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Are You Sure You Know What Youre Doing?

Because when it comes to public relations, non-believers can produce a double-bummer -- missed opportunity AND a ton of wasted money. It really is a shame because we do public relations to change the behaviors of certain groups of people important to the success of those very Doubting Thomases.

And speaking of non-believers, what's the real reason some shy away from public relations? I believe it's because they don't understand, or believe, the direct connection between what public relations is capable of delivering and their need to achieve specific business objectives.

So, what do we say to non-believers?

Surely it's not that difficult a concept to understand or accept? 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 leads to achieving your organization's objectives. That's pretty good!

Better yet, you can establish the degree of behavior change you want, up front, then insist on getting that result before you pronounce the public relations effort a success.

That way, you KNOW you're getting your money's worth.

But it gets better. How can you measure the results of any 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 when you meet that goal.

Public relations is no different. The client/employer wants our help in altering counterproductive perceptions among key audiences which almost always change behaviors in a way that helps him or her get to where they want to be.

But, the Doubting Thomases might ask, are we really qualified to do that job?

I think yes, because everything we do is based on the same realities -- people act on their perception of the facts, and we can do something about those perceptions. So, when public relations activity successfully creates, changes or reinforces that opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired- action those people whose behaviors affect the organization, the public relations effort is a success.

In practice, you may want people to perceive your organization more positively, thus strengthening its reputation. Or, you could communicate a company's strengths to a target audience leading them to a positive perception of the firm, in turn leading to new investments in the company's shares.

I know our non-believers are not primarily interested in our ability to communicate, paint images or schmooz with the media. Nor are they especially fascinated with our efforts to identify target audiences, set public relations goals and strategies, write persuasive messages and select communications tactics.

What I believe they DO want is a change in the behaviors of certain key audiences leading directly to the achievement of their business objectives.

Which is why I continually stress that quality planning, and the degree of behavioral change it produces, defines the success or failure of a public relations program.

Done correctly, when public relations results in modified behaviors among groups of people important to an organization, we could be talking about nothing less than its survival.

But that means public relations professionals must modify somebody's behavior if they are to help hit the objective and earn a paycheck - I believe everything else is a means to that end.

But, we can't let the Doubting Thomases off the hook without reminders that some very basic but unattended perceptions may be out there that could lead to very costly negative behaviors. For example, if sales prospects are unaware of your product or service, you will not get them as customers; if your customers don't remain convinced of the value of your product or service, you lose them; and if employees believe you don't care about them, productivity suffers.

And on and on when still more audiences like citizens, journalists, regulators, investors and legislators don't believe you.

So, what do I believe the unbelievers still want from us whether they know it or not? I believe they want us to apply our special skills in a way that helps them achieve their business objectives. But no matter what strategic plan we create to solve a problem, no matter what tactical program we put in place, at the end of the day we must modify somebody's behavior for them if we are to earn our money.

Which is why I say that when you measure our real effectiveness, you will be fully satisfied with those public relations results only when our "reach, persuade and move-to-desired-action" efforts produce that visible modificationin the behaviors of those people you wish to influence. In my view, this is the central, strategic function of public relations - the basic context in which we must operate.

As for the Doubting Thomases, I hope these remarks contain a nugget or two that assists you in leading them to a better understanding of how public relations works. Especially how it can strengthen relationships with those important groups of people - those target audiences whose perceptions and behaviors can help or hinder the achievement of their business 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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