by: Robert A. Kelly
Like human nature over time, the power of good public relations remains the same.
Whether you are a manager working for a business, a non-profit or an association, at some point, you will want, or need to create outside stakeholder behavior change – the kind that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.
Fortunately, you can get that job done by doing something positive about the behaviors of those external audiences that MOST affect your organization. And do so by persuading those important outside folks to your way of thinking, and moving them to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed.
Fact is, your public relations push must involve more than special events, brochures and news releases if you really want to get your money’s worth.
The fundamental premise of public relations says as much when it highlights the reality that 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.
That premise, that blueprint, really promises results. >From new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; rebounds in showroom visits, membership applications on the rise; community service and sponsorship opportunities, to capital givers or specifying sources looking your way; enhanced activist group relations, and expanded feedback channels; not to mention new thoughtleader and special event contacts.
Even, conceivably, results like stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities; prospects starting to work with you; customers making repeat purchases, and improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies.
That’s a lot of results from even a high-impact blueprint.
It almost goes without saying that your PR crew – agency or staff – must be committed to you as the senior project manager, to the PR blueprint and its implementation, starting with target audience perception monitoring.
Be wary of PR people who describe themselves as “totally on board the program.” That doesn’t mean they’ve bought into the whole effort. Convince yourself that your team members honestly believe why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Assure yourself that they buy the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.
Then, take time to go over the PR blueprint in detail with your PR team, especially the 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? 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 would be ideal, of course, to use professional survey counsel to handle the perception monitoring phases of your program, if the budget is available. 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.
At this juncture, you require a public relations goal to aim for as you address the bumps that showed up during your key audience perception monitoring. And that goal could be to straighten out that dangerous misconception, or correct that gross inaccuracy, or stop that potentially fatal rumor cold.
But don’t try it without a strategy to show you how to get there. There are only three strategic options available to you when it comes to handling a perception or opinion challenge. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. The wrong strategy pick will taste like hollandaise sauce on your cornflakes, so be certain the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. You certainly don’t want to select “change” when the facts dictate a “reinforce” strategy.
The truth is that persuading an audience to your way of thinking is plain, hard work. Which is why your PR team must create just the right, corrective language. 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 want.
Get the input of your communications specialists as they review your message for impact and persuasiveness. Then, sharpen it one more time, and 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.
Remember the old saw about the credibility of a message depending on its delivery method. You might consider unveiling it in presentations before smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile tactics such as news releases. When the moment for doing a progress report arrives, it will sound the alert for you and your PR team to get back out in the field and start work 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. Only this time, you’ll be watching very carefully for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
And for those among us who are just plain impatient, you can always move things along at a faster clip with more communications tactics and increased frequencies.
The reason the same old, same old PR is still tops is that it continues to focus sharply on those key external audiences that most affect your organization, and you as a manager. And it does something positive about them by persuading those key folks to your way of thinking, and moving them to take actions that help you achieve your managerial objectives.
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 1155 including guidelines and resource box.
Robert A. Kelly © 2004.
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