What Determines PR Success?

As a business, non-profit or association manager, occasions will arise when you'll need to employ tactics like a brochure, a special event or a press release. But it will be your work that precedes those tactics that will determine the success of your public relations effort.

Here's the underlying premise: 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 usually accomplished.

In a nutshell, your PR plan will help achieve your managerial objectives by altering perception leading to changed behaviors among those important external audiences that most affect your department, group, division or subsidiary.

When you get right down to it, you probably should expand your view of public relations with some serious planning early-on to do something about the behaviors of those vital outside audiences rather than jumping right out-of-the-gate with a tactical broadside.

I mean, there's something unsettling about putting the cart before the horse with initial press releases, talk show appearances, zippy publications and fun-filled special events before you get answers to questions like these: Who are you trying to reach? What do you know about them? How do they perceive your organization? If troublesome, how might we alter their perceptions? And perhaps MOST important, what behaviors do we want those perceptions to lead to?

Here's what you really need to ponder. Because the people with whom you interact every day behave like everyone else ? they act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about you and your operation. Which means you should deal effectively with those perceptions (and their follow-on behaviors) by doing what is necessary to reach and move those key external audiences to action.

With that kind of public relations homework under your belt, you may finally receive targeted PR results such as new approaches by capital givers and specifying sources; community leaders beginning to seek you out; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; prospects starting to do business with you; customers making repeat purchases; rising membership applications; welcome bounces in show room visits, not to mention politicians and legislators viewing you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.

That also means there's much work to be done. But by who? Who will do this specialized kind of work? Your own public relations people? Folks assigned to your operation? An outside PR agency team? But regardless where they come from, they need to be committed to you and your PR plan beginning with key audience perception monitoring.

It helps when the PR people assigned to you are really serious about knowing how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. They really have to accept the truth that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.

Review with them how you will monitor and gather perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. For instance, how much do you know about our chief executive? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

Be sure to use professional survey firms in the perception monitoring phases of your program, if there's enough money in the PR budget. You're in luck, however, because 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.

Obviously, the right PR goal will let you deal effectively with the most serious problems you discovered during your key audience perception monitoring. Your new goal could call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that inaccuracy, or neutralizing that fateful rumor.

Be careful here because you must now identify the right strategy, one that tells you how to move forward. Keep in mind that there are just three strategic options available to you when it comes to handling a perception and opinion challenge. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. Since the wrong strategy pick will taste like salsa on your Braunschweiger, be certain the new strategy fits comfortably with your new public relations goal. You don't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a "reinforce" strategy.

Here you have little choice. A strong message is required and it must be aimed at members of your target audience. Yes, crafting action-forcing language to persuade an audience to your way of thinking is tough work. Which is why you need your first-string varsity writer because s/he must create some very special, corrective language. Words that are not only compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if they are to correct something and shift perception/opinion towards your point of view leading to the behaviors you are targeting.

What will carry your message to the attention of your target audience? Why the communications tactics most likely to reach that group of people, of course. After you run the draft message by your PR people for impact and persuasiveness, you can choose from among dozens that are available to you. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But be sure that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.

Because we all know that a message's believability can depend on the credibility of the means used to deliver it, you may decide to unveil it before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.

Calls for progress reports are a signal that the time has come for you and your PR team to begin a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session can be used again. But this time, you will be watching carefully for signs that the problem perception is being altered in your direction.

Should forward progress slow, you can always speed up matters by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.

Managers who succeed in altering the perception of their key external stakeholders, thus moving their behaviors in the managers' direction, will soon determine the success to which they have become entitled.

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

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