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Why Do You Want PR?
By Robert A. Kelly


To get someone's name in the newspaper or a product mention on a radio talk show?

If that's all you expect, fine. But that response tells me that, as a business, non-profit or association manager, you may have overlooked an important reality: people act on their own perception of the facts, leading to predictable behaviors about which something can be done on your behalf.

And you may be compounding that error by failing to insist that your department, division or subsidiary PR people make this very special effort: create, change or reinforce the perceptions of those external audiences whose behaviors really DO impact your unit.

If true, it means you don't have a proactive public relations plan that targets the kind of stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your operating objectives.

Still, I'll bet you'd like to do everything you can to help your unit's PR team persuade your important outside stakeholders to your way of thinking. Especially so when such a program works to move those stakeholders to behaviors that lead to the success of YOUR department and YOUR programs.

Well, there's still time to fix things.

Sit down with the public relations people assigned to your unit and make certain the whole team buys into why it's so important to know how your outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Be sure they accept the reality that perceptions usually morph into behaviors that can hurt your unit.

Explore with them how you will monitor and gather perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audience: how much do you know about our organization? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? How much do you know about our services or products and people? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

Of course, you can always engage survey pros to round up these data for you, but that can be expensive. Besides, remember that your very own PR team is already in the perception and behavior game and could be of use for this opinion monitoring project.

Regardless of who interacts with members of your target audience, questioners must stay alert to false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and untruths.

Here you must be cautious because the perception information you gather helps you set a specific public relations goal. For example, clarify the misconception, spike that rumor, or correct the false assumption.

You pursue that goal by picking the right strategy from the three choices available to you. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. Be certain, however, that the strategy you choose is an obvious fit with your new public relations goal.

The question now becomes, what will you say to members of your key target audience who harbor the offending perception, to help persuade them to your way of thinking?

Select your PR team's best writer because s/he must prepare a very special, corrective message. One that is not only compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if it is to shift perception/opinion towards your point of view and lead to the behaviors you have in mind.

Happily, the next step is easy. You select communications tactics to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. Making certain that the tactics you select have a record of reaching folks like the members of your target audience, you can pick from dozens that are available. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others.

Remember that the method of communication often affects the credibility of the message. So you may wish to deliver it in small getogethers like meetings and presentations rather than through a higher-profile media announcement.

Others will soon clamor for signs of progress, and you'll want to demonstrate such results. And that means a second perception monitoring session with members of your target audience. Using many of the same questions as in your first benchmark session, you will now be on alert for signs that the offending perception is being altered in your direction.

Fortunately, you can always speed things up by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.

You'll know exactly why you wanted to apply proactive public relations when you sharpen your focus on the very groups of outside people who play a major role in just how successful a manager you will be - your key external stakeholders.

Especially when you follow through with a workable plan that helps you persuade those important outside stakeholders to your way of thinking, then moves them to take actions that lead to the success of your department, division or subsidiary.

As comedian Jackie Gleason used to say, "How sweet it is!"



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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