Because, like you I suspect, they have key target audiences whose behaviors help or hinder them in achieving their organizational objectives.
But even in their own best interests, too few involve themselves in their public relations effort to the degree they should.
The result can be a PR program that overemphasizes things like special events, media relations or communications tactics, without a basic, realistic plan for delivering the key audience behaviors they need to succeed.
I’m talking about behaviors that lead to strong community support; increased repeat purchases; growing capital contributions; positive consumer reaction; higher employee retention rates; healthier relationships with bargaining units; legislators viewing the organization as a key player in the business or charitable communities; competitors with a grudging but healthy respect for your operation, and suppliers ever more anxious to keep your good will.
If this sounds like something you might like, make sure your public relations team applies a fundamental premise like this one to your unit’s operating priorities: 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.
The payoff for your department, division or subsidiary will be a public relations effort pretty much in sync with where you want to go.
For emphasis, I repeat – from the get-go, you need to aim your effort squarely at those outside groups of people whose behaviors really DO affect your organization. In short, you need a blueprint that helps persuade those stakeholders to your way of thinking, hopefully moving them to take actions that lead both to your success and that of your organization.
Where does it all begin? With a careful, priority listing of those key external audiences. Followed by interaction with audience members, complete with questions designed to ferret out perceptions of your organization. “Have you heard of us? What do you think of our products, services and our management? Have you had dealings with our people? Were they satisfactory? The trick is to listen carefully for signs of negativity. Are there false assumptions out there? How about inaccuracies, misconceptions or rumors, each potentially hurtful and requiring clarifying action.
That’s why the responses you gather are red-meat when you begin to establish your corrective public relations goal. For example, correct that inaccuracy, replace that false assumption with the truth, or spike that unfair rumor as soon as possible.
Are there strategies available to you designed to show you how to achieve your new goal? Absolutely, but only three when it comes to perceptions and opinions. You can create perception/opinion where none exists, you can change existing perception, or you can reinforce it. A caveat here: be sure the strategy you choose flows naturally from your brand new public relations goal.
Perhaps the most challenging step in our problem solving sequence is preparing the actual corrective message you will use to try and alter perception among members of the target audience. Stay involved with your PR staff as they write the message. Satisfy yourself that it is not only clear, but persuasive and compelling as well.
This is not a simple task because, as you make the case for your point of view, you should keep two considerations in mind: one, above all, your message must be believable and, two, seldom will you want to deliver it in the high-profile manner of a news announcement, preferring instead to make the message part of another general interest release, presentation or address.
Speaking of communications tactics, here you must work closely with your PR folks (and your budget) in reviewing the broad array of such tactics available to you. Everything from consumer meetings, media interviews, speeches and newsletters to brochures, press releases, special events, letters-to-the-editor and many others. But keep your eye on how each tactic stacks up as to its efficiency in reaching folks like those in your target audience.
Inevitably, you will question whether your effort is succeeding in achieving your public relations goal. To satisfy yourself, you and your PR staff must re-monitor perceptions among members of that audience, and that means more questions. Only this time, the big difference is, you are focused sharply on signs of progress, i.e., indications that perceptions are clearly moving in your direction.
But are things moving too slowly for you? Add more communications tactics, and increase their frequencies, to speed things up.
Yes, when it comes to the kind of crucially important outside audience behaviors that help them reach their operating objectives, I believe all managers are, indeed, alike in welcoming such support.
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.