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Here's the obvious core of this approach: persuade your most important outside audiences 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 prevail.
The right action plan - the right blueprint - helps you to achieve that kind of success. And it does so by getting everyone working towards the same external audience behaviors. For example: 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.
And look at what might happen. A nice jumpup in show room traffic; local thoughtleaders seeking your opinion on key local issues; newly interested prospects calling you; growing numbers of membership applications; the repeat purchase rate increasing; new inquiries about strategic alliances and joint ventures; capital givers or specifying sources making inquiries; and even politicians and legislators viewing you as a leading figure in the business community.
Caveat: your PR people are already in the perception and behavior business, so they should be of real use for your initial opinion monitoring project. But you must be certain your public relations people really believe - deep down -- 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.
While reviewing your PR plan with them, talk about how you will monitor and gather perceptions by questioning members of you most important outside audiences. Questions like these: how much do you know about our organization? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? Are you familiar with our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?
While professional survey firms can always be hired to do the opinion monitoring work, they also can cost big bucks. So, whether it's your people or a survey firm asking the questions, the objective remains the same: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.
Clearly, you must do something about the most serious distortions you discovered during your key audience perception monitoring. Will it be to straighten out that dangerous misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy? Or, stop that potentially damaging rumor dead in its tracks?
We all know you won't get there at all without the right strategy to tell you how to proceed. But remember that there are just three strategic options available when it comes to doing something about perception and opinion. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. The wrong strategy pick will taste like sour cream on your spaghetti, so be sure your new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. You wouldn't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a "reinforce" strategy.
Now it's time to put together a well-written message and direct it to members of your target audience. It's always a challenge to create an actionable message that will help persuade any audience to your way of thinking.
You need your best scribes for this one because s/he must build some very special, corrective language. Words that are not merely compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if they are to shift perception/opinion towards your point of view and lead to the behaviors you have in mind.
Once you've run draft copy by your PR team, it's on to the next selection process -- the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. There are scores that are available. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But you must be certain that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks like your audience members.
Actually, you may wish to avoid "shouting too loud" and unveil your message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases, as the credibility of any message is fragile and always at stake.
It won't be long before voices will be raised about progress reports, which will be your signal for you and your PR team to get going on a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. You'll want to use many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session. Big difference this time is that you will be on red alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
It seems lucky for us that such matters usually can be accelerated simply by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.
Yes, you as a business, non-profit or association manager become empowered when you 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. Pure and simple.
Put another way, when your key external stakeholders start behaving suspiciously like everyone else - acting upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about you and your operation -- you really have little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions by doing what is necessary to reach and move those important outside 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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