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What I Do
I believe this about public relations.
People act on their own perception of the facts before them, which leads to predictable behaviors about which something can be done. So, when we create, change or reinforce that opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired-action those people whose behaviors affect the organization, the public relations mission is accomplished.
That fundamental premise grew out of many years in the public relations business. A time when I became increasingly appalled at what many general management people believe about public relations, if anything, and how the discipline does or does not fit into their organization's strategic plan.
The result is, I've become a "preacher," but not to public relations practitioners. Rather, I direct my commentary to those general management people who, daily, pursue their goals and objectives largely without the insights, behavioral strategies and sheer power public relations can bring to the table.
Here's what I believe they're missing, i.e., the essentials that flow from the fundamental premise at the top of this article.
Any organization - non-profit, association, business, public entity, including your own -MUST take into account the perceptions held by those external audiences whose behaviors affect your organization, or the behaviors flowing from those perceptions can hurt.
What my commentaries often say to these managers is this: Is it just a matter of "hits?" You know, articles or interviews sold to editors? Is that all there is to public relations?
Or, could there be more to it?
Of course there's more to it!
Why do you want the "hits" in the first place? What are you trying to accomplish?
I believe you want the same thing every other buyer of public relations services wants: to change somebody's behavior in a way that really helps your organization reach its objectives.
So, wouldn't it make more sense to start at the beginning and save tactics like "publicity hits" for that moment when you need those "beasts of burden" to do their thing? Namely, to efficiently carry persuasive messages to a key target audience of yours?
Sure it would.
So let's start by taking a close look at those external target publics. They're so important because how they think and behave can actually determine the success or failure of your business.
Don't believe it? Look at those audiences whose behaviors directly affect the organization's operations, in particular those completely unaware that the organization even exists. Are they likely to buy its products or services?
Look at an external audience where members harbor a serious misconception about the organization. Does this reduce their desire to do business with you?
Look at an external audience some of whose members believe a grossly negative and inaccurate set of facts about the organization. Will those people be first in line to buy its products or services?
Obviously, what your key target audience believes about your organization matters, and matters a lot!
Why not begin by heading-off such a situation by listing those outside groups - those target audiences - in order of how much their behaviors affect your organization?
We'll use #1 on your list as our trial "public."
Start by interacting with that group of people. Of course, if the budget will stand it, you could use a survey firm to gather their feelings, thoughts and perceptions.
Minus such a budget, do it yourself, and with colleagues, by carefully monitoring how these people feel about your organization. When you interact this way, you get to ask a lot of questions and gather a lot of information you really need.
What are you hearing? Misconceptions that need straightening out? Rumors that should not be allowed to fester? Inaccurate beliefs about your products and services that could drive people away from you? Notice other perceptions about you and your organization that need to be altered?
The answers to such questions prepare you to create your public relations goal. In brief, alter, and thus correct, each misconception, or inaccuracy, or rumor. Worthy goals all!
You've made some real progress by monitoring perceptions within your key target audience. You've established your public relations goal, and selected the right strategy to achieve it.
Sad to say, there's a little more work to do in the form of "The Message." Hopefully, this will alter people's inaccurate perceptions about you and the organization.
But it must be carefully written so that it is persuasive and perceived as creditable and believable. And it must speak the truth clearly and with authority.
Now, here is where your "beasts of burden" come in. They are the communications tactics that will carry your newly-minted message from your computer direct to the attention of those key target audience members whose behavior you hope to alter in your direction.
Happily, there are scores of communications tactics awaiting your pleasure. You might use a speech to communicate your message, or letters-to-the-editor, press releases, emails, brochures or face- to-face meetings, and many other tactics.
Sooner or later, you'll wonder if you're making any progress towards your behavioral goal. Of course, you'll monitor local print and broadcast media, but REmonitoring those key audience members by interacting with them all over again is the real ticket.
This time around, you'll be looking for perception and attitude changes hopefully produced by the combination of your persuasive messages and carefully targeted communications tactics. And you'll be asking lots of questions all over again.
If you note considerable movement in opinion in your direction, you may consider your public relations goal as having been achieved.
Should little movement be noted, adjustments to the frequency and quantity of you communications tactics should be made. Your message also should be reviewed for its content and direction, and tested again for effect with a panel of target group members.
Either way, your public relations program is on track and preparing to deliver the key target audience behaviors your business needs to 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 bobkelly@TNI.net.
Robert A. Kelly © 2003.
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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