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March 16, 2005

Which PR? Judge for Yourself
By Bob Kelly

You are a senior business, non-profit or association manager. So, chances are you call the shots for your department, division or subsidiary.

Which means you can make your decisions stick.

Like deciding whether a publicity placement is more important to you than creating external stakeholder behavior change leading directly to achieving your managerial objectives.

Like deciding to do something positive about the behaviors of those important outside audiences of yours that MOST affect your operation instead of concentrating on tactics like videos and brochures.

Or even to persuade those key outside folks to your way of thinking, and move them to take actions that allow your department, division or subsidiary to succeed.

Might be time to expand your view of public relations to emphasize the behaviors of your unit's key outside audiences rather than publicity placements.

Why? For the simple reason that 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. Leaving you little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions (and their follow-on behaviors) by doing what is necessary to reach and move those key external audiences to action.

Fact is, your very own PR blueprint can make the job a lot easier. For example, 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.

Consider the possible result of such activity. Rising membership applications, community leaders beginning to seek you out; customers starting to make repeat purchases, and even prospects starting to do business with you; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; welcome bounces in show room visits; and new approaches by capital givers and specifying sources not to mention politicians and legislators viewing you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.

But who's available to handle the assignment? Your own full-time public relations staff? A few folks assigned by Corporate to your unit? An outside PR agency team? Regardless where they come from, they need to be committed to you, to the PR blueprint and to its implementation, starting with key audience perception monitoring.

By the way, when someone describes him/herself as a public relations person you have no guarantee they've bought the blueprint. Assure yourself that the PR people assigned to your unit really believe why it's SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Make sure they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.

Review the PR blueprint with them, especially your plan for monitoring and gathering 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?

Use professional survey firms in the perception monitoring phases of your program, if your budget will bear the pain. But keep in mind 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.

If you set the right PR goal, you stand a good chance of effectively dealing with the most serious distortions you discovered during your key audience perception monitoring. It could be to straighten out that dangerous misconception, or correct that gross inaccuracy, or stop that potentially fatal rumor dead in its tracks.

Here you select the right strategy, one that tells you how to proceed. Please remember that there are only 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 eggs benedict on your pumpkin pie, 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.

Writing tight and strong is seldom easy. Still, you must write such a strong message and aim it at members of your target audience. Because crafting action-forcing language to persuade an audience to your way of thinking is tough work, 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.

After you run the draft by your PR colleagues for impact and persuasiveness, select the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. There are dozens 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.

As we know, the credibility of a message can depend on how you deliver it. Which is why you may decide to unveil it before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.

You'll recognize calls for progress reports as signals to you and your PR team to get busy on 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. Difference this time is that you will be watching very carefully for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

Should momentum slow, you can always accelerate matters by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies?

So, what you really want the new PR plan to accomplish is to persuade your most important outside stakeholders to your way of thinking, then move them to behave in a way that leads to the success of your department, division or subsidiary.

So your choice between public relations that delivers a print or broadcast pickup, and public relations that creates the kind of external stakeholder behavior change leading directly to achieving your managerial objectives, isn't really a choice at all.

Especially now that you realize you need public relations that really CAN change individual perception and lead to equally changed key outside audience behaviors that help you get your PR money's worth.


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:bobkelly@TNI.net Visit:http://www.prcommentary.com

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