If your PR can’t do this, bag it!

As a business, non-profit or association manager, why continue a public relations effort that doesn’t deliver the key external audience behaviors you need to achieve your department, division or subsidiary objectives?

Time for a change. One that will base your PR effort on a fundamental premise that makes sense. And one that actually leads to outside audience behaviors like these: new proposals for joint ventures or strategic alliances, prospective buyers browsing your services or products, specifying sources or major donors thinking about you, more frequent repeat purchases or a substantial boost in capital donations.

So, you need two things. One, a really personal involvement with the public relations people assigned to your department, division or subsidiary. And two, a new foundation for your PR effort.

A foundation like this: 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.

It will give you a blueprint that will help you persuade your key stakeholders to your way of thinking. In turn, that should move them to take actions that lead to your success as a business, non-profit or association manager.

First and foremost, you need to know how members of your most important external audiences perceive you because those perceptions usually lead to behaviors that can hurt you or help you in achieving your objectives.

So, you and your PR team must list those outside audiences whose behaviors affect your unit the most. Then put them in priority order. We’ll use #1 on your list as our target in this article.

Now, you can spend some real money on professional survey counsel, or you and your PR team can do it yourself by interacting with your target audience. Use questions like these to identify opinion, perception problems. “What do you know about our organization? Have you had any kind of contact with us? Was it satis- factory? Do you like our products or services?”

Listen carefully to the responses you receive. Stay alert for evasive or hesitant answers, and be watchful for negativity – especially inaccuracies, exaggerations, misconceptions or rumor.

These answers are your red meat, the input you need to create the public relations goal. For example, clear up a misconception, kill that rumor once and for all, or fix that inaccuracy. Each of which can lead to target audience behaviors you won’t like one little bit.

Reaching that goal is another story. You need a strategy to do it and you have just three choices as you deal with your opinion/perception challenge: create perception where there may be none, change existing opinion, or reinforce it. But take care when you identify your strategy that it compliments your goal.

The heavy lifting in your public relations problem solving sequence will be done by the message you prepare designed to correct the negative perception you identified during your perception monitoring session. You must be very clear about the offending perception, particularly why it is untrue. Remember that you want to change what people believe and, thus, their behaviors so that you can achieve your unit’s objectives. Which is why the message must be both believable and compelling.

Getting the message from your organization to the attention of members of your target audience is your next challenge. Luckily, there is a long list of communications tactics standing ready to help you do just that. They range from media interviews, personal meetings and speeches to press releases, newsletters, facility tours and many more. But check carefully that the tactics you employ have a proven record of reaching people similar to those who make up your target audience.

Inevitably, questions will be asked as to whether all this smoke and flame is producing any results. A question that can only be answered back out in the field interacting once again with members of your key outside audience.

While you’ll be using the same questions used during your first opinion monitoring drill, this time you’re looking for indications that the hurtful perceptions are actually changing, as will the inevitable follow on behaviors.

Incidentally, you can always put the pedal to the metal with additional communications tactics, as well as using them more frequently.

What you have, finally, is the blueprint you need to help persuade your most important stakeholders to take actions that lead to your success as a business, a non-profit or an association manager.

And your cost was “bagging” a PR effort that simply couldn’t deliver the key external audience behaviors you need to achieve your unit objectives.

About the author
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. Visit: