A Natural Phenomenon? Really?
Sure. What else do you call a human discipline whose very nature is firmly rooted in the principle that people act on their own perception of the facts. Then goes on to create, change or reinforce that opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired-action the very people whose behaviors affect the organization?
I call it public relations, and one heck of a natural phenomenon!
In fact, I believe it's the fundamental premise of public relations. Especially when it deals with the survival of just about any organization by successfully altering the perceptions and, hence, the behaviors of certain groups of people important to the success of that organization.
Because public relations problems are usually defined by what people THINK about a set of facts, versus the truth of the matter, we are well-advised to focus on that fundamental premise.
Does it become any less of a phenomenon as it works its magic in the real world?
No. Instead, it's the degree of human behavioral change it produces - through quality planning and execution - that defines the success or failure of a public relations program.
In my experience, most agree that people really do act on THEIR perception of the facts, and that how they react to those facts actually does affect their behaviors. So, to me, it follows that individual understanding of those facts must be continually informed if the follow-on behaviors are to help achieve the business' goal and objectives.
When all is said and done, a sound public relations strategy combined with effective communications tactics leads directly to success - perceptions altered, behaviors modified, client/employer satisfied.
In other words, when those changes in perceptions and behaviors clearly meet the original behavior modification goal set at the beginning of the program, the public relations effort is successful.
So, what comes first? I believe acceptance that individual perception of the facts is the guiding light leading to behavioral change, and that something can be done about those perceptions. While not everyone buys that, I must say that it actually helped shape my career in public relations.
I asked myself some time ago, why am I working in public relations anyway? The answers only strengthened my conviction. Was it simply to create major publicity for my employer or client? Often yes, but I realized that the tactic called publicity - like all tactics -- is designed primarily as a message carrier to a target audience in order to alter its perceptions and behaviors.
Tactics are not the endgame of public relations because, fact is, NO organization - business, non-profit, association or public sector - can succeed today unless the behaviors of its most important audiences are in-sync with the organization's objectives. And that means public relations professionals must modify somebody's behavior if they are to help hit the employer/client's objective and earn a paycheck. Everything else leads to that end.
Once public relations' "phenomenonal" characteristics are understood, an action pathway begins to appear:
-- identify the problem
And we get a bonus because we're using a near-perfect public relations performance standard. I mean, how can you measure the results of an activity more accurately than when you clearly achieve the goal you set at the beginning of that activity? You can't. It's pure success.
So, as we apply our tactics, we'll nurture the relationships between our target audiences and our employer/client's business by burnishing the reputation of the organization, its services and products. We'll do our best to persuade those key audiences to do what our employer/client wants them to do. And while seeking public understanding and acceptance of that employer/client, we'll insure that our joint activities not only comply with the law, but clearly serve the public interest.
Then, we pull out all tactical stops to actually move those individuals to action. And our employer/client will be pleased that we have brought matters along to this point.
But when will s/he be fully satisfied with the public relations results we have produced? Only when our "reach, persuade and move-to-desired-action" efforts have produced visible change in the behaviors of those target audiences they wish to influence.
Big words but, in my view, the fundamental premise of a natural phenomenon called public relations, and the strategic context in which we must operate.
Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at bobkelly@TNI.net.
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 communications, 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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