PR Still A Mystery To Some
Unfortunately, there are managers who define public
relations by its applications. Which explains neither its
underlying strengths nor what PR is all about.
The casual observer is left with a confusion of tactical,
application-oriented definitions of the public relations
function: Is it publicity? Crisis management? Special
events? Reputation management? Promotion? Or a slew
of other tactics in which we engage from time to time?
Which is it? More important, just what lies at the core of
managerial public relations anyway?
I believe the core lies in doing something positive about
the behaviors of those important outside audiences of yours
that most affect your operation.
In other words, create external stakeholder behavior change ?
the kind that leads directly to achieving your managerial
And do so by persuading those key outside folks to your
way of thinking, then help move them to take actions that
allow your department, division or subsidiary to succeed.
Luckily, there?s also a blueprint at the center of public relations
to help you cement that PR core for your own managerial benefit.
And it 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.
And for managers such as you, here?s the type of results that
could emerge. Healthy bounces in show room visits; community
leaders seeking you out; prospects starting to do business with
you; membership applications on the rise; customers making
repeat purchases; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and
joint ventures in the inbox; capital givers or specifying sources
looking your way, and even politicians and legislators
beginning to view you as a key member of the business,
non-profit or association communities.
You also need PR team members who understand that blueprint
and commit themselves to its implementation, starting with
key audience perception monitoring. Let?s face it, your PR
people are already in the perception and behavior business,
so they should be of real use for this initial opinion monitoring
Caveat: you must be certain your public relations people really
believe ? deep down -- 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.
Talk it over with them, especially 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 interchange?
Are you familiar with our services or products and employees?
Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?
While professional survey firms can always be hired to do the
opinion monitoring work, they also can cost big bucks. So,
whether it?s your people or a survey firm asking the questions,
the objective remains the same: identify untruths, false assumptions,
unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other
negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.
The PR goal, obviously, is to do something about the most
serious distortions you discover during your key audience
perception monitoring. Will it be to straighten out that
dangerous misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy?
Or, stop that potentially bloody rumor dead in its tracks?
Truth is, you won?t get there at all without the right strategy
to tell you how to proceed. But keep in mind that there are just
three strategic options available when it comes to doing something
about perception and opinion. Change existing perception, create
perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. The wrong
strategy pick will taste like pepper flakes on your Crème Brulee,
so be sure your new strategy fits well with your new public
relations goal. You wouldn?t want to select ?change? when
the facts dictate a ?reinforce? strategy.
Now it?s time to put together a well-written message and direct
it to members of your target audience. It?s always a challenge
to create an actionable message that will help persuade any
audience to your way of thinking.
You need your best scribes for this one because s/he must build
some very special, corrective language. Words that are not merely compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if
they are to shift perception/opinion towards your point of view
and lead to the behaviors you have in mind.
Once you?ve run draft copy by your PR team, it?s on to the next
selection process -- the communications tactics most likely
to carry your message to the attention of your target audience.
There are scores that are available. From speeches, facility tours,
emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews,
newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But you must
be certain that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks like
your audience members,
By the way, you may wish to avoid ?shouting too loud? and
unveil your message before smaller meetings and presentations
rather than using higher-profile news releases, as the credibility
of any message is fragile and always at stake.
The people around you will start agitating in short order for
progress reports, which signals to you and your PR team to get
going 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. Big difference this
time is that you will be on red alert for signs that the bad news
perception is being altered in your direction.
Incidentally, I?ve always thought it fortunate that such matters
usually can be accelerated simply by adding more communications
tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.
So, at the end of the day, what you 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.
Public relations should no longer be a mystery when the people
you deal with do, in fact, behave suspiciously like everyone
else ? they act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear
about you and your operation. Which means you really have
little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those
perceptions by doing what is necessary to reach and move
those key external audiences of yours to actions you desire.
About the Author: 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.