by Robert A. Kelly
Why, public relations that stays true to its fundamental premise, of course.
In a nutshell, "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 those people whose behaviors affect the organization,
the public relations mission is accomplished."
In my view, when you adhere to that, you can't go wrong!
Even those who believe public relations is just a bunch of
communications tactics, can improve their performance
because the premise and its strategy will keep those tactics on
the straight and narrow.
How? The premise requires that tactics be selected on the
basis of (1) knowing how a target audience perceives the
organization, (2) precisely who the tactics should be aimed at,
and (3) and most important, what changes in perception, and
thus behaviors, are desired so that you can set a goal, then tell
if you achieved it or not.
That way, the tactics have a fair chance of doing some good
by visibly helping you achieve your business objectives.
Happily, even when "practiced best," this isn't rocket science.
All it takes is a brief but logical plan.
Decide which external audience of yours has the most serious
impact on your organization. That becomes your key target
audience, and off we go!
Can't do much if we don't know how they perceive you and
your organization. So, you've got to get out there among
members of that key target audience and ask some questions.
What do they think of you and your operation? Notice any
negatives? Are misconceptions, inaccuracies or rumors
becoming evident? Any undercurrents surfacing? Is there a
problem coming down the pike?
When this monitoring phase is complete, you can set a public
relations goal that corrects the problem you turned up. For
example, your goal might try for a positive impact on
individual perception by explaining your pricing policies,
or replacing a damaging rumor with the truth.
Now you need to know how you're going to reach that goal.
And that's where strategy comes in. You have three choices.
You can create opinion (perception) where none exists, or
you can change existing opinion, or simply reinforce it.
Your choice will respond to what you turned up during your
If there is a tough part in our brief and logical plan, this is it.
You need a really good, corrective message for delivery to
your key target audience. It must be clear as spring water,
VERY persuasive and, of course, the unvarnished truth.
Prepare a draft, then try it out on two or three members of
your external audience, then adjust as needed.
Now we come to those "beasts of burden" we discussed up
front, the communications tactics themselves. These foot
soldiers, to mix a metaphor, will carry your corrective
message to the eyes and ears of members of the target
audience. A pretty important step, so choose well.
Luckily, you have a ton at your disposal. Emails, personal
meetings, news releases, radio interviews and special events.
Or, letters-to-the-editor, face-to-face meetings, speeches and
open houses. A long list.
Your work is not quite over. How do you know whether
your brief and logical plan is working?
The answer is, you will not know for certain until you and
your colleagues get back into the field and talk to members
of that all-important key audience population all over again.
I know, I know, that's time consuming and a powerful lot of
work. But it's worth it! What you want to question those folks
about, of course, is the same topics you raised the first time
around. Only now, you're looking for altered perceptions.
For example, does the second set of responses indicate that
you were successful in clarifying the misconception? Or that
the inaccurate belief is morphing into your version? Or, that
the irritating (and potentially dangerous) rumor has been laid
If, however, feedback shows more work is needed, it's back
to the drawing board for a better mix and frequency of
higher-impact communications tactics. Plus, another look at
your message – was it clear enough? Were the best "hot
buttons" pressed? Did you include the right facts and figures
to support your case?
Fact is, the Pot o' Gold at the end of this rainbow is consistency.
When you gather responses showing a consistent increase in
positive perceptions, that brief and logical plan of yours is
beginning to produce the behavioral success promised by the
fundamental premise of public relations.
Doubt PR's Clout? Don't!
Done right, PR helps modify the behaviors of your most important target audiences, and that can spell S-U-R-V-I-V-A-L.
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