Managers, Start Your PR

There'll never be a better time for a manager working for a business, non-profit or association to ask this question: "Am I getting the public relations results I'm paying for -- the really important external audience behaviors I need to achieve my department, division or subsidiary objectives?"

If the answer is no, better get busy and rebuild that public relations engine.

Best place to look for an answer to your question is the foundation on which your public relations effort is based. Are the PR people assigned to your unit guided by solid fundamentals rather than mechanics like special events and communications tactics?

Do they really believe that people act on their own perception of the facts before them, leading to predictable behaviors about which something can be done? And do they believe that 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?

Because that kind of foundation is just what you may need to help persuade those important stakeholders to your way of thinking. And leading directly to results such as new waves of prospects, expanded community support, large, new capital donations, higher employee retention numbers, new engineering firms specifying your components, a boost in membership applications, or a welcome increase in repeat purchases.

I have noticed, however, a tendency for managers to set down the rules of engagement, then let things bump along under somebody else. That's not going to work with your public relations restart. You MUST get personally involved with the PR professionals managing your public relations program because they will be dealing with the very stakeholders whose behaviors will help determine whether you succeed or fail in your job. And that should be an incentive.

Here's another reason to keep a keen eye on the effort. Chances are that is that this kind of PR restart will be a dramatic departure for your public relations staffers, thus requiring your oversight of decisions affecting both thematics and tactical deployment.

For example, you must stay involved as they list those key external audiences of yours whose behaviors affect your unit the most. And again when they prioritize those audiences so that your public relations restart planning begins with the target audience YOU believe is #1.

The success of the program will depend on how efficiently you and your PR staffers gather certain data. Namely, how members of that key target audience, whose behaviors affect your unit's success or failure, really perceive you.

Your team must interact with members of that audience, and monitor their perceptions of your organization by asking questions like "Do you know anything about our organization? Have you ever had contact with our people? Was it a satisfactory experience? How familiar are you with our services or products?," and so forth.

Make sure that you and your staff remain sensitive to hesitant or evasive responses, and especially to negative comments. And stay alert for misconceptions, untruths, false assumptions, inaccuracies and rumors. These problem areas will need correction because experience shows they lead to negative behaviors.

Now, your team must select what needs correction the most, thus establishing your public relations goal. For example, perception alterations like correcting that damaging inaccuracy, straightening out that unfortunate misconception, or neutralizing that hurtful rumor.

But how will you reach that goal? In the same way you approach any operating problem ? select the right strategy, one that shows you how to reach your public relations goal. However, when it comes to opinion and perception problems, you have just three strategy choices: create perception where there may be none, reinforce an existing perception, or change the offending opinion/perception. Just be certain the strategy you select is a good fit with your PR goal. Obviously, you would not use the "reinforce it" strategy option when your goal is to kill a damaging rumor.

Now, some writing talent is needed to prepare the message you will use to alter that key target audience's perception. The message must be clear and persuasive if it is to nudge perception or opinion in your direction, and lead directly to the behaviors you desire.

Much like the military when they call in artillery fire during combat, you must employ your communications tactics in a way that insures that your message reaches those members of your target audience.

Fortunately, you have a wide choice of communications tactics such as audience briefings, news releases, speeches, radio and newspaper interviews, special events, personal contacts, and many others. You do want to be sure that the tactics you select have a proven track record for reaching people just like the members of your target audience.

While a budget sufficient to employ professional survey counsel would be very nice, the fact remains that you and your PR team can once again monitor perceptions among members of your target audience by asking the very same questions used during the earlier monitoring session.

The difference now is that you will watch carefully for signs that your message and communications tactics have moved audience perception in your direction.

If things need to move faster, you always have the option of adding new tactics to the fray as well as increasing their frequencies. Also advisable, another check of your message for impact and factual accuracy.

By this time, you will have created a public relations program certain to reassure you that you are now getting the key stakeholder behaviors you need to help achieve your department, division or subsidiary objectives.

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 communications, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press secretary, The White House. mailto:[email protected]. Visit: http://www.prcommentary.com.

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