Why PR Can be Effective Medicine

When properly applied by business, non-profit and association managers, public relations "medicine" does something positive about the behaviors of those important external audiences of theirs that MOST affect their operations.

It's easy-to-swallow "medicine" when it leads managers to persuade those key outside folks to their way of thinking, then move them to take actions that allow the manager's department, division or subsidiary to succeed.

In other words, effective public relations "medicine" is applied when PR alters individual perception leading to changed behaviors among a manager's target "publics," thus helping achieve his or her managerial objectives.

Here's the underlying essence: 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.

But managers should always remember that their PR effort must demand more than special events, brochures and press releases if they are to come up with the public relations results they paid for.

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

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. But you must be certain of several things. First, who among your PR team really understands the blueprint outlined above and shows commitment to its implementation, starting with key audience perception monitoring? Second, be certain that your public relations people really accept why it's SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. And third, make sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.

Review the bidding with your PR staff. Especially 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?

You may wish to use those PR folks of yours in that monitoring capacity since, as noted, they're already in the perception and persuasion business. And further, because it can run into real money using professional survey firms to do the opinion gathering work. 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, you are aiming at creating a PR goal that does something about the most serious problem areas you uncovered 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?

Where you establish a goal, you must establish a strategy that tells you how to get there. 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 blue cheese on your corn flakes, 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.

It's always a challenge to create an actionable message that will help persuade any audience to your way of thinking. Here, you must do so, and it must be a well-written message target directly at your key external audience. Identify your strongest writer 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.

Now it's selection time once again, namely, the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. There are scores 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 just like your audience members.

By the way, you may wish to keep this kind of message low profile and unveil it before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases. Reason is, the credibility of any message is fragile and always at stake, so how you communicate it is a concern.

You'll need preliminary progress reports, which will alert 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.

If things are not moving fast enough for you, you always have the option of accelerating the effort by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.

The value of public relations as effective medicine for managers becomes clearer when you realize that the people you deal with behave like everyone else ? they act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about you and your operation. Which means you really have little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions by doing what is necessary to reach and move those key external audiences of yours to actions you desire.

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.

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