Publicity Performance Not Enough?

Even after a nice piece in a national publication, or a stint on a popular talk show, do you still have a feeling that your public relations dollar could be better spent?

As a business, non-profit or association manager, do questions like that linger in your mind?

Because if they do, you may be coming down with a real case of "I want my PR money's worth!"

If that's how you feel, I'd guess that you're probably doing very little that's positive about the behaviors of those important outside audiences of yours that most affect your operation.

Which means you may be failing to create external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives. In other words, failing to persuade those key outside folks to your way of thinking, or move them to take actions that allow your department, division or subsidiary to succeed.

Be assured that the right public relations really CAN alter individual perception and lead to the changed behaviors you need. But it will require more than special event parties, brochures and news releases if you honestly want that PR money's worth.

Fortunately for all of us, people really do 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 results of such activity can be truly surprising: stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities; prospects starting to work with you; customers making repeat purchases; improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies, and even capital givers or specifying sources looking your way.

The passage of time should add still more results: for example, enhanced activist group relations, membership applications on the rise; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; rebounds in showroom visits; community service and sponsorship opportunities; and expanded feedback channels, not to mention new thoughtleader and special event contacts.

The fact that your most important outside audiences really perceive your operations, products or services in a positive light is a key plank in your PR platform. So vital, in fact, that your PR people must buy into the effort from the get-go. Be especially careful that they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.

Take the time to review the PR blueprint in detail with your staff, especially how you will gather and monitor opinion by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Questions like these: how much do you know about our organization? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

Gathering opinion data for the perception monitoring phases of your program can certainly be handled by professional survey people, should the budget be available. But always remember 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.

A word about your all-important public relations goal. You'll need one that speaks to the problems that cropped up during your key audience perception monitoring. Probably, it will require correcting that gross inaccuracy, straightening out that dangerous misconception, or doing something about that damaging rumor.

In this business, a goal needs a strategy to show you how to get where you want to go. Also, there are just three strategic choices available to you when it comes to handling a perception or opinion challenge: create perception where there may be none, change the perception, or reinforce it. As luck would have it, the wrong strategy pick will taste like marshmallows on your refried beans, so be certain the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. For example, you don't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a "reinforce" strategy.

What's needed here is the right, corrective phrases. Persuading an audience to your way of thinking is genuinely hard work. We need words that are compelling, persuasive and believable, as well as clear and factual. This must be done if you are to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading to the desired behaviors.

Now we pick out those communications tactics most likely to carry your words to the attention of your target audience. Sit down again with your communications specialists and read your message for impact and persuasiveness. Then select from dozens of available tactics such as speeches, facility tours, emails, brochures, consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But be certain that the tactics you use are known to reach folks just like your audience members.

Since the credibility of a message can depend on its delivery method, you could introduce it to smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile communications such as news releases or talk show appearances.

When the topic of progress reports comes up, it's your reminder that the PR team should return to the field for a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Using many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session, you'll now be watching very carefully for signs that your communications tactics have worked and that the negative perception is being altered in your direction.

Should you want to move things along a little faster, accelerate your PR program with a wider selection of communications tactics AND increased frequencies.

Now, hopefully, when it becomes obvious to you that publicity performance just is not enough, you will undertake to do something positive about the behaviors of those important outside audiences of yours that most affect your operation. In other words, create external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.

Again hopefully, you will do the job by persuading those key outside folks to your way of thinking, thus moving them to take actions that allow your business, non-profit or association to succeed.

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

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