PR? Why?

Well, for starters, because good public relations can alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors among your key outside audiences. And that can help business, non-profit and association managers like you achieve your managerial objectives.

But remember to let the PR tacticians handle the special events, brochures and press releases. As a professional manager with public relations reporting to you, you have more important things to do.

Like, for instance, planning to do something positive about the behaviors of those key external audiences of yours that most affect your operation. Especially when you persuade those important outside people to your way of thinking, then help move them to take actions that allow your department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.

Here's a path you might follow as you put your public relations action plan in play: 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.

What an approach along those lines can do, is help you avoid an over-concentration on those tactical brochures, press releases and special events, and focus your resources instead on those key, all-important, outside groups of people.

And what might you expect in return? Among other results, customers making repeat purchases; new approaches by capital givers and specifying sources; positive bounces in show room visits; rising membership applications; community leaders beginning to seek you out; prospects starting to do business with you; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; not to mention politicians and legislators viewing you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.

Just who will do the work this implies, should be an early concern. Specialists from a public relations agency? People assigned to your operation? Your own public relations staff? However, regardless of where they come from, they need to be committed to you and your PR plan beginning with key audience perception monitoring.

During early conversations with PR staff, you need to be certain that those assigned to you are clear on why it's vital to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Hopefully, they've already accepted the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.

The sooner you go over with them how you plan to proceed, the better, especially 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?

If money is in the budget, don't hesitate to use professional survey firms in the perception monitoring phases of your program. And 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.

Your new PR goal will address the worst distortions discovered during your key audience perception monitoring, and probably call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or stopping that potentially troublesome rumor.

But identifying the right strategy is the real key. This refers to a strategy that tells you how to get to where you want to be, and there are just three strategic options 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. Since the wrong strategy pick will taste like banana-mango ketchup on your canteloupe, 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.

Because crafting action-forcing language to persuade an audience to your way of thinking really IS hard work, you need your first-string varsity writer to create some very special, corrective language and aim it at members of your target audience. 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.

The job now is to select the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. This can be done after the draft is reviewed by your PR folks for impact and persuasiveness. There are dozens of tactics 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.

For better or worse, a message's believability can rest on the credibility of the vehicle used to deliver it. So, you may decide to introduce it before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.

Calls for progress reports are an early warning for you that it's time for a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Actually, most of the 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. And that's real progress!

But, of course, you can lose momentum. Should this occur, you can always speed up the program by adding more communications tactics, and increasing their frequencies.

Why public relations? An easy question for the professional manager. Because it's crucial that you achieve your managerial objectives, you must alter individual perception in a way that leads to changed behaviors among your key outside audiences, thus insuring the success of your operation.

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] Word count is 1495 including guidelines and resource box. 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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