Not getting the PR results you want?

The reason might be this simple: as a business, non-profit or association manager, you’re too focused on communi- cations tactics and not on a workable blueprint for dealing with those important outside audiences whose behaviors most affect your department, division or subsidiary.

If this sounds familiar, the blueprint I refer to provides the tools required to persuade those key external stakeholders to your way of thinking. Then, hopefully, move them to take actions that lead to your success.

A blueprint, say, like this one: 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.

And, by the way, this is a blueprint that can produce behaviors such as more prospects interested in your services or products, more proposals for joint ventures and strategic alliances, more frequent repeat purchases, or fresh, new capital contributions and membership applications.

If this is something you wish to pursue, the next move is yours. For example, take the time to enlist those public relations people assigned to your unit in a brand-new push to find out once and for all what those outside audiences – those with behaviors that actually affect your organization – really think about you.

That’s where the rubber meets the road because target audience perceptions inevitably lead to behaviors that will either hinder or help you in reaching your objectives.

So, let’s assume you and your PR team decide to prioritize your outside audiences, then monitor the perceptions of members of the #1 target audience on your list.

Here’s the first “fork in the road.” You can use your PR professionals – who after all are in the perception and behavior business – to interact with target audience members by asking a lot of questions. For instance, “What do you know about us? Have you ever had dealings with our organization? Was it, or they, satisfactory?”

Or, if you have access to an ample budget, you can engage the services of a professional survey firm to handle the perception monitoring chore for you. Keep in mind, however, that this activity is central to the success of a public relations effort.

Either way, the data assembled by this drill is the raw material used to create your public relations goal. And that goal might call for clearing up a troublesome misconception, fixing a serious inaccuracy or killing that budding rumor dead as a doornail.

But reaching that goal is another story. You need a strategy to show you the way, and when it comes to perceptions and opinion, there are only three strategies from which to choose: change existing opinion/perception, create it where none exists, or reinforce the perception. Trick is, be certain the strategy you select is a natural fit with your new public relations goal. For example, if you discovered a really negative perception among members of your target audience, you certainly wouldn’t choose the “reinforce” strategy.

But the real “beast of burden” in this PR problem solving sequence is the message you will use to alter the offending perception you turned up during your audience monitoring drill. This is one message that must be very well written, clear as crystal, and supported by compelling and believable facts if it is to alter what some of your target audience members believe. In this way, the message can nudge perception in your direction, lead to the behaviors you have in mind, and help you achieve your unit objectives.

Final challenge? Get that message to the eyes and ears of members of your target audience. And that means selecting and employing the right communications tactics from the wide choice available to you. You can use personal contacts, special events, media interviews and speeches. Or, you might select from among news announcements, facility tours, newsletters, brochures, audience briefings and so many others. But be certain that the tactics you choose have a record of reaching people like the members of your target audience.

Soon, however, questions will be asked as to how the new public relations effort is faring. In other words, “Are we getting the PR results we want?”

A fair question and one that can be fairly answered by returning to the field for a follow up monitoring session. Once again, you as the manager, and/or your PR support staff, must ask questions similar to those you asked during your earlier benchmark perception monitoring session.

The difference now? You want to see evidence that your perception monitoring, your public relations goal and strategy as well as your carefully crafted corrective message and communications tactics have actually altered the offending perception as you planned.

Should results not come fast enough, additional communications tactics can be added, and their frequencies increased.

Bottom line: as the department, division or subsidiary manager for a business, non-profit or association, if the primary focus of your public relations effort is tactics, you are well-advised to make a shift in favor of this kind of workable PR blueprint that gives you the best chance of achieving your unit’s operating 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: