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I believe the key to good PR is this reality. 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.
In other words, your public relations effort must involve more than special events, brochures and news releases if you really want to get your money's worth.
The payoff can make your day: membership applications on the rise; customers starting to make repeat purchases; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; community leaders beginning to seek you out; welcome bounces in show room visits; prospects starting to do business with you; higher employee retention rates, capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way, and even politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the busines
Be certain that your public relations people really accept why it's SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Make sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.
Talk it over with them, especially your game 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? 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?
Because it can run into real money using professional survey firms to do the opinion monitoring work, you may wish to use those PR folks of yours in that capacity since they're already in the perception and persuasion business. But, 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.
What your aiming at, obviously, is a PR goal that does something about the most serious distortions you discover during your key audience perception monitoring. Will it be to straighten out that dangerous misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy? Or, stop that potentially painful rumor cold?
Of course, without the right strategy to tell you how to proceed, you won't get there at all. So keep in mind 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 horseradish on your pancakes, 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 strategy of reinforcement.
Here, you must come up with a well-written message and send 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.
What you want now is your strongest writers 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.
After your PR team has signed off on draft copy of your message, you move 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.
An alert: you may wish to avoid too loud a voice with this kind of message and unveil it before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases, as the credibility of any message is fragile and always at stake.
From this point forward, you'll start getting requests for progress reports, which tells you and your PR team to begin 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. But now, you will be on red alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
It does seem fortunate that such matters usually can be accelerated simply by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.
The value of public relations to managers becomes clearer when you realize that the people you deal with behave like everyone else - they act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about you and your operation. Which means you really have little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions by doing what is necessary to reach and move those key external audiences of yours 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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