by: Robert A. Kelly
You do if you’re a business, non-profit or association manager with important external stakeholders whose behaviors affect your department, division or subsidiary the most.
In your own best interests, here’s what you’d better be doing about them.
Accept the fact that the right PR actually CAN alter individual perception that leads to the kinds of changed behaviors that can help you succeed.
That confidence will position you to do something positive about those behaviors. Specifically, to create actual behavior change among your key outside audiences which leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.
But is there a roadmap available that will get everyone working towards the same external audience behaviors, and that insures that your organization’s public relations effort stays sharply focused?
There sure is, and the blueprint goes like this: 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.
What sort of results would you expect from such an approach? You could see membership applications on the rise; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; rebounds in showroom visits; enhanced activist group relations, and expanded feedback channels; as well as community service and sponsorship opportunities; not to mention new thoughtleader and special event contacts.
As the effort takes hold, you might see improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies, stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities; prospects starting to work with you; customers making repeat purchases; and even capital givers or specifying sources looking your way.
The people running PR for you – agency, staff or freelance -- really have to be dedicated team members and committed to you, as the senior project manager, to the PR blueprint and its implementation, starting with target audience perception monitoring itself.
Think for a moment just how crucial it is that your most important outside audiences really perceive your operations, products or services in a positive light? Then question your PR people to assure yourself that they buy into that notion wholeheartedly. Be especially careful that they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.
Take the time to go over the PR blueprint in detail with your team. Discuss your plan for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Review 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 interchange? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?
It’s obvious that professional survey people can handle the perception monitoring phases of your program, IF the budget is available. However, 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.
Be careful as you set your public relations goal. You will need one that is well-defined, and one that responds to the aberrations that appeared during your key audience perception monitoring. The new goal could call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or doing something about that damaging rumor.
As night follows day, your new goal will need a strategy to show you how to get there. Fortunately, you will have just three strategic choices for handling a perception or opinion challenge: create perception where there may be none, change the perception, or reinforce it. Unfortunately, a bad strategy pick will taste like sauteed onions on your pecan pie. So be sure the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. For instance, you don’t want to select “change” when the facts dictate a “reinforce” strategy.
Because bringing people’s minds around to your way of thinking is a tough assignment, your PR team must get busy immediately crafting the needed corrective language. Words that are compelling, persuasive and believable AND clear and factual. You must do this if you are to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading to the desired behaviors.
Review your message for impact and persuasiveness with your communications specialists. Then, carefully select the communications tactics most likely to carry your words to the attention of your target audience. You can pick from dozens that are available. 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.
You might introduce your message to smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile tactics such as news releases or talk show appearances. Reason being that the credibility of a message can occasionally depend on its delivery method being acceptable to each audience.
Everyone will want to see progress reports. For you and your PR colleagues, they sound the signal for you and your PR folks to return to the field for a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Using many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session, you must now stay alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
Things not moving fast enough? You can always accelerate matters with more communications tactics and increased frequencies.
Clearly, those important outside audiences constitute market segments that are exclusively yours, and you must do something positive about the behaviors of those outside audiences that MOST affect your organization. Thus, they are segments you will need to persuade to your way of thinking, then move to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed.
Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at <a href="mailto:bobkelly@TNI.net" target=new>mailto:bobkelly@TNI.net</a>. Word count is 1110 including guidelines and resource box.
Robert A. Kelly © 2004.
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