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Managers: Paying for PR-Lite?

As a business, non-profit or association manager, your public relations expenditure may give you names in the newspaper or product plugs on radio. But what about key stakeholder behavior change - the kind that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives?

Since that's public relations' strongest suit, shouldn't you be getting that first, THEN incremental publicity exposure? Especially when persuading those important outside folks to your way of thinking can move many of them to take actions that help you achieve your department, division or subsidiary objectives?

Bounce this notion off the public relations team assigned to your unit: 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.

If they buy into it, you'll have a simple blueprint that gets everyone working towards the same external audience behaviors insuring that your public relations effort stays on track.

Consider the possible payoffs: customers starting to make repeat purchases; community leaders beginning to seek you out; welcome bounces in show room visits; membership applications on the rise; prospects starting to do business with you; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; 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 business, non-profit or association communities

But, like everything else, there's no free lunch in PR either, and the work looks like this. You need to find out who among your important outside audiences is behaving in ways that help or hinder the achievement of your objectives. And then, list them according to how severely their behaviors affect your organization.

Of course it's unlikely that you have the facts and figures you need to pull this off because you aren't real certain just how most members of that key outside audience perceive your organization.

There's also a good chance you don't have the budget to accommodate expensive professional survey work. So you and your PR colleagues (they should be quite familiar with perception and behavior matters) must monitor those perceptions yourself.

Meet with members of that outside audience and ask questions like "Are you familiar with our services or products?" "Have you ever had contact with anyone from our organization? Was it a satisfactory experience?" Stay alert to negative statements, especially evasive or hesitant replies. Watch carefully for false assumptions, untruths, misconceptions, inaccuracies and potentially damaging rumors. Any of which will need to be corrected, because experience shows they usually lead to negative behaviors.

So, because the obvious objective here is to correct those same untruths, inaccuracies, misconceptions and false assumptions, you now select the specific perception to be altered, and that becomes your public relations goal.

But a PR goal without a strategy to show you how to get there, is like champagne without the peaches. That's why you must select one of three strategies especially designed to create perception or opinion where there may be none, or change existing perception, or reinforce it. The challenge here (albeit small) is to insure that the goal and its strategy match each other. You wouldn't want to select "change existing perception" when current perception is just right suggesting a "reinforce" strategy.

Your writers step forward here to create a compelling message carefully designed to alter your key target audience's perception, as called for by your public relations goal.

Stay flexible as to message delivery because combining your corrective message with another presentation or newsworthy announcement of a new product, service or employee may lend more credibility by not overemphasizing the need for such a correction.

The new message must be very clear about what perception needs clarification or correction, and why. Your facts must be truthful and your position must be logically explained and believable if it is to hold the attention of members of that target audience, and actually move perception in your direction. It's clear that your message must be compelling.

I call the communications tactics you will use to move your message to the attention of that key external audience "beasts of burden" because they must carry your persuasive new thoughts to the eyes and ears of those important outside people.

You're in luck here because the list of tactics is a long one. It includes letters-to-the-editor, brochures, press releases and speeches. Or, you might select radio and newspaper interviews, personal contacts, facility tours or customer briefings. There are dozens in waiting and the only selection requirement is that those tactics you choose have a record of reaching people just like the members of your key target audience.

Your associates will soon want to know if any progress is being made. Of course you'll already be hard at work remonitoring perceptions among your target audience members. Using questions similar to those used during your earlier monitoring session, you'll now be on the lookout for indications that audience perceptions are beginning to move the way you want them to move.

Things can always be moved along at a faster clip by adding more communications tactics, AND by increasing their frequencies.

The only way to be certain you are buying full-bodied public relations results and not the "Lite" version, is to undertake an aggressive public relations plan that targets the kind of key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your department, division or subsidiary objectives.

About The Author

Bob Kelly counsels, writes and speaks to business, non-profit and association managers about using the fundamental premise of public relations to achieve their operating objectives. He has been DPR, Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-PR, Texaco Inc.; VP-PR, Olin Corp.; VP-PR, Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of communi- cations, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press secretary, The White House. He holds a bachelor of science degree from Columbia University, major in public relations. Visit:


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