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How Public Relations Changes Minds
By Robert A. Kelly

How the right PR changes perception by doing something positive.

Public relations changes minds in the process of delivering what business managers need more than almost anything else - the kind of key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving their managerial objectives.

It happens when the right kind of public relations alters individual perception, thus doing something positive about the behaviors of those outside folks that MOST affect a manager's organization.

Minds end up changed when managers follow a blueprint, something like this: 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 usually accomplished.

Sure, as a manager, your goal is to show a profit for your business unit, meet certain expectations, or achieve your operating objectives. A blueprint like this can make it clear to you that the right public relations really CAN alter outside audience perception and lead to the kind of behaviors that help any manager win.

The payout for the manager can be very satisfying. Forinstance, prospects reappearing; customers making repe atpurchases; rebounds in showroom visits; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; membership applications on the rise; new community service and sponsorship opportunities; enhanced activist group relations, and expanded feedback channels, not to mention capital givers or specifying sources looking your way.

But you need a quality PR team behind you, one that pursues more than special events, brochures and news releases as you seek your PR money's worth. The reason being, you want your most important outside audiencesto really perceive your operations, products or services in a positive light. So be certain that your PR staff has bought into the whole effort. Convince yourself that they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.

Talk with your public relations people about how you will gather and monitor 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 how things went? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

The perception monitoring phases of your program can always be handled by professional survey people IF the budget is available. However, you are fortunate that your own 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.

Now, you'll need to spend some time considering what the goal of this activity should be. You need one that addresses the problems that cropped up during your key audience perception monitoring. Chances are, it will call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, orcorrecting that gross inaccuracy, or doing something about that damaging rumor.

Obviously you'll need the right strategy to show you how to reach that goal. But you have just three strategic choices when it comes to handling a perception or opinion challenge: create perception where there may be none, change the perception, or reinforce it. Unfortunately, selecting a bad strategy will taste like mint sauce on your eggs Benedict, 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.

Preparing the right, corrective language is a must. Especially when you need to persuade an audience to your way of thinking. You need words that are compelling, persuasive believable AND clear and factual. This really is a must if you are to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading to your desired behaviors. So, meet again with your communications specialists and review your message for impact and persuasiveness.

Here, you need vehicles certain to carry your words to the attention of your target audience, so you select the communications tactics most likely to reach them. Happily there are dozens of available tactics. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. Just be sure that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.

Here's an alert: because the credibility of your message can depend on its delivery method, consider introducing it to smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile communications such as news releases or talk show appearances.

In due course, the subject of progress reports will come up strongly suggesting that it's probably time for you and your PR folks to return 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, stay alert for signs that your communications tactics have worked and that the negative perception is being altered inyour direction.

If you feel the program is dragging, things can always be accelerated with a broader selection of communications tactics AND increased frequencies.As your program inevitably changes individual perception, and thus minds among your important target audiences, you will, just as inevitably, create behavior change among those key outside audiences that leads directly to achieving your managerial 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

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