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A Winning Game Plan

You want to sell your products or services, and that means good money management, top quality products or services, and hard work on your part. But, for REAL success, the icing on the cake is public relations.

Here's why. People act on their perception of the facts about you; those perceptions lead to certain, predictable behaviors; and, best of all, something can be done about both that will lead to achieving your objectives.

First, public relations creates, changes or reinforces public opinion -- you know, all those perceptions we just talked about.

Then it reaches, persuades and moves-to-actions-you-desire those very people whose behaviors affect your business. We're talking about actions like new customer development, retention of long-time patrons and increased product purchases.

Now, when you can actually see those behaviors you want so badly (hopefully matching the behaviors you said upfront you wanted), the public relations effort is complete, and a success.

How do you pull this off?

If you follow a game plan like this one, you should rank in order-of-importance those audiences with an interest in your organization, often referred to as stakeholders or "publics." They would include customers, prospects, media, the business community and local thought-leaders as well as a number of other interested groups.

What Do They Think of You?

You should interact with those audiences and gather their impressions of your organization, in particular, areas where problems may be brewing. Ask questions. Notice any negativity? Misconceptions? Inaccuracies? Rumors?

This is information gathering, opinion sampling, informal polling, if you will, but essential to any public relations effort. If resources are available, a modest opinion poll of the #1 priority audience also would be helpful.

How Much Behavioral Change is Needed?

Well, with opinion sampling of one kind or another underway, it's a good time to focus on any negative perceptions you discovered. Once they're identified and understood, a marker can be set down setting the degree of behavioral change you would like and that realistically can be expected and monitored in an agreed-upon time frame..

This becomes the goal against which the public relations program will finally be measured.

Create, Change or Reinforce Opinion?

Now, should those key audience perceptions be created from scratch, nudged in one direction or another, or simply reinforced? An important decision, because it will influence the direction, content and tone of all of your communications. Make it carefully.

The Persuasive Message

Once that decision is made, it's time to prepare messages tailored to each audience that, while providing details about your products and services, indirectly address those problem areas that came up during the information gathering meetings. Then, while you do the persuasive messages needed to bring those folks around, be guided by your behavior modification goal as well as the perception changes needed to achieve it.

Reaching Your Audience

How will you communicate each message to its audience? How will you reach these people? Your choices include face-to-face meetings, briefings, speeches, news releases, news announcement luncheons, emailings, media interviews, facility tours, special promotional events, a brochure, and a variety of other communications tactics.

And don't forget special event exposures as a means for reaching those target audiences with your messages. They usually make news and include activities such as open houses, roadshows, awards ceremonies, trade shows and contests.

Media That Target Your Audience

It sounds elementary, but selecting the right media to carry your messages demands that you be certain that each communications tool zeros in directly on the target audience. Example: little sense in using ride-time (rush hour) radio appearances if you're trying to reach retirees.

Signs of Improvement

So, how will you know whether your efforts are actually changing perceptions (and behaviors) for the better? As time passes, experience tells us that you will begin to notice increased awareness of your business and its role in the marketplace; a growing receptiveness to your messages by customers; increased public perception of the role your organization plays in its industry and in the community, as well as increasing numbers of prospects.

Achieving The Goal

To track actual results, you must speak once again - and on a regular basis -- with people among each of your key audiences. And also by monitoring print and broadcast media for mentions of your messages or viewpoints.

Each of these indicators will reflect how local feelings about your organization are changing. In turn, this will allow you to adjust your communications tactics in pursuit of the perceptions and behaviors you seek

The effort is worth it. Done correctly, when public relations results in altered perceptions and modified behaviors among groups of people important to your organization, you're talking about nothing less than its survival.

Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at

Robert A. Kelly © 2003.

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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