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PR: Am I Getting a Good Deal?
You are getting a good deal when you accept the fact that the right PR really CAN alter individual perception and lead to the changed behaviors you need.
Especially when you recognize that people really DO act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about your operations, and about you as a manager. Meaning you have little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions by reaching and moving those key external audiences of yours to actions you desire.
Thus, you are certainly getting a good deal when your business, non-profit or association PR investment creates behavior change among those important outside audiences that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives. However, you'll be able to accomplish this only after persuading those key outside folks to your way of thinking, then moving them to take actions that allow your department, division or subsidiary to succeed.
Obviously, these managers are doing something positive about the behaviors of those important outside audiences of theirs that MOST affect their operations.
Underlying such efforts is the fundamental premise of public relations: 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.
Public relations helps business, non-profit and association managers achieve their managerial objectives with outcomes like these. New proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; rebounds in showroom visits; customers making repeat purchases; stronger relationships with educational, labor, financial and healthcare interests; enhanced activist group relations; new membership applications; capital givers and specifying sources looking their way, as well as improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies; new thoughtleader and special event contacts; and expanded feedback channels.
Like most managers, you want your most important outside audiences to view your operations, products or services in the most positive light. So, you need to be certain that your PR staff accepts the fact that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.
Discuss with your PR folks 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?
Yes, if necessary, the perception monitoring phases of your program can be assigned to professional survey people to handle, IF the budget is available. If that's not the case, you can depend on your own PR people who 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.
Obviously, problems that surfaced during your first perception monitoring session, will identify your public relations goal. Which should shoot to straighten out that dangerous misconception, or correct that gross inaccuracy, or do something about that wretched rumor.
While you can't have a public relations goal without a strategy to tell you how to reach it, fact is, 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. Of course, picking the wrong strategy will taste like seaweed on your popcorn, 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.
At this point, because the structure of your corrective message is crucial, we start the search for words that compel and persuade. Above all, they must be believable AND clear and factual if they are to persuade an audience to your way of thinking. But a must if you are to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading to the behaviors you desire. Take the time to review your message with the PR staff for its impact and persuasiveness.
Here you get to pick those communications tactics most likely to attract the attention of your target audience. Fortunately, you can pick from dozens of available techniques. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. Just be very sure that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.
Because the very credibility of your message can depend on the way you deliver it, you might introduce it to smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile communications such as news releases or talk show appearances.
In due course, you can expect you and your PR folks will move back to the field for a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Same questions used in the first benchmark session, will do the trick again. But you must stay alert for signs that your communications tactics have worked and that the negative perception is being altered the way you want it to be altered.
If things slow down, you can always accelerate matters with a broader selection of communications tactics AND increased frequencies.
Public relation's single most important contribution to a business, non-profit or association manager is building the resolve to do something positive about the behaviors of those important outside audiences that most affect their operations.
And that can only be effective when you, the manager in charge, has accepted the fact that the right PR really can alter individual perception and lead to those changed behaviors you need.
Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at bobkelly@TNI.net.
Robert A. Kelly © 2004.
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.
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