How Public Relations Changes Minds
Public relations changes minds in the process of delivering
what business, non-profit and association managers need
more than almost anything else ? the kind of key stakeholder
behavior change that leads directly to achieving their
It happens when the right kind of public relations alters
individual perception, thus doing something positive about
the behaviors of those outside folks that MOST affect a
Minds end up changed when managers follow a blueprint
something 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 usually accomplished.
Sure, as a manager, your goal is to show a profit for your
business unit, or meet certain expectations of your
association membership, or achieve your non-profit?s
operating objectives. A blueprint like this can make it
clear to you that the right public relations really CAN
alter outside audience perception and lead to the kind of
behaviors that help any manager win.
The payout for the manager can be very satisfying. For
instance, prospects reappearing; customers making repeat
purchases; rebounds in showroom visits; new proposals
for strategic alliances and joint ventures; membership
applications on the rise; new community service and sponsorship
opportunities; enhanced activist group relations, and expanded
feedback channels, not to mention capital givers or specifying
sources looking your way.
But you need a quality PR team behind you, one that
pursues more than special events, brochures and news
releases as you seek your PR money?s worth. The reason
being, you want your most important outside audiences
to really perceive your operations, products or services in a
positive light. So be certain that your PR staff has bought
into the whole effort. Convince yourself that they accept the
reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors
that can help or hurt your unit.
Talk with your public relations people about how you will
gather and monitor 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 how things went? Have you
experienced problems with our people or procedures?
The perception monitoring phases of your program can
always be handled by professional survey people IF the
budget is available. However, you are fortunate that your
own 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.
Now, you?ll need to spend some time considering what
the goal of this activity should be. You need one that
addresses the problems that cropped up during your key
audience perception monitoring. Chances are, it will call
for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or
correcting that gross inaccuracy, or doing something about
that damaging rumor.
Obviously you?ll need the right strategy to show you how
to reach that goal. But you have just three strategic choices
when it comes to handling a perception or opinion challenge:
create perception where there may be none, change the
perception, or reinforce it. Unfortunately, selecting a bad
strategy will taste like mint sauce on your eggs Benedict,
so be certain the new strategy fits well with your new public
relations goal. For example, you don?t want to select ?change?
when the facts dictate a ?reinforce? strategy.
Preparing the right, corrective language is a must. Especially
when you need to persuade an audience to your way of
thinking. You need words that are compelling, persuasive,
believable AND clear and factual. This really is a must if
you are to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards
your point of view, leading to your desired behaviors. So,
meet again with your communications specialists and review
your message for impact and persuasiveness.
Here, you need vehicles certain to carry your words to the
attention of your target audience, so you select the
communications tactics most likely to reach them. Happily
there are dozens of available tactics. From speeches,
facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings,
media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many
others. Just be sure that the tactics you pick are known to
reach folks just like your audience members.
Here?s an alert: because the credibility of your message can
depend on its delivery method, consider introducing it to
smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile
communications such as news releases or talk show appearances.
In due course, the subject of progress reports will come up
strongly suggesting that it?s probably time 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,
stay alert for signs that your communications tactics have
worked and that the negative perception is being altered in
If you feel the program is dragging, things can always be
accelerated with a broader selection of communications
tactics AND increased frequencies.
As your program inevitably changes individual perception,
and thus minds among your important target audiences, you
will, just as inevitably, create behavior change among those
key outside audiences that leads directly to achieving your
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.