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When Tactics Are Not Enough

Your public relations people are busy. The buzz is all about hits on a radio show or mentions in a newspaper column. Or, which to do first, the trade show exhibit or the video clip. All useful tactics, but hardly the detailed planning needed to REALLY do something about the behaviors of those outside audiences that impact you the most.

Without that planning, those changes in target audience behaviors you'll almost certainly need to achieve your objectives is unlikely to come about. And that just shouldn't happen.

Here's a simple plan that can get everyone working towards the same external audience behaviors, and put the public relations effort back on track. 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.

Which makes this worth mentioning one more time: whether you are a business, non-profit or association manager, you need what that fundamental premise promises

- the kind of key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your objectives.

I'm talking about behavior changes like community leaders beginning to seek you out; new members signing up: customers starting to make repeat purchases; organizations proposing strategic alliances and joint ventures; prospects starting to do business with you; politicians and legislators unexpectedlyviewing you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; and even capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way.

It all starts when you sit down and actually list those outside audiences of yours who behave in ways that help or hinder you in achieving your objectives. Then prioritize them by impact severity. Now, let's work on the target audience in first place on that list.

I'll wager you don't have access to data that tells you just how most members of that key outside audience perceive your organization.

Assuming you don't have the budget to accommodate professional survey work, you and your colleagues must monitor those perceptions yourself. Interact with members of that outside audience by asking questions like "Have you ever had contact with anyone from our organization? Was it a satisfactory experience? Are you familiar with our services or products?" 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 a Mint Julep without the mint. 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 (a small one) 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.

Now you must morph into a writer, if you are not already endowed with that talent, and prepare a compelling message carefully designed to alter your key target audience's perception, as called for by your public relations goal.

You may find that combining your corrective message with another newsworthy announcement of a new product, service or employee will lend credibility by not overempha- sizing the correction.

Your corrective message should contain several values, clarity for example. It must be clear about what perception needs clarification or correction, and why. And your facts must be truthful, of course. In addition, 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.

At last, the easy part - selecting the "beasts of burden" - the communications tactics you will harness to carry your persuasive new thoughts to the attention of that external audience.

The tactics list is a long one. It includes letters-to-the-editor, brochures, press releases and speeches. Or, you might select others such as radio and newspaper interviews, personal contacts, facility tours or customer briefings. There are dozens awaiting your pleasure.

Sooner rather than later, your colleagues will ask you if any progress is being made. By which time you will already be striving to answer that question by again monitoring perceptions among your target audience members. Using questions similar to those used during your earlier monitoring session, you will now look sharply for indications that audience perceptions are beginning to move in your direction.

Fortunately, you can always put the pedal to the metal by employing additional communications tactics, AND by increasing their frequencies.

But, as this article suggests, concentrating on tactics is important, but only at the right moment. What must come first is an aggressive public relations plan that (as, by now, you have no doubt surmised) targets the kind of key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your 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 2003.

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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