By Robert A. Kelly
Unfortunately, there are managers who define public relations by its applications. Which explains neither its underlying strengths nor what PR is all about.
The casual observer is left with a confusion of tactical, application-oriented definitions of the public relations function: Is it publicity? Crisis management? Special events? Reputation management? Promotion? Or a slew of other tactics in which we engage from time to time?
Which is it? More important, just what lies at the core of managerial public relations anyway?
I believe the core lies in doing something positive about the behaviors of those important outside audiences of yours that most affect your operation.
In other words, create external stakeholder behavior change – the kind that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.
And do so by persuading those key outside folks to your way of thinking, then help move them to take actions that allow your department, division or subsidiary to succeed.
Luckily, there’s also a blueprint at the center of public relations to help you cement that PR core for your own managerial benefit.
And it goes 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.
And for managers such as you, here’s the type of results that could emerge. Healthy bounces in show room visits; community leaders seeking you out; prospects starting to do business with you; membership applications on the rise; customers making repeat purchases; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures in the inbox; capital givers or specifying sources looking your way, and even politicians and legislators beginning to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.
You also need PR team members who understand that blueprint and commit themselves to its implementation, starting with key audience perception monitoring. Let’s face it, your PR people are already in the perception and behavior business, so they should be of real use for this initial opinion monitoring project.
Caveat: you must be certain your public relations people 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.
Talk it over with 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 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?
While professional survey firms can always be hired to do the opinion monitoring work, they also can cost big bucks. So, 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.
The PR goal, obviously, is to do something about the most serious distortions you discover during your key audience perception monitoring. Will it be to straighten out that dangerous misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy? Or, stop that potentially bloody rumor dead in its tracks?
Truth is, you won’t get there at all without the right strategy to tell you how to proceed. But keep in mind that there are just three strategic options available when it comes to doing something about perception and opinion. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. The wrong strategy pick will taste like pepper flakes on your Cr?me Brulee, so be sure your new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. You wouldn’t want to select “change” when the facts dictate a “reinforce” strategy.
Now it’s time to put together a well-written message and direct it to members of your target audience. It’s always a challenge to create an actionable message that will help persuade any audience to your way of thinking.
You need your best scribes for this one because s/he must build some very special, corrective language. Words that are 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.
Once you’ve run draft copy by your PR team, it’s on to the next selection process -- the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. There are scores that are available. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But you must be certain that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks like your audience members,
By the way, you may wish to avoid “shouting too loud” and unveil your message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases, as the credibility of any message is fragile and always at stake.
The people around you will start agitating in short order for progress reports, which signals to you and your PR team to get going 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. Big difference this time is that you will be on red alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
Incidentally, I’ve always thought it fortunate that such matters usually can be accelerated simply by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.
So, at the end of the day, what you 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.
Public relations should no longer be a mystery when the people you deal with do, in fact, behave suspiciously like everyone else – they act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about you and your operation. Which means you really have little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions by doing what is necessary to reach and move those key external audiences of yours 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