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Managers: Do You Trust Your PR?

You can if, as a business, non-profit or association manager, you can honestly say you are doing something positive about the behaviors of those important external audiences of yours that most affect your department, group, division or subsidiary.

And particularly so when you persuade those key outside folks to your way of thinking, and move them to take actions that allow you to succeed.

In its simplest form, of course, what you are doing is helping achieve your managerial objectives by the simple tactic of altering perception leading to changed behaviors.

And there's a reliable guideline that supports that notion: 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 usually accomplished.

I call that guideline the fundamental premise of public relations from which a variety of satisfying results can emanate. For instance, community leaders beginning to seek you out; capital givers or specifying sources starting to look your way; overdue bounces in show room visits; prospects starting to work with you; membership applications on the rise; customers starting to make repeat purchases; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; and even politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.

First things first, you'll need to get your public relations people on board this public relations bandwagon. They must agree with the vital necessity to know how your outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Be especially certain they accept the reality that negative perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can damage your organization.

Schedule a special sitdown with PR staff to run through just how you plan to guage perception and monitor opinion among your key outside audiences. Go over the questions to be asked: How much do you know about our organization? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

It's fortunate for you and I that our PR people are already in the perception and behavior business and can be of real use for the opinion monitoring projects. You always have the option of using professional survey firms, but that can wind up costing real money. But, whether it's your people or a survey firm who handles the questioning, the objective is to identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, and misconceptions.

One of the aberations you discover will stand out clearly as your corrective public relations goal - it could easily be to clarify the misconception, spike that rumor, correct the false assumption or fix a variety of other possible inaccuracies.

Simplifying matters is the reality that you can meet that goal only when you select the right strategy from the three choices available to you. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. Using the wrong strategy is about as satisfying as using horseradish on your grits! So please be certain the new strategy fits comfortably with your new public relations goal. You wouldn't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a "reinforce" strategy.

Here, you may come to see this chore as the toughest part of the job -- write a persuasive message aimed at members of your target audience. Yes, it's always a challenge to put together action-forcing language that will help persuade any audience to your way of thinking.

By all means, pick your best writer for this assignment. You need words that are not only compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if they are to shift perception/opinion towards your point of view and lead to the behaviors you desire.

With message writing behind you, you need to identify the communications tactics you need to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. Insuring that the tactics you select have a record of reaching folks like your audience members, you can select from speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others.

Another reality in this business is that the credibility of the message can depend on the credibility of its delivery method. Which could lead you to deliver it in smaller meetings and presentations rather than through a higher- profile media announcement.

As it becomes obvious that a progress report will be needed, you and your PR team will want to undertake a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session can be used again. Now, however, you will be on alert for indications that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

In the event of a slowdown in program momentum, PR program such as this usually can be accelerated by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.

Trusting your PR program to deliver the bacon is really a matter of persuading your key external stakeholders to your way of thinking, then moving them to behave in a way that leads to the achievement of your managerial objectives and the success of your operation.

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.



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