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Things are pleasant for many business managers when their public relations people deliver newspaper and talk show mentions, informative brochures and videos, and special events that attract a lot of people.
But things could be much more pleasant for those managers if their PR teams were to deliver the kind of behavior change among their key outside audiences that leads directly to achieving their managerial objectives. And, by so doing, persuade their most important outside audiences to their way of thinking, moving those folks to take actions that help the managers' department, division or subsidiary succeed.
Put another way, the question managers really face is this: are you simply looking for publicity, or a way to do something positive about the behaviors of those external audiences of yours that MOST affect your organization?
Before you answer that, here are two realities you might want to keep in mind: 1) the right PR really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors that help you succeed, and 2), your public relations effort must involve more than good times, booklets and press releases if you really want to get your money's worth.
For example, people really do 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.
There's no end to the results that recipe can generate: prospects starting to work with you; customers making repeat purchases; stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities; improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies, and even capital givers or specifying sources looking your way
Once this approach takes hold, you could even see results such as new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; rebounds in showroom visits; membership applications on the rise; community service and sponsorship opportunities; enhanced activist group relations, and expanded feedback channels, not to mention new thoughtleader and special event contacts.
That's a fair amount of results from even a high-impact blueprint like this one. Which means your PR crew - agency or staff - must be committed to you, as the senior project manager, and to your PR blueprint starting with target audience perception monitoring.
We can agree that it's crucially important that your most important outside audiences really perceive your operations, products or services in a positive light. So assure yourself that your PR staff buys this approach. And be especially careful that they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.
Go over the blueprint with the whole PR
group, especially the plan for monitoring and gathering perceptions
by questioning members of your most important outside audiences.
Questions along these lines: 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
behaviors you won't like one little bit.
Now you'll need a public relations goal, one that speaks to the aberrations that showed up during your key audience perception monitoring. In all likelihood, it will call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or doing something about that ugly rumor.
As day follows night, you'll now need a strategy that shows you how to reach your new goal. You have three strategic choices when it comes to handling perception or opinion challenges: create perception where there may be none, change the perception, or reinforce it. As always, a bad strategy pick will taste like flapjack syrup on your swordfish, 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 facts dictate a "reinforce" strategy.
As you might expect, persuading an audience to your way of thinking is just plain hard work, so your PR team must come up with some darn effective language. Words that correct the original aberation and, at the same time, are compelling, persuasive and believable AND clear and factual. You have little choice if you are to correct a perception by attracting opinion to your point of view, leading to the desired behaviors.
Working with your communications specialists, review your final draft message for impact and persuasiveness. Only then can you 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.
Occasionally, the credibility of a message can depend on how it's delivered. So, on the chance that may be true, you might want to introduce it to smaller groups rather than using higher-profile tactics such as news releases or talk show appearances.
Calls for a progress report will prompt you and your PR folks to consider returning to the field 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. If you feel the need to move things along at a faster clip, you can always accelerate the effort with more communications tactics and increased frequencies.
Truth is, "happy times are always here again" for the manager who achieves the kind of key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving his or her department, division or subsidiary objectives.
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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