best belongs, on your unit’s key external stakeholder behaviors rather than the occasional publicity placement.
Here’s why. The people you deal with behave like everyone else – they act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about you and your operation. Leaving you little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions (and their follow on behaviors) by doing what is necessary to reach and move those key external audiences to action.
And that means using a workable PR blueprint to do the job. For example, 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 accomplished.
Consider for a moment what the results of this approach to PR could be. Customers starting to make repeat purchases, and even prospects starting to do business with you; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; welcome bounces in show room visits; rising membership applications, and community leaders beginning to seek you out; 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.
So who’s going to do the work? Your own full-time public relations staff? A few folks assigned by Corporate to your unit? An outside PR agency team? Regardless where they come from, they need to be committed to you, to the PR blueprint and to its implementation, starting with key audience perception monitoring.
A word of caution. Just because someone describes him/herself as a public relations person doesn’t guarantee they’ve bought the whole meatloaf. Make certain the public relations people assigned to your unit really believe – deep down -- why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Make sure they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.
Layout the PR blueprint for them, especially your plan for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Questions like these: 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?
If your budget will bear the considerable expense of professional survey firms, by all means use them in the perception monitoring phases of your program. However, keep in mind that your PR people are also in the perception and behavior business and can pursue the same objective supported by survey counsel input: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.
Time to set your PR goal, one that stands a good chance of doing something about the most serious distortions you discovered during your key audience perception monitoring. It could be to straighten out that dangerous misconception, or correct that gross inaccuracy, or stop that potentially fatal rumor dead in its tracks.
Next step is the right strategy, one that tells you how to proceed. And keep in mind that there are only 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 marinara sauce on your key lime 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.
Time for some hard work. Write a moving message and aim it at members of your target audience. As always, crafting action-forcing language to persuade an audience to your way of thinking is tough work. Which is why you need your first-string varsity writer because s/he must create 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.
I’d try it out on my PR colleagues for impact and persuasiveness. Then, select the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. You can pick from dozens that are available. 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.
Because the credibility of a message is often dependent on the means used to deliver it, you may decide to unveil it before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher- profile news releases.
Calls for progress reports will soon be heard, which signals to you and your PR team to get busy on a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. You’ll want to use many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session. Difference this time is that you will be watching very carefully for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
By the way, aren’t we fortunate that, if things ever slow down, we can simply accelerate matters by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies?
So, what you really want the new PR plan to accomplish is to persuade your most important outside stakeholders to your way of thinking, then move them to behave in a way that leads to the success of your department, division or subsidiary.
Yes, powerful is a strong word but certainly not too strong when the people you deal with do, in fact, behave like everyone else – they act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about you and your operation. Leaving you little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions by doing what is necessary to reach and move your key external audiences to actions you desire.
Bob Kelly counsels, writes and speaks to 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 communications, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press secretary, The White House. mailto:[email protected] Visit:http://www.prcommentary.com