Why Not Juice-Up Your PR?

Say, from tactics like special events, brochures and press releases to a public relations effort more in keeping with the challenges you face as a business, non-profit or association manager?

I speak of public relations that alters individual perception and leads to changed behaviors among those key outside audiences of yours.

Public relations that does something positive about the behaviors of those key external "publics" that MOST affect your operation. Then helps persuade those important outside audiences to your way of thinking, helping move them to take actions that allow your department, division or subsidiary to succeed.

Fact is, this approach CAN juice up your public relations by creating the kind of stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.

Consider this short but pithy 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.

Where can this go? Try results like community leaders beginning to seek you out; membership applications on the rise; customers starting to make repeat purchases; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; prospects starting to do business with you; welcome bounces in show room visits; higher employee retention rates, capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way, and even politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.

How sure are you that your PR team really buys into the blueprint outlined above, and shows commitment to its implementation, starting with key audience perception monitoring? Luckily, your PR people are already in the perception and behavior business, so they should be of real use for this initial opinion monitoring project. Be certain that they really accept why it's SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Make sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.

Take them into your confidence and discuss your game plan for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Questions along these lines: how much do you know about our organization? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? Are you familiar with our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

Be ready to lay out some real cash if you retain a professional survey firm to do the opinion monitoring work, you may wish to use those PR folks of yours in that capacity since, as noted, they're already in the perception and persuasion business. But, whether it's your people or a survey firm asking the questions, the objective remains the same: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.

Here, what you need is a PR goal that does something about the most serious distortions you discover during your key audience perception monitoring. Will it be to straighten out that dangerous misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy? Or, stop that potentially painful rumor cold?

However, in the absence of the right strategy to tell you how to proceed, you won't get there at all. So keep in mind that there are just three strategic options available when it comes to doing something about perception and opinion. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. The wrong strategy pick will taste like butterscotch sauce on your fishcakes, so be sure your new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. You wouldn't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a strategy of reinforcement.

A well-written message is badly needed here to send to members of your target audience. It's always a challenge to create an actionable message that will help persuade any audience to your way of thinking. You'll need your strongest writers because s/he must build some very special, corrective language. Words that are not merely compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if they are to shift perception/opinion towards your point of view and lead to the behaviors you have in mind.

Once your PR team has ok'd the draft copy of your message, you come face-to-face with your "beasts of burden" - the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. There are scores that are available. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But you must be certain that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks like your audience members.

Because the credibility of any message is always on the table, you may wish to avoid too loud a voice with this kind of message and unveil it before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases,

Here's where you'll probably start getting requests for progress reports, which tells you and your PR team to begin 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. But now, you will be on red alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

One piece of luck: such matters usually can be accelerated simply by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.

OK, as a manager, your goal is to show a profit for your business unit, or meet certain expectations of your association membership, or achieve your non-profit's operating objective. In each case, you'll need public relations activity that creates behavior change among your key outside audiences. Behavior change that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.

And a darn good way to juice-up your public relations.

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].

Robert A. Kelly © 2005.

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.

Visit: http://www.prcommentary.com; [email protected]

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