By Robert A. Kelly
Business, non-profit and association managers committing their public relations resources to (1) doing something about the behaviors of those important outside audiences that most affect their operation, (2) creating the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving their managerial objectives, and (3) doing so by persuading those key outside folks to their way of thinking by helping to move them to take actions that allow their department, division or subsidiary to succeed – greatly increase the chances of success for their operation.
Thus, feeding the engine of their own economic growth AND that of the nation at large.
But, in reality, it takes more than good intentions for any manager to alter individual perception leading to changed behaviors, something of profound importance to ALL business, non-profit and association managers.
What they need is a simple PR blueprint that gets everyone working towards the same external audience behaviors insuring that the organization’s public relations effort stays sharply focused.
For example, a blueprint 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 accomplished.
In that way, those same business, non-profit and association managers can see results such as new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; customers making repeat purchases; prospects starting to work with them; membership applications on the rise; capital givers or specifying sources looking their way, and even bounces in showroom visits.
But HOW those managers pull that off forms the real challenge.
Here’s how the best of them can do it. They find 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.
But precisely HOW do most members of that key outside audience perceive their organization? If the budget to pay for what could be costly professional survey counsel isn’t there, Ms. or Mr. manager and his or her PR colleagues will have to monitor those perceptions themselves. Actually, they should be quite familiar with perception and behavior matters.
Getting that activity under way means meeting with members of that outside audience and 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. And watch carefully for false assumptions, untruths, misconceptions, inaccuracies and potentially damaging rumors. When you find such, they will need to be corrected, as they inevitably lead to negative behaviors.
The job now is to select 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.
One of the painful aspects of the whole drill is that a PR goal without a strategy to show you how to get there, is like a three-bean salad without the beans. So, as you select one of three strategies (especially constructed to create perception or opinion where there may be none, or change or reinforce it,) what you want to do is 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 that “reinforce” strategy.
The moment has come when you must create a compelling message carefully constructed to alter your key target audience’s perception, as specified by your public relations goal.
Keep in mind that 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.
The content of the message must be compelling and quite clear about what perception needs clarification or correction, and why. Of course you must be truthful and your position logically explained and believable if it is to hold the attention of members of that target audience, and actually move perception in your direction.
Some allude 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.
Actually, we have a wide choice because the list of tactics is long indeed. It includes 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 have a record of reaching people just like the members of your key target audience.
Of course, things can always be accelerated by adding more communications tactics, AND by increasing their frequencies.
It won’t be long before those around you will be asking about progress. But you will already be hard at work 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 become beady-eyed looking for signs that audience perceptions are beginning to move in your general direction.
Yes, performed in this manner, public relations obviously does feed the engine of YOUR economic growth and, thus, that of the nation at large.
But do 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.
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