PR: Time For a New Playbook?

When your public relations results pretty much depend on whether your news item gets used in a newspaper column or on a radio talk show, you may be ready for a fresh approach.

Why not shoot for a 1-2 PR punch?

First, focus sharply on those external audiences who play a major role in just how successful a business, non-profit or association manager you will be.

And second, use the proactive public relations blueprint outlined below to help you persuade those important outside stakeholders to your way of thinking. Then move them to take actions that lead to the success of your department, division or subsidiary.

You need a simple plan -- the fundamental premise of PR, as it turns out -- that gets everyone working towards the same external audience behaviors, and puts your public relations effort back on track.

Here's the blueprint:

"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 here's a good way to put that blueprint to work in your organization as you pursue external audience behaviors that lead directly to achieving your objectives.

By the way, I'm talking about behaviors changes like welcome bounces in showroom visits, community leaders beginning to seek you out; membership applications on the rise, customers starting to make repeat purchases; organizations proposing strategic alliances and joint ventures; prospects starting to do business with you; politicians and legislators unexpectedly viewing you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; and even capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way.

Get started by sitting down and actually listing those outside audiences of yours who behave in ways that help or hinder you in achieving your objectives. Then prioritize them by impact severity and begin work with the target audience in first place on your list.

Of course you're probably data-challenged because you aren't certain just how most members of that key outside audience perceive your organization.

There's a good chance you don't have the budget to accommodate professional survey work. So you and your PR colleagues (they should be quite familiar with perception and behavior matters) must monitor those perceptions yourself.

Interact with members of that outside audience by asking questions like "Have you ever had contact with anyone from our organization? Was it a satisfactory experience? Are you familiar with our services or products?" Stay alert to negative statements, especially evasive or hesitant replies. Watch carefully for false assumptions, untruths, misconceptions, inaccuracies and potentially damaging rumors. Any of which will need to be corrected, because experience shows they usually lead to negative behaviors.

So, because the obvious objective here is to correct those same untruths, inaccuracies, misconceptions and false assumptions, you now select the specific perception to be altered, and that becomes your public relations goal.

But a PR goal without a strategy to show you how to get there, is like a bratwurst without the onions. That's why you must select one of three strategies especially designed to create perception or opinion where there may be none, or change existing perception, or reinforce it. The challenge here (a small one) is to insure that the goal and its strategy match each other. You wouldn't want to select "change existing perception" when current perception is just right suggesting a "reinforce" strategy.

Now it's your writer's turn to prepare a compelling message carefully designed to alter your key target audience's perception, as called for by your public relations goal.

It may be that combining your corrective message with another newsworthy announcement of a new product, service or employee will lend more credibility by not overemphasizing the correction.

The new message must be very clear about what perception needs clarification or correction, and why. Your facts must be truthful and your position must be logically explained and believable if it is to hold the attention of members of that target audience, and actually move perception in your direction. In other words, your message must be compelling.

Now you select your "beasts of burden," the communications tactics you will harness to carry your persuasive new thoughts to the attention of that external audience.

Luckily, the list of tactics is a long one. It includes letters- to-the-editor, brochures, press releases and speeches. Or, you might select radio and newspaper interviews, personal contacts, facility tours or customer briefings. There are dozens in waiting and the only selection requirement is that those you choose have a record of reaching people just like the members of your key target audience.

Those around you will soon inquire if any progress is being made. Of course you'll already be hard at work remonitoring perceptions among your target audience members. Using questions similar to those used during your earlier monitoring session, you will now look carefully for indications that audience perceptions are beginning to move the way you want them to move..

Happily, you can always speed up the process by adding more communications tactics, AND by increasing their frequencies.

But, as this article suggests, building your PR playbook around communications tactics is self-defeating. Instead, use your tactics as originally intended, to carry messages. What must come first is an aggressive public relations plan such as that outlined above that targets key stakeholder behavior change leading directly to achieving 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 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. mailto:[email protected] Visit:

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