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Public Relations Success Starts Here

For discerning business, non-profit and association managers, PR success is pretty much a matter of achieving their managerial objectives by altering perceptions leading to changed behaviors among those important external audiences that MOST affect their department, group, division or subsidiary.


If, however, as a manager you choose to view public relations as simply a collection of tactics, you might see PR success through the lens of press release pickups, successful special events, or newspaper columns mentioning your chief executive.

I don't believe the underlying premise of public relations allows such a limited interpretation. See for yourself: 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 believe that premise implies that the work that precedes such tactics will determine the success of your public relations effort.

It also implies that you might want to broaden your view of public relations requiring that you do something meaningful about your key external audiences instead of concentrating on a brochure versus a DVD versus a broadcast interview.

There's really no end to the benefits that may come your way. Prospects starting to do business with you; community leaders beginning to seek you out; welcome bounces in show room visits; rising membership applications; customers making repeat purchases; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; and new approaches by capital givers and specifying sources not to mention politicians and legislators viewing you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.

Will an outside PR agency team do all this work for you? Or folks assigned to your operation? Or, ideally, your own public relations people? No matter where they come from, they need to thoroughly understand this approach to public relations, AND, be really committed to the program beginning with key audience perception monitoring.

Nothing beats sitting down and having (as the Brits say) a good chin wag with your people in order to be sure that those assigned to you are clear on why it's vital to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. They must accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.

Go over the details as to how you plan to proceed, especially when and where you will monitor and gather perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. For instance, how much do you know about our chief executive? 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?

Don't hesitate to use professional survey firms in the perception monitoring phases of your program if your budget can stand it. If the money isn't there, 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 hurtful behaviors.

You can be pretty sure that you will prevail over the worst distortions you discovered during your key audience perception monitoring. Actually, your new PR goal will probably require straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or stopping that potentially fatal rumor cold.

You also really need the right strategy. One that lays out how to proceed. Do not forget that there are just three strategic options available to you when it comes to handling a perception and opinion challenge. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. The wrong strategy pick will taste like rice vinegar on your scones, so be certain the new strategy fits comfortably with your new public relations goal. You don't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a "reinforce" strategy.

What's needed now is a strong message aimed squarely at members of your target audience. Admittedly, crafting action-forcing language to persuade an audience to your way of thinking is not an easy job. That's why you will need a heavy-hitter writer because s/he must create some very special, corrective language. Words that are not only compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if they are to correct something and shift perception/ opinion towards your point of view leading to the behaviors you are targeting.

At last, one of the more entertaining chores -- selecting the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. You might do this after you run a final draft by your PR people for impact and persuasiveness. There are dozens of tactics available to you. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. Only caveat: be certain that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.

As a message's believability has been known to rely on the credibility of the means used to deliver it, you may think about unveiling it before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.

Someone, somewhere will ask when a progress report will be available. Your smartest reaction is to take yourself and your PR team back to the field and begin a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session will fit perfectly the second time around. But now, you will be on keen alert for signs that the problem perception is being altered in your direction.

As we know, any program can slow down for one reason or another. Tuck this away for future use: if program momentum peters out, you can always speed things up by adding more communications tactics, and increasing their frequencies.

The reason we say up front that public relations success CAN start right here with this article, is that, in our view, managers must pursue their managerial objectives by concentrating on the work outlined here that precedes their use of tactics.

That will determine the success of their public relations effort.

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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