Managers: A key to your survival

Most business, non-profit and association managers live to tell about it only IF they achieve their operating objectives. Very little wriggle room there.

But among such managers are those who fail to do anything about the behaviors of those outside audiences that most affect their business, non-profit or association.

On top of that omission, they risk their careers by choosing to pursue their operating objectives without using the fundamental premise of public relations. Thus, they fail to produce external stakeholder behavior change leading directly to achieving those very same managerial objectives.

Then, despite the wonder of it all, they end up failing to persuade those important outside folks to their way of thinking and, finally, fail to move them to take actions that help their department, division or subsidiary succeed.

Wow! Why would any clear thinking manager operate that way? I don’t know why. What I DO know is that they can start turning things around in a New York minute!

Best advice? Start with that fundamental premise of public relations mentioned above, because it’s the action blueprint you need to reach your objectives. 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.

There’s no end to the number and variety of results this process can achieve — politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; prospects starting to do business with you; community leaders beginning to seek you out; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; growing numbers of membership applications; customers starting to make repeat purchases; a welcome jump in sales floor visits; and even capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way.

Enlist the PR folks assigned to your unit and spend some time with them nailing down those outside audiences whose behaviors help or hurt you in achieving your objectives. Then list them according to how severely they impact your operation. For starters, select the audience in first place on your list.

PR team in a meeting sitting at a desk

I would guess that you have very little current input as to how most members of that key outside audience perceive your organization. Of course, these data would be available to you if you had been regularly sampling those perceptions.

If the budget isn’t there to defray the cost of professional survey work, your PR team will have to monitor those perceptions by interacting with members of that outside audience. Ask questions like “Have you ever had contact with anyone from our organization?” And, “Was it a satisfactory experience?” And, “Are you familiar with our services or products?”

Your team must watch closely for negative statements, especially evasive or hesitant replies. Stay alert for false assumptions, untruths, misconceptions, inaccuracies and potentially hurtful rumors. When you find such damaging perceptions, they will need to be corrected, because experience shows they usually lead to negative behaviors.

The trick is to do something about such negativity before it morphs into injurious behavior. Which means you now pick the specific perception to be altered. Not surprisingly, that becomes your public relations goal.

Now, the reality is that a PR goal without a strategy to show you how to get there is like a meatball without a cheesy center. That’s why you must select one of three strategies especially designed to create perception or opinion where there may be none, or change existing perception, or reinforce it. The challenge here is to insure that the goal and its strategy match each other. You wouldn’t want to select “change existing perception” when current perception is just right, suggesting a “reinforce” strategy.

Good writing required here. Somebody has to prepare a really compelling message carefully designed to alter your key target audience’s perception, as required by your public relations goal.

Be careful here. Combine your corrective message with another newsworthy announcement of a new product, service or employee, which may lend credibility by not giving too much emphasis to the correction.

As you might suspect, the message also must have several values. For example, clarity. Also, your facts must be truthful and your position on the inaccuracy must be persuasive, logically explained and believable if it is to hold the attention of members of that target audience, and actually move perception your way.

Now things get more relaxing. Namely, choosing the actual tactics you will use to carry your persuasive new thoughts to the attention of that external audience.

And there is no shortage of such tactics. For instance, radio and newspaper interviews, personal contacts, newsletters, letters-to-the-editor, brochures, press releases and speeches. Or, you might settle on group briefings, special events or facility tours, always making sure those tactics you select have a record of reaching the same audiences as those that make up your target stakeholders.

Sorry, but you will be queried about progress and will have to once again monitor perceptions among your target audience members. And with a line of questioning similar to that used during your earlier monitoring session. The difference now is that you must stay on the lookout for indications that audience perceptions are beginning to move in your direction.

But this is our lucky day. We can always expedite matters and speed up the process by employing additional communications tactics, AND by increasing their frequencies.

My experience has been that business, non-profit and association managers survive very nicely, thank you, when they sharpen their focus on the very groups of outside people who play a major role in just how successful a manager they will be – their key external stakeholders.

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 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: