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A Great Way to Do PR
By Robert A. Kelly

If you really want premium public relations results, you must use a broader, more comprehensive and workable public relations blueprint to alter your key, external audience perceptions.

As a business, non-profit or association manager trying to get a bang for your PR buck, you could pretty much concentrate on simple print and broadcast mentions or, for that matter, the whole basket of tactical public relations weaponry including old favorites like high-visibility speech appearances and newsworthy special events.

But if you really want premium public relations results, you must use a broader, more comprehensive and workable public relations blueprint to alter your key, external audience perceptions - perceptions that lead to the changed behaviors you'll need to reach your managerial goals.

In short, you had best take steps to persuade those key external stakeholders with the greatest impacts on your organization to your way of thinking, then move them to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed.

The PR blueprint is the best place to start: 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.

Publicity tactics, of course, have their role in the blueprint, but they are not the be-all or end-all of the public relations plan, nor should they be.

Savor for a moment premium results like those mentioned above. Prospects starting to do business with you, and customers starting to make repeat purchases; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; welcome bounces in show room visits; rising membership applications, and community leaders beginning to seek you out; new approaches by capital givers and specifying sources, not to mention politicians and legislators viewing you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities

But who will do the work such results demand? People assigned by the corporate office to your unit? Possibly your full-time public relations staff? Or even an outside PR agency team? No matter who they are, they must be committed to you, to the PR blueprint and to its implementation, starting with key audience perception
monitoring.

Sad to say, simply because someone describes him/herself as a public relations person doesn't mean they've accepted PR as you understand it. So by all means make certain the public relations people assigned to your unit honestly believe why it's SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Make sure they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.

Sharpen your plan - your blueprint -- for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Questions like these: how much do you know about us? Have you met our chief executive or other senior managers? Have you had other contacts with our staff and were you pleased with the interchange? How much do you know about our services or products and employees?  Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

Use professional survey firms in the perception monitoring phases of your program if you can afford them. But your PR people 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.

Here, it's time to establish your PR goal, one that aims to do something about the worst distortions you turned up during your key audience perception monitoring. It could be to straighten out that dangerous misconception, correct that gross inaccuracy, or stop that potentially fatal rumor dead in its tracks.

Now, with the PR goal established, select the right strategy, one that tells you how to proceed. But keep in mind that there are only three strategic options available to you when it comes to handling a perception and opinion  challenge. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. Since the wrong strategy pick will taste like onion gravy on your raspberries, be certain the new strategy fits comfortably with your new public relations goal. You don't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a "reinforce" strategy.

With that homework complete, prepare a clear message and aim it at members of your target audience. Because crafting action-forcing language to persuade an audience to your way of thinking is hard work, you need your best writer because s/he must create some very special, corrective language. Words that are not only compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if they are to correct something and shift perception/opinion towards your point of view leading to the behaviors you are targeting.

Run it by your PR team for impact and persuasiveness. Then, select the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention 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. But be sure that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.

Rather than using higher-profile news releases, since a message is often dependent for its credibility on the means used to deliver it, you may decide to unveil it before smaller meetings and presentations

When questions about progress are heard, you and your PR team should get busy on a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. And remember to use many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session. Difference this time is that you will be alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

If momentum flags, you can always accelerate matters by adding more communications tactics and increase their frequencies.

When all is said and done, you want your new PR blueprint to persuade your most important outside stakeholders to your way of thinking, then move them to behave in a way that leads to the success of your department, division or subsidiary.  Period.

And, when you think about it, we are fortunate indeed that our key stakeholder audiences behave like everyone else - they act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about you and your operation. Leaving you little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions by doing what is necessary to reach and move your key external audiences to actions you desire.


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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