Maybe the Strongest PR on Planet Earth?

Strong for business, non-profit and association managers when they use the fundamental premise of public relations to produce external stakeholder behavior change ? the kind that leads directly to achieving their managerial objectives.

And strong when they do something positive about the behaviors of those outside audiences that most affect their organization.

And finally, if this is you, really strong when you persuade those important outside folks to your way of thinking, then move them to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed.

On the other hand, not so strong when you limit your PR activity pretty much to placing product and service plugs on radio and in newspapers. In short, your public relations effort really must involve more than press releases, brochures and special events if you are to get your PR money's worth.

The fundamental premise of public relations says as much: 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.

The strength of that blueprint can appear in results like these: new thoughtleader and special event contacts; membership applications on the rise; new community service and sponsorship opportunities; prospects starting to work with you; new feedback channels; customers making repeat purchases; stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities; improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; promotional contest overtures; enhanced activist group relations; capital givers or specifying sources looking your way, and even a rebound in showroom visits.

But first, the division of labor. Just who is going to do the work? Your own full-time public relations staff? People assigned to your unit by a parent organization? An outside PR agency team? 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.

An alert. Just because someone describes him/herself as a public relations person doesn't mean they've bought the whole loaf of bread. Be sure the PR people assigned to your unit really believe 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.

Trace out 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 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?

If you can afford the considerable expense of a professional survey firm, by all means use it in the perception monitoring phases of your program. But keep in mind 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.

Now you establish a PR goal 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.

And, of course, you must have the right strategy, one that clearly shows you how to proceed. Please note 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 capers on your strawberry shortcake, 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.

Here, the PR staff must prepare a powerful message and aim it at members of your target audience. As is usually the case, crafting action-forcing language to persuade an audience to your way of thinking is hard work. Which is why your crew 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.

I'd run it by my PR colleagues for impact and persuasiveness. Then, fine-tune 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.

As you know, the credibility of a message is often dependent on the means used to deliver it. So you may wish to unveil it before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases. It won't be long before calls for progress reports are heard. This tells you and your PR team to 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. Difference this time is that you will be watching very carefully for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

Should the program's momentum flag, you can simply accelerate matters by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.

Yes, what you really want the new PR plan to do, 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.

Indeed, this could be the strongest public relations on the planet.

end

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 1175 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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