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Sure-Fire Recipe for a Successful Public Relations Career

Without a solid, well-designed foundation, few buildings successfully withstand the ravages of time and weather. And so it is with public relations, ever-dependent upon how well its practitioners understand the discipline.

Yet, some public relations people manage to go through their entire career without a firm grasp of what public relations is all about. Their response to crises, or to requests for well thought-out solutions to public relations problems, reveals a serious lack of understanding. They confuse the basic function of public relations with any number of tactical parts that make up the whole, such as publicity, crisis management or employee relations.

Understandably, they feel unsure in approaching public relations problems, then uncertain about what counsel to give their clients. Many, relying on career-long misconceptions about public relations, forge ahead anyway advising the client ineffectively sometimes with damaging, if not dangerous counsel.

If you are new to the business, grasp early-on The Rosetta Stone of public relations, i.e., a guide to understanding the discipline and its core strength. Namely, people act on their perception of the facts; those perceptions lead to certain behaviors; and something can be done about those perceptions and behaviors that lead to achieving an organization's objectives.

The fact is that 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. Which is why, when public relations goes on to successfully create, change or reinforce public opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired action those people whose behaviors affect the organization, it accomplishes its mission.

By all means discuss public relations' strategic role in any organization with professionals whom you respect. But do it early, do it seriously, and do it now so that you create that solid foundation of understanding about this business that will help you make a meaningful contribution to the field of public relations for many years to come.

Once that foundation of understanding is firmly set, an action pathway begins to appear:

-- identify the problem or challenge
-- identify target audiences
-- set the public relations goal
-- set the public relations strategy
-- prepare persuasive messages
-- select/implement key communications tactics
-- monitor progress
-- and the end game? Meet the behavior modification goal.

A bonus: you are using a near-perfect public relations performance measurement. 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, if you are a newcomer to the business, can you expect to avoid the pitfalls listed above? Yes, and here's why:

-- With proper preparation, you will not confuse action tactics with the basic mission of public relations because you will know precisely what each is and just what fits where in the public relations problem solving sequence outlined above.

-- You will feel more confident about providing counsel to the employer/client because the public relations problem at hand can be clearly identified allowing you to select solutions that obviously fit into the action sequence above. You will accurately identify your target audiences because you will know exactly who your employer/client wants to reach, and the necessary action tactics will then be self-evident.

-- You realize that you have gone through your entire career WITH a firm, successful grasp of what public relations is all about.

But, on the way you must do everything necessary to reach your target audiences, and to nurture the relationships between those audiences and the employer/client by burnishing the reputation of the organization, its products or services. You'll do your best to persuade those audiences to do what the client/employer wishes them to do. And, while seeking public understanding and acceptance of your client/employer, you'll insure that your joint activities not only comply with the law, but clearly serve the public interest. Then, you will pull-out all tactical stops to actually move those target individuals to action. Your client will be pleased that you have brought matters to this point.

When that client measures your real effectiveness, I suggest that he or she will be fully satisfied with those public relations results only when your "reach, persuade and move-to-desired action" efforts produce a visible, and desired, modification in the behaviors of those people your client/employer wishes to influence. In my view, this is the central, strategic function of public relations and the basic context in which you must pursue that successful public relations career, a lesson best learned at the beginning of your career.

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 2005.

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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