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Tough Times, Tough Tactics

When times are tough, it's no time to ignore those external audiences whose behaviors matter so much to your organization.

In your own best interest, are you seeing to their care and feeding? I mean, if a certain group of outsiders behaves in ways that really help or hinder your operations, they do rate your attention, right?

Of course they do! That's why we call them key target audiences, or publics. Either way, what they think about you, then how they behave, can support or derail the best laid plans.

Why take any chances?

Make a list of those important external audiences and put them in priority order. Then pick #1 and let's go to work.

Since it's their perceptions that lead to behaviors, you must get inside their heads. That means monitoring members of that key audience and asking lots of questions to determine what they think about you and your operation.

Watch for rumors. And for negativity. Misconceptions and misunderstandings involving your products, services and pricing should be pursued in those conversations.

With that kind of data in hand, you are able to establish the public relations goal. Namely, correct that misconception, or neutralize that rumor, or clarify that fuzziness about your services.

Goals are certainly necessary, but they need a strategy that shows HOW you will alter those worrisome perceptions. In this business, we have just three possible strategies: create opinion (perceptions) where none exist, change existing opinion, or reinforce it.

Obviously, you will select the strategy that leads directly to achieving your public relations goal.

Now the tough part. What will you communicate to members of your #1 target audience? Your message is key to the success of your public relations effort.

It must be clear as crystal as to what needs to be clarified or neutralized. It must be obvious that the message is truthful, authoritative and compelling. In short, it must deliver a specific message about what is being corrected.

What do you do with the message? As with a bullet in a rifle, you pull the trigger. Or, to mix metaphors, you call in the "beasts of burden," communications tactics, to carry your message directly to members of that key target audience.

You're fortunate that there are piles of communications tactics just waiting for you - the Internet, broadcast appearances, press releases, brochures, seminars, personal meetings, special events, emailings, and on and on.

Sooner rather than later, you're going to want some signs that your public relations program is working. And that means Remonitoring that target audience, again asking lots of questions and seeking evidence that a misconception has been corrected, an inaccuracy cleared up, or a rumor explained away.

If that is the result of your REmonitoring drill, your public relations program has succeeded.

Should your remonitoring not yield those results, you will need to adjust your communications tactics to produce a broader mix of "weapons" going against that audience. You may also decide to increase the frequencies of your tactics. Your message, of course, must be reevaluated for clarity, emphases and factual support.

Handling public relations this way, you're moving in the right direction because you're mobilizing your most important external audiences in support of YOUR goals and 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 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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