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PR: Your 500 Pound Gorilla

What else, for goodness sake, could you as a business, non-profit or association manager, call a heavy-duty helper who does something REALLY positive about the behaviors of those outside audiences of yours that most affect your organization?

And that uses the fundamental premise of public relations to deliver the kind of external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives?

And does it all by persuading those important outside folks to your way of thinking, moving them to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed?

Man, that's one heavy workload for a very large monkey!

And here's the core message he brings to you. Your public relations effort must involve more than news releases, special events and brochures if you really want to get your money's worth. And, the right PR really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors that help you succeed.

Both points well-supported by a public relations blueprint that reads 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 your organization the most, the public relations mission is accomplished.

What kind of payoff can you expect from such an approach to public relations? How about capital givers or specifying sources making inquiries; stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities; prospects starting to work with you as well as customers making repeat purchases; and improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies.

Keep your pedal to the metal and you could see results like new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; new thoughtleader and special event contacts; membership applications on the rise; enhanced activist group relations, and expanded feedback channels; rebounds in showroom visits; and almost certainly, community service and sponsorship opportunities;

Like most managers, you want your most important outside audiences to have positive perceptions of your services and operations or products. Which is why every member of your PR support team must believe in what you are doing. It will also be very helpful if they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.

Review the PR plan with them, especially how you will go about 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?

Certainly, the perception monitoring part of the effort can be handled by professional survey people IF you have the budget. Fortunately, 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.

With preparations complete, you need to set your public relations goal, one that deals with perception problems that developed during your key audience perception monitoring. The new goal will require that you straighten out that dangerous misconception, or correct that gross inaccuracy, or do something about that damaging rumor.

To show you how to reach the goal, you need a strategy. And there are three 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 fish sauce on your rhubarb. So be certain the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. For example, you don't want to select "change" when reality dictates a "reinforce" strategy.

Some heavy writing needed here. In brief, 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.

It's pick-your-own time when you and your PR group 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.

By the way, experience shows that the credibility of a message can depend on how it's delivered. So you might want to introduce it to smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile tactics such as news releases or talk show appearances.

Experience shows that, by this time, all concerned will be chomping at the bit for a progress report. Which will signal you and your PR staff 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, you'll now be alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

Occasionally, momentum will slow in which event you can always accelerate matters by using more communications tactics supported by increased frequencies.

Your 500 pound gorilla will be one happy simian when your data show that you have achieved the kind of key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your department, division or subsidiary objectives.

Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at

Robert A. Kelly 2004.

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.



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