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Take the High Ground With Quality PR

Quality public relations does something positive for business, non-profit and association managers about the behaviors of the key external "publics" that most affect their operations. In other words, it alters individual perception that leads to changed behaviors among their really important outside audiences.

In so doing, PR helps persuade those key external audiences to the managers' way of thinking, helping move them to take actions that allow for managerial success.

The alternative to quality PR suggests this question for managers: are you simply looking for publicity, or do you want public relations that really CAN change in- dividual perception and lead to equally changed stakeholder behaviors that help you get your money's worth?

If that's the high ground you have in mind, take a look at this PR action blueprint: 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.

Thus, public relations quality begins with these two realities: 1) the right PR really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors that help you succeed, and 2), your public relations effort must involve more than good times, booklets and press releases if you really want to get your money's worth.

Results, for example, like membership applications on the rise; prospects starting to work with you; customers making repeat purchases; stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities; improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies, and even capital givers or specifying sources looking your way

With the passage of time, you may well see rebounds in showroom visits; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; community service and sponsorship opportunities; enhanced activist group relations, and expanded feedback channels, not to mention new thought- leader and special event contacts.

Quality results means your PR crew - agency or staff - must be committed to you, as the senior project manager, and to your PR blueprint starting with target audience perception monitoring.

It's really vital that your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services in a positive light. So be certain that your PR staff buys this approach. And be especially careful that they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.

Emphasize for your team the plan for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Questions along these lines: how much do you know about our organization? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

Should your budget be able to accommodate professional survey people to handle the perception monitoring phases of your program, fine. If not, always remember that your PR people are also in the perception and behavior business and can pursue the same objective: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into behaviors you won't find acceptable.

Time to establish your public relations goal, one that speaks to problems that showed up during your key audience perception monitoring. In all likelihood, it will call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or doing something about that ugly rumor.

Obviously, a PR goal needs a PR strategy that shows you how to reach your new goal. You have three choices when it comes to handling perception or opinion challenges: create perception where there may be none, change the perception, or reinforce it. As always, a bad strategy pick will taste like vinaigrette on your toasted bagel, so be certain the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. For example, you don't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a "reinforce" strategy.

It's just plain hard work persuading an audience to your way of thinking, so your PR team must develop some very effective language. Phrases that correct the original aberation and, at the same time, are compelling, persuasive, believable AND clear and factual. You have little choice if you are to correct a perception by attracting opinion to your point of view, leading to the desired behaviors.

Take the time to review your final draft message for impact and persuasiveness. Only then can you select the communications tactics most likely to carry your words to the attention of your target audience. Dozens are available, from speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But be sure that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.

Strange but true that the credibility of a message can depend on how it's delivered. So, on the chance that may be true, you might want to introduce your message to smaller groups rather than using higher-profile tactics such as news releases or talk show appearances.

Curiosity will prompt requests for a progress report which will prompt you and your PR folks to consider returning to the field for a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Using many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session, you'll now be alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

You can always accelerate the effort if you feel the need to move things along at a faster clip - try more communications tactics and increased frequencies.

Just who is the manager who takes the high ground with quality PR? Why, the business, non-profit or association manager whose public relations effort delivers the kind of key external stakeholder behavior change leading directly to achieving his or her department, division or subsidiary 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 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. Visit:


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