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What it comes down to is this. Your public relations effort must involve more than news releases, special events and brochures if you really want to get your money's worth. The right PR really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors that help you succeed.
Here's a public relations blueprint that functions like your own PR Global Positioning System: 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 your organization the most, the public relations mission is accomplished.
There's no end to the kinds of results that can flow from that fundamental premise. For example, prospects starting to work with you as well as customers making repeat purchases; improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies; capital givers or specifying sources making inquiries. And even stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities.
And don't rule out such results as enhanced activist group relations, and expanded feedback channels; rebounds in showroom visits; community service and sponsorship opportunities; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; membership applications on the rise, and almost certainly, new thoughtleader and special event contacts.
Because your most important outside audiences really must come to regard your services, operations or products in a positive way, every member of your PR support team. A variety of results can flow from this managerial approach to public relations. It can generate follow-on activity like customers making repeat purchases; stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities; improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies; prospects starting to work with you, and even capital givers or specifying sources looking your way.
You can even see results such as community service and sponsorship opportunities; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; enhanced activist group relations, and expanded feedback channels; rebounds in showroom visits, and membership applications on the rise, not to mention new thoughtleader and special event contacts.
Because you obviously want your most important outside audiences to regard your services and operations or products in a positive manner, every member of your PR support team must be sold on what you are doing. Be especially cautious that they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.
Go over the PR blueprint with them, in particular the plan for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Questions like these: how much do you know about our organization? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?
As you might suspect, the perception monitoring part of the effort can be handled by professional survey people IF the budget is there. However, you can always use your PR people who 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, you need to set your public relations goal, one that addresses the aberrations that cropped up during your key audience perception monitoring. No doubt your new goal will strive to straighten out that dangerous misconception,or correct that gross inaccuracy, or do something about that damaging rumor.
Every goal needs a strategy to show you how to get there. There are three strategic choices when it comes to doing something about a perception or opinion challenge: create perception where there may be none, change the perception, or reinforce it. By the way, if you select the wrong strategy, it will taste like horseradish sauce on your brownies. So be certain the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. For example, you don't want to select "change" when the reality dictates a "reinforce" strategy.
Since there is never any rest for the weary, you must now task your PR team to prepare some carefully targeted, corrective language. Language that is compelling, persuasive and believable AND clear and factual. There is little choice here. You must correct a damaging perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading to the desired behaviors.
Now, work with your communications specialists to select the communications tactics most likely to carry your words 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.
Because the credibility of a message can depend on how it's delivered, you might introduce it to smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile tactics such as news releases or talk show appearances.
When you no longer can resist calls for a progress report, you will have to respond by returning to the field with your PR team for a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Using many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session, you'll now be alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
In the event the program loses momentum, you can always accelerate matters by using more communications tactics along with increased frequencies.
Again as the kids say, it IS cool when public relations gives you a choice, one that lets you alter individual perception in a way that results in changed behaviors that lead directly to your organization's success.
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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