You may be a business, non-profit, public entity or
association manager who has always viewed public
relations through a tactical lens (press releases, broadcast
plugs, brochures, plant tours, etcetera). In which case, you
might react with shock and awe at an approach to public
relations that instead, combines a sound strategy with
effective communications tactics leading directly to the
bottom line – perception altered, behavior modified,
As you hopefully switch from a tactical approach to one
that emphasizes a strategic plan to achieve your managerial
objectives, you may be surprised to find yourself persuading
your key outside audiences to your way of thinking, then
moving them to take actions that allow your department,
group, division or subsidiary to succeed.
The public relations approach you choose will decide the
outcome of your program. I suggest these guidelines for
your serious consideration: 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.
The product of all that work could look like this. Improved
relations with government agencies and legislative bodies;
a rebound in showroom visits; membership applications on
the rise; new thoughtleader and special event contacts;
capital givers or specifying sources looking your way; new
proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; fresh
community service and sponsorship opportunities;
prospects starting to work with you; customers making
repeat purchases; and even stronger relationships with the
educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities.
Let’s talk about your PR people. Will you use your regular
public relations staff? People assigned to you from above?
Or will it be PR agency staff? Nevertheless, they must be
committed to you as the senior project manager, and to the
PR blueprint starting with key audience perception monitoring.
Spend as much time as needed to satisfy yourself that team
members really believe that it’s crucially important to
know how your most important outside audiences perceive
your operations, products or services. Be certain they buy
the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors
that can help or hurt your unit.
Another time investment occurs when you review with staff
your plan for monitoring and gathering perceptions by
questioning members of your most important outside
audiences. Questions like these: how much do you know
about our organization? Have you had prior contact with
us and were you pleased with the exchange? How much
do you know about our services or products and
employees? Have you experienced problems with our
people or procedures?
Professional survey counsel will always be available
for the perception monitoring phases of your program, if
the budget can bear the cost. But 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.
The final product of your Q&A will highlight the need
to do something about the most serious distortions you
discovered during your key audience perception
monitoring. Of course this will identify your public
relations goal and it might call for straightening out
that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross
inaccuracy, or stopping that potentially fatal rumor.
Close on the heels of goal-setting will always be strategy-
setting. The simple reason is, if you are to be successful,
you’re going to need a solid strategy backing up that
new goal, a strategy that clearly indicates to you and
the PR staff how to proceed. But do 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. The wrong
strategy pick will taste like peanut butter croutons in
your turtle soup. So, be certain the new strategy fits
well with your new public relations goal. It goes without
saying that you don’t want to select “change” when the
facts dictate a reinforce” strategy.
At this point in the sequence, you’re going to have to
prepare a powerful corrective message to be aimed at
members of your target audience. Your PR folks must
come up with words that are not only compelling,
persuasive and believable, but clear and factual. Only
in this way will you be able to correct a perception by
shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading
to the behaviors you are targeting.
Now we buckle down and select the communications
tactics most likely to carry that message to the attention
of your target audience. There are scores of available
tactics. From speeches, facility tours, emails and
brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews,
newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But
be sure that those you pick are known to reach folks
just like your audience members.
Because the believeability of a message can actually
depend on the perception of its delivery method, you
may decide to kick off the corrective message by
unveiling the message before smaller gatherings rather
than using higher-profile tactics such as news releases.
To gather the comparative data you need to produce
progress reports, you and your PR people should plan on
going back to the field. You’ll end up using many of
the same questions used in the first benchmark session.
Only this time, you will be watching very carefully for
signs that the bad news perception is being altered in
Just in case things slow down, better be prepared to
accelerate matters with more communications tactics
and increased frequencies.
Fact of the matter is, what you have done here is move
beyond tactics like special events, brochures, broadcast
plugs and press releases to achieve the very best public
relations has to offer – perception altered, behavior
modified, employer/client satisfied.
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, public
entity and association managers about using the fundamental
premise of public relations to achieve their operating objectives.
He has authored over 250 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.