PR: Focus on what matters!

Sure, as a manager, you have a talented member of the PR team assigned to your department, division or subsidiary, or housed at your agency, and s/he is darn good at placing product and service plugs on radio and in the newspaper. Which may be all you want. And that’s fine.

Unfortunately, when your PR folks concentrate primarily on tactical fixes like publicity placements, at least be aware of what you are NOT getting.

You don’t get a comprehensive effort that persuades those important outside folks to your way of thinking, then moves them to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed.

You don’t get the use of the high-impact, fundamental premise of public relations to deliver external stakeholder behavior change – the kind that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.

And you don’t get the creative potential of your assigned PR team needed to positively impact the behaviors of the very outside audiences that MOST affect your business, non-profit or association.

That’s a fair amount NOT to be getting!

It certainly doesn’t sound like the best use of your public relations resources, but it’s fixable. In which case, you might begin to see results such as prospects starting to do business with you; fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; membership applications on the rise; customers starting to make repeat purchases; capital givers or specifying sources starting to look your way, community leaders beginning to seek you out; welcome bounces in show room visits; politicians and legislators starting to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities, and even higher employee retention rates.

From Day 1, you have to get the public relations people assigned to your unit on board. Make certain they all accept the realities that it’s vitally important to know how your outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. And that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can hurt your unit.

Get your team involved in plans for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Questions like these: how much do you know about our organization? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

After all, your PR people are in the perception and behavior business to begin with, so they can be of real use for this opinion monitoring project. Professional survey firms are always available, but that can be very expensive. But whether it’s your people or a survey firm who asks the questions, your objective is to identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, and misconceptions .

Then you must decide which of the above troubles rate designation as your corrective public relations goal – for example, clarify the misconception, spike that rumor, correct the false assumption or fix a certain inaccuracy.

In the same way soy sauce goes with stir fry, the right PR strategy tells you how to reach your goal. But just three strategies are available in matters of perception and opinion — change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. But be sure your new strategy is a natural fit with your new public relations goal.

When you finally have the chance to address your key stakeholder audience to help persuade them to your way of thinking, what will you say?

Here’s where a talented writer earns his or her keep because s/he must put together some very special, corrective language. Words that are not only compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if they are to shift perception/opinion towards your point of view and lead to the behaviors you have in mind.

Now the job gets easier – select communications tactics to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. Making certain that the tactics you select have a record of reaching folks like your audience members, you can pick from dozens that are available. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others.

As the method of communication can affect the credibility of the message, you may wish to deliver it in small meetings or presentations rather than through high-visibility media announcements.

Questions will soon surface as to progress. And that will require a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Employing many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session, you will now be watching carefully for signs that the offending perception is being altered in your direction.

In this business, we’re fortunate that efforts such as this can be accelerated by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies, if deemed necessary.

We’re also fortunate that the people we deal with behave like everyone else – they act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about us and our operations. Which leaves us little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions by doing what is necessary to reach and move our key external audiences to action.

So, in the proverbial nutshell, here you have a workable public relations blueprint that can help you persuade your most important outside stakeholders to your way of thinking, then move them to behave in a way that leads to the success of your department, division or subsidiary.

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: