A single issue – for example, a potentially dangerous,
unattended perception among a key outside audience
– can spread like wildfire nudging ANY business,
non-profit, public entity or association closer to
failure than success. Remember, it’s what people
BELIEVE to be true – rather than the truth itself –
that too often defines the public relations challenge.
Why the top of the head actually hurts just thinking
about a public relations speed bump like that!
It also cries out for a sound public relations strategy
combined with effective communications tactics
leading directly to the bottom line – perception
altered, behaviors modified, employer/client satisfied.
But how do we get there?
By employing public relations activity that creates
first perception, then behavior change within that key
outside audience. And I mean behavior change that
leads directly to achieving managerial objectives.
It’s not easy, but as a manager, you can do it if
you accept the fact that the right PR really CAN
alter individual perception and lead to those changed
behaviors you need. Especially if you follow up by
doing something positive about the behaviors of
those important outside audiences of yours that
MOST affect your operation.
You can take your best shot at it by creating the kind
of external stakeholder behavior change that leads
directly to achieving your managerial objectives. But
only when you persuade those key outside folks to your
way of thinking, and then move them to take actions
that allow your department, group, division or subsidiary
You’ll be glad to know that this approach comes
complete with a blueprint showing you how to manage
this kind of public relations. 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 usually is
Here’s a reality that will come crashing in on you as you
start work on this project. Obviously, you will need a lot
more than news releases, brochures, broadcast plugs and
fun-filled special events to get a satisfactory return on
your PR investment. Among the results business, non-
profit, public entity and association managers can expect
are renewed interest from your key external audiences,
new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures;
rebounds in showroom visits; membership applications
on the rise; new community service and sponsorship
opportunities; and even new thoughtleader and special
With the passage of time, you will notice such customers
making repeat purchases; prospects reappearing; stronger
relationships with the educational, labor, financial and
healthcare communities; improved relations with
government agencies and legislative bodies, and perhaps
even capital givers or specifying sources looking your way.
Be sure that your PR staff is really on board for the whole
effort because you want your key outside audiences to really
perceive your operations, products or services in a positive
light. Reassure yourself that your people accept the basic
truth that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that
can help or hurt your unit.
Take the time from your busy day to go over the plan, the
blueprint in detail with your staff, especially regarding how
you will gather and monitor perceptions 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 how things went? Have
you experienced problems with our people or procedures?
Fortunately, your PR people are also in the perception
and behavior business and can pursue the same objective
as the professional survey firms might were they to
handle the perception monitoring phases of your program:
identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors,
inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative
perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.
Setting your public relations goal in concrete carries
with it the responsibility to address the problems that
appeared during your key audience perception monitoring.
Probably, your new goal will call for straightening out
that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross
inaccuracy, or doing something about that awful rumor.
But this raises a knotty question: how do you plan to
reach that goal? You have just three strategic choices
when it comes to dealing with a perception or opinion
challenge: create perception where there may be none,
change the perception, or reinforce it. Unfortunately,
selecting a bad strategy will taste like gooseberry
preserves on your salt cod. 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.
We’re all painfully aware that how you structure your
corrective message is crucial because persuading an
audience to your way of thinking is awfully hard work.
Particularly so when you’re looking for words that are
compelling, persuasive, believable AND clear and
factual. Hard work, but a must if you are to
correct a perception by shifting opinion towards your
point of view, leading to the desired behaviors. Review
your message with your communications specialists
for its impact and persuasiveness.
You can pick from dozens of available tactics to carry
your words to the attention of your target audience, but
you need to select the precise communications tactics
most likely to reach them. From speeches, facility tours,
emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media
interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many
others. Be darn certain that the tactics you pick are known
to reach folks just like your audience members.
Another PR fact of life is that the credibility of your message
can depend on how you deliver it. So, try introducing it to
smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile
communications such as news releases or talk show
appearances. Before long, you’ll need to produce a progress
report, which means it’s probably time for you and your PR
folks to get back out in the field for a second perception
monitoring session with members of your external audience.
You can use the same questions used in the first benchmark
session, but now you must stay alert for signs that your
communications tactics have worked and that the negative
perception is being altered in your direction.
I know that things don’t always move fast enough for me, and
I suspect the same may be true of you. If you’re caught in a
slowdown, matters can always be accelerated with a broader
selection of communications tactics AND increased frequencies.
So that biggest PR speed bump of all – a potentially dangerous,
unattended perception among a key external audience – really
CAN spread like wild fire and nudge any business, non-profit,
public entity or association closer to failure than success.
Only thing standing between you and such a disaster is your
own resolve as a manager to do something positive about the
behaviors of those important outside audiences of yours that
MOST affect your operation.
Create the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that
leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives. And do
so by persuading those key outside folks to your way of thinking,
by moving them to take actions that allow your department,
group, division or subsidiary to succeed.
Please feel free to publish this article in your ezine,
newsletter, offline publication or website. Only
requirement: you must use the Robert A. Kelly byline
and resource box. Robert A. Kelly © 2006.
Bob Kelly counsels and writes for business, non-profit and
association managers about using the fundamental premise of public
relations to achieve their operating objectives. He has authored
245 articles on the subject which are listed at EzineArticles.com, click
Expert Author, click Robert A. Kelly. He has been DPR, Pepsi-Cola
Co.; AGM-PR, Texaco Inc.; VP-PR, Olin Corp.; VP-PR, Newport
News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of communications, 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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