Attention PR Shoppers!

As a business, non-profit or association manager, what do you want?

Publicity that delivers newspaper and talk show mentions, or behavior change among your key outside audiences that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives?

Special events that attract a lot of people, or public relations that persuades your most important outside audiences to your way of thinking, then moves them to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed?

Zippy brochures and videos, or a way for you to do something positive about the behaviors of those external audiences of yours that MOST affect your organization?

What I believe you need to know about PR are two realities:

1) The right PR really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors that help you succeed, and

2), your public relations effort must involve more than special events, brochures and news releases if you really want to get your money's worth,

The underlying truth about PR goes this way: 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 it can generate results like prospects starting to work with you; customers making repeat purchases; stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities; improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies, and even capital givers or specifying sources looking your way

Once the program gets rolling, you also should see results such as new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; rebounds in showroom visits; membership applications on the rise; community service and sponsorship opportunities; enhanced activist group relations, and expanded feedback channels, not to mention new thoughtleader and special event contacts.

That's a lot of results from even a high-impact blueprint.

It almost goes without saying that your PR crew ? agency or staff ? must be committed to you, as the senior project manager, to the PR blueprint and its implementation, starting with target audience perception monitoring.

Is it crucially important that your most important outside audiences really perceive your operations, products or services in a positive light? Of course, so assure yourself that your PR staff has bought into the whole effort. Be especially careful that they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.

Sit down with your PR team and review the PR blueprint in detail, especially the 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? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

Professional survey people obviously can handle the perception monitoring phases of your program, IF the budget is available. But always 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.

What about your public relations goal? You need a goal statement that speaks to the aberrations that showed up during your key audience perception monitoring. And it could call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or doing something about that damaging rumor.

When you set a goal, you need a strategy that shows you how to get there. You have three strategic choices when it comes to handling a perception or opinion challenge: create perception where there may be none, change the perception, or reinforce it. A bad strategy pick will taste like marinara sauce on your brownies, so be certain the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. For example, you don't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a "reinforce" strategy.

Because persuading an audience to your way of thinking is awfully hard work, your PR team must come up with just the right, corrective language. Words that are compelling, persuasive and believable AND clear and factual. You must do this if you are to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading to the desired behaviors.

Sit down again with your communications specialists and review your message for impact and persuasiveness. Then, select the communications tactics most likely to carry your words 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.

You've heard the old bromide about the credibility of a message depending on its delivery method. On the chance it's true, you might think about introducing it to smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile tactics such as news releases or talk show appearances. The need to produce a progress report will sound the alert for you and your PR folks to return to the field for a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Using many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session, you'll now be watching very carefully for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

If impatience enters the fray, you can always accelerate things with more communications tactics and increased frequencies.

Finally, like a military unit, your public relations effort can use an action-oriented motto: the right PR really CAN alter individual perception and lead directly to changed behaviors that help you succeed.

Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at [email protected]. Word count is 1170 including guidelines and resource box.

Robert A. Kelly © 2004.

About The Author

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.

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