PR: The Thrill of a Good Idea

The notion that a business, non-profit or association manager can actually hold a big key to success in his or her own hands IS a thrilling idea!

And it becomes more thrilling as the manager actually alters individual perceptions leading to changed behaviors of key outside audiences. Then persuades those external stakeholders to that manager's way of thinking, helping move them to take actions that allow their department, division or subsidiary to succeed.

The thrill is real when public relations does something positive for those managers about the behaviors of the very outside audiences of theirs that MOST affect their operation, thus helping achieve those manager's managerial objectives.

The trick lies in getting a manager's public relations team members working towards the same external stakeholder behaviors so that the PR thrust stays focused.

Here's one blueprint that can help create such a thrilling reality: 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.

Properly employed, this kind of public relations approach can deliver results like enhanced activist group relations; community service and sponsorship opportunities; membership applications on the rise; expanded feedback channels; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; rebounds in showroom visits, as well as capital givers or specifying sources looking your way; not to mention new thoughtleader and special event contacts.

One can also envision improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies; prospects starting to work with you; customers making repeat purchases; promotional contest overtures, and even stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities.

However, one potential source of worry must be, who makes the blueprint come alive? Will your worker bees be regular public relations staff? Or people sent to you by a parent entity? Or possibly a PR agency crew? Regardless of where they come from, they must be committed to you as the senior project manager, to the PR blueprint and its implementation, starting with key audience perception monitoring.

Something else to keep your eye on. Simply because a practitioner describes him/herself as a public relations specialist doesn't mean they've bought into the whole program. Assure yourself that your team members really believe deeply why it's SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Be certain they buy the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.

Take the time to go over the PR blueprint with your PR team, 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? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

Professional survey counsel is always available to handle the perception monitoring phases of your program, if your budget will allow. But I stress 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.

Here, you need to set your goal in order to do something about the most serious distortions you discovered during your key audience perception monitoring. And that could be to straighten out that dangerous misconception, or correct that gross inaccuracy, or stop that potentially fatal rumor dead in its tracks.

If you are to be successful in this PR effort, you need a solid strategy to show you clearly how to proceed. To keep things simple, note that there are only three strategic options available to you when it comes to handling a perception or opinion challenge. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. Of course, the wrong strategy pick will taste like a cold catfish souffle, so be certain the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. You wouldn't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a "reinforce" strategy.

Remember that members of your target audience need to hear a powerful message. But persuading an audience to your way of thinking is hard work. Which is why your PR folks must create some very special, corrective language. Words that are not only compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual. Only in this way will you be able to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading to the behaviors you are targeting.

By all means, let your communications specialists "spider" your message to make certain its impactful and persuasive enough. Then, sharpen it before selecting 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.

A peculiarity of human nature holds that the credibility of a message can depend on its delivery method. So you might consider unveiling it in presentations before smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile tactics such as news releases. Another human reality is that people love progress reports, a fact that will alert you and your PR team to get back out in the field and start work 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. Only this time, you'll be watching very carefully for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

If things aren't moving fast enough for you, try increasing the beat with more communications tactics and increased frequencies.

Once in a while, we can all use a thrill. This can be one of those times for the business, non-profit or association manager astute enough to demand that his public relations effort actually help him or her achieve their managerial objectives.

Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at mailto:[email protected]. Word count is 1180 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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