PR failure defined

I define public relations failure this way:

  • key audience perceptions are not monitored
  • a realistic, corrective goal is not set
  • an improper, or no real strategy is selected
  • a persuasive, compelling message is not prepared
  • communications tactics are selected mostly by hunch
  • and no follow-through perception monitoring is done to determine progress.

Failure insured! Similar, in fact, to the artillery commander who tells his gunners to point their cannons in any direction and fire them when they feel like it!

No plan, no results!

Why not deal this way with those external target audiences whose behaviors really have an impact on your organization?

Who are they? List them in order of their impact on your operation. And let’s concentrate here on #1.

What do you really know about how they perceive your operation? This is vital, of course, because perceptions almost always lead to predictable behaviors. That’s why it’s so important that you get this step right.

Fact is, you must interact with members of this target audience and question them carefully. What do they think of you and your organization? Do you detect negative undercurrents? Are you surprised by certain inaccuracies or misconceptions? Has a rumor crept in to their consciousness to do its dirty work?

The answers prepare you for establishing the corrective public relations goal. For example, straighten out that wrong impression. Or fix that misconception. Or correct that unfortunate inaccuracy. Rumors, of course, need immediate attention to neutralize them in the minds of target audience members.

With your goal all set, what is your strategy for achieving it? This one is a time-saver because there are only three strategies designed to deal with this situation: create opinion (perceptions) where none may exist; or change existing opinion; or reinforce it. Your goal will point you toward the proper choice.

Now here is the real challenge – preparing the message you will send to members of your target audience.

To be persuasive, it must be believable, clearly presented and compelling. Ideally it should deal with the most important problem you wish to correct so as not to divide the reader’s attention. For example, an inaccuracy, misconception or damaging rumor. Of course, your message must use supporting facts and figures that have been carefully checked for accuracy.

Recapping, you have now monitored and evaluated opinion among your target audience to determine the extent of any problems, you have set your corrective public relations goal and strategy, and you have prepared an impactful and corrective message.

How will you effectively deliver that message to members of that important outside audience? The answer lies in communications tactics, which some refer to as “beasts of burden” because they will carry your message to the right eyes and ears.

There are scores of tactics awaiting your pleasure. For instance, you can use newsletters, special events, press releases or open houses. You might also consider face-to- face-meetings, radio and newspaper interviews, speeches or emails. The key consideration is that a communications tactic be targeted specifically at the members of your #1 external audience.

Sooner rather than later, you will wonder if your public relations effort is making any progress towards your goal.

And that will require that you put on your opinion monitoring hat and go talk to members of your target audience once again.

As them the same questions you used in your earlier information gathering exercise. Only this time, stay alert for answers that indicate perceptions are changing in your direction. Of course, this means that, before long, behaviors should be changing as well.

And that is the test for public relations success: perceptions altered and behaviors modified as called for in your plan.

When all is said and done, what you will have is an important outside audience more accurately informed about your organization and, thus, more likely to behave in ways that help you achieve your objectives.

About the author
Bob Kelly counsels, writes and speaks about the fundamental premise of public relations. 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: