How About MANAGING Your
It's one thing for a senior manager to approve story angles for
the publicity folks to use in shopping around for print and broadcast
placements. Not an especially large amount of managing needed there.
It's quite another matter, however, when that senior manager, with
the best interests of his or her own department or unit in mind,
actually overlooks the reality that people act on their own perception
of the facts, leading to predictable behaviors about which something
can be done on his or her behalf. Then compounds the error by failing
to insist that the PR people make a special effort to create, change
or reinforce the perceptions of those external audiences whose follow-on
behaviors really DO impact his or her unit.
That's a bit of too bad because those two, core, public relations
functions require hands-on managerial cooperation throughout the
organization if it's to get its money's worth. The two functions
deserve first-class treatment because they help each manager target
the kind of stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving
his or her objectives.
Pretty important stuff!
What it says to business, association and non-profit managers is
this: a key part of your job description is or should be
do everything you can to help your organization's PR effort
as it strives to persuade important stakeholders to your way of
thinking. And particularly when the program works to move those
stakeholders to behaviors that lead to the success of your department
and your programs.
In your own best interest, that means assuring yourself that your
public relations program is actively MANAGED to that end.
Has anybody to your knowledge sat down and listed those external
audiences whose behaviors could hurt your unit badly? Then prioritized
them according to the impacts they have on your operation? This
is a necessary first step in creating the right public relations
goal for you. Here, in fact, is how public relations activity could
proceed on your behalf.
Let's take a look at the audience at the top of your target audience
list. Because there could be negative perceptions out there, some
of your colleagues will have to interact with members of that audience
and ask a number of questions. "Do you know anything about
our organization? Have you had any kind of contact with our people?
Have you heard anything good or bad about us or our services and
products?" Watch respondents closely for hesitant or evasive
answers. And stay alert for inaccuracies, rumors, untruths or mis-
The responses gathered by this kind of perception monitoring among
members of the target audience provides grist for your public relations
goal. Namely, the specific perception to be altered, followed by
the desired behavior change.
While the goal by itself isn't of much use, with the right strategy,
the public relations program is off to a good start. Fortunately,
there are just three strategic choices for dealing with matters
of opinion and perception. You can create perception/opinion where
there may not be any, you can change existing opinion, or you can
reinforce it. An effort should be made to match the strategy to
the specific goal. For example, if you want to correct a misconception,
you need the strategy that changes existing opinion, not one that
Now, some serious writing is needed. The corrective message to be
communicated to members of the target audience is an opportunity
to write something designed to change individual opinion, and that's
a positive experience for any writer. Clarity is first, followed
closely by accuracy and believability. Stick closely to the issue
at hand like an inaccurate belief, a misconception or a dangerous
rumor. A compelling tone is useful because the message must alter
what a lot of people believe, and that is a big job. Tryout the
message on some colleagues for effectiveness.
With goal, strategy and message in hand, it's time to call in the
"Beasts of Burden" the communications tactics that
will carry that first-class message to the attention of members
of the target audience. Luckily, there are many, many such tactics
ranging from luncheons, news releases and personal contacts to print
and broadcast interviews, speeches, press releases and dozens of
others. Only requirement is that they have a proven track record
for reaching your target audience.
In short order, colleagues will inquire whether any progress is
being made in altering the offending perception or opinion. Ruling
out an expensive opinion survey, your best hope of assessing progress
is to return to the field and re-monitor the target public member's
While you ask the same questions as in the initial monitoring session,
the difference now is you're looking for evidence in the responses
that the offending perception is, indeed, being altered. What you
want to see and hear are signs that perceptions are actually moving
in your direction because, then, you know that positive behaviors
cannot be far behind.
By the way, you can always move things along at a faster clip by
adding a few more communications tactics, and even increase their
frequencies. Your message should also be revetted again to double-check
its clarity and factual accuracy, One way to persuade your operation
or department's key stakeholders to your way of thinking
and move them to behaviors that lead to the success of your organization
is to insure that the public relations effort on your behalf
is actively managed along such lines every step of the way.
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.
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