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How Real PR Works
By Robert A. Kelly

For some, public relations works well when their news release or special event winds up in the newspaper or on the radio.

For some, public relations works well when their news release or special event winds up in the newspaper or on the radio.

For others, public relations works best when it does something positive about the behaviors of outside audiences that affect their operations the most. I like this approach because a business, non-profit or association manager can use the fundamental premise of public relations to deliver key stakeholder behavior change - the kind that leads directly to achieving a manager's objectives.

What fundamental premise of public relations am I talking about here, and how can you put it to good use persuading those important outside folks to your way of thinking, then move them to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed?

"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."

A simple plan that gets everyone working towards the same external audience behaviors insuring that your public relations effort stays on track.

By the way, I'm talking about changes in behavior like welcome bounces in showroom visits, community leaders beginning to seek you out; membership applications on the rise, customers starting to make repeat purchases; organizations proposing strategic alliances and joint ventures; waves of prospects starting to do business with you; new inquiries about strategic alliances; politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; higher employee retention rates and even capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way.

Meet with your PR team and take the time to list those outside audiences of yours who behave in ways that help or hinder you in achieving your objectives. Then prioritize them by how badly they impact you, and start working with the target audience that heads your list.

First challenge? You're not certain just how most members of that key outside audience perceive your organization.

Because there's a good chance you can't afford professional survey work, you and your PR colleagues (don't worry, they'll be quite familiar with perception and behavior matters) must monitor those perceptions yourself.

Ask members of that outside audience questions like "Have you ever had contact with anyone from our organization? Was it a satisfactory experience? Are you familiar with our services or products?" Stay alert to negative statements, especially evasive or hesitant replies, and especially for false assumptions, untruths, misconceptions, inaccuracies and potentially damaging rumors. Because experience shows they usually lead to negative behaviors, the objective is to correct any of the above you encounter.

Now, you're ready to select the specific perception to be altered, and that becomes your public relations goal.

Of course a PR goal without a strategy to show you HOW to reach it, is like a cheeseburger without the ketchup. That's why you now pick one of three strategies designed to create perception or opinion where there may be none, or change existing perception, or reinforce it. The challenge here (a small one) is to insure that the goal and its strategy match each other. You wouldn't want to select "change existing perception" when current perception is just right suggesting a "reinforce" strategy.

Flexing your PR muscle, it's your writer's turn to prepare a compelling message carefully designed to alter your key target audience's perception, as called for by your public relations goal.

Remember that it may be advisable to blend in your corrective message with a presentation, or a newsworthy announcement of a new product, service or employee, which may lend more credibility by not overemphasizing the correction.

Clarity is the watchword with regard to what perception needs clarification or correction, and why. Your facts must be truthful and your position must be logically explained and believable if it is to hold the attention of members of that target audience, and actually move perception in your direction. In other words, your message must be compelling.

Now you select your communications tactics, the "beasts of burden" you will harness to carry your persuasive new thoughts to the attention of your outside target audience.

Your potential tactics list is ample, to say the least. It includes letters-to-the-editor, brochures, press releases and speeches. Or, you might select radio and newspaper interviews, personal contacts, facility tours or customer briefings. There are scores available with the only selection requirement being that those you choose have a record of reaching people just like your target audience members.

Before long, questions will be raised as to how much progress is being made. By which time, you'll be hard at work remonitoring target audience member perceptions. Using questions similar to those used during your earlier monitoring session, you will now look carefully for indications that audience perceptions are beginning to move in the direction you have in mind.

By adding more communications tactics, increasing their frequencies or fine tuning your message, you can always move things along at a faster clip.

Leaving tactics to do what they do best, carry messages, what should come first is an aggressive public relations plan like that outlined above that targets key stakeholder behavior change leading directly to achieving your department, division or subsidiary objectives.

Bob Kelly, a public relations consultant, was director of public relations for Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-Public Relations, Texaco Inc.; VP-Public Relations, Olin Corp.;VP-Public Relations, Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of communications, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press secretary, The White House. Contact Bob Kelly by email at

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