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Managers, Got a Grip on Your PR?
By Robert A. Kelly

You'll know you have a solid grip on your public relations effort when you avoid communications tactics as a major focus

What are you trying to do with your business, non-profit or association public relations program? Get a little publicity for a service or product? Or, perhaps, you're doing what you really should do, persuade your key external stakeholders to your way of thinking, then move them to take actions that lead to the success of your department, division or subsidiary.

To reach that objective, and get a real grip on your PR effort, you need a model 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.

No small matter because this blueprint will help you redirect the focus of the public relations folks assigned to your unit from communications tactics over to your external audiences in a way that allows you to move ever closer to personal success as a unit manager.

The reason this PR paradigm works is that it requires you as the unit manager to zero in on exactly those people who play a big role in how successful a manager you're going to be - your key external audiences.

The perceptions held by your most important outside audiences are crucial to your success. So meet with your PR crew and hammer out a consensus as to why it's vital to nail down just how your operation is perceived out there in the real world. They'll tell you quick-like that those perceptions almost always result in predictable behaviors that can help you or hurt you.

Which means you need to interact with members of your most important target audience while posing a number of questions. "What do you know about our organization? Have you ever made contact with us? Was it a satisfactory experience? Do you have an opinion about our people, services or products? Do you have a problem with our organization?

By the way, if your budget allows a significant expense, you can retain the services of professional survey people to interview target audience members. Of course your own PR staff is already concerned with perception and behavior matters, so they might lend a hand in this regard.

Those participating in monitoring the perceptions of your key target audience must watch carefully for negative responses to your questions. In particular for untruths, misconceptions, inaccuracies, rumors or false assumptions.

The data collected during the perception monitoring interviews are the ammunition needed to identify the corrective public relations goal. Examples might be, fix the untruth, clarify the misconception, or kill the rumor.

You still need help, however. Without a strategy to tell you how to reach that goal, not much is going to happen. You have a choice of three strategies. You can create perception/ opinion where there may be none, you can change existing perception, or you can reinforce it. But be certain that your new strategy is a natural fit with the public relations goal you selected.

Now, identify your best writer because you must put together the message which will do the heavy lifting when it alters any questionable perceptions among your target audience members. The message must not only be persuasive, but compelling as well. And it should aim for both factual accuracy and believability if it is to do the job. You may also wish to consider a lower profile means for delivering the message - perhaps during a presentation on another matter - so as not to raise eyebrows by using the press release format.

Actually getting your message to the right people - members of your target audience - is not complex. You have a wide selection of communications tactics at your disposal. They include presentations, brochures, newsletters and personal contacts as well as media interviews, articles, open houses and many others. But check carefully that those your select actually do reach people similar to those who make up your target audience.

You need results, as do all managers. And the best way to be certain your new public relations effort is succeeding is to return to perception monitoring mode and ask the same questions all over again. The difference the second time around is, you and your team will be on the lookout for signs that the negatives you discovered are actually being altered, and that your target audience perception is moving in your direction.

Fortunately, you can put things on a faster track by adding more communications tactics, AND increasing certain frequencies.

You'll know you have a solid grip on your public relations effort when you avoid communications tactics as a major focus and, instead, apply your resources to persuading your key external stakeholders to your way of thinking, then move them to take actions that lead to the success of your department, division or subsidiary.



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 bobkelly@TNI.net

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