Public Relations Mixup?
When you pay good money for public relations services, you have
a right to expect its primary focus to be on your most important
outside audiences, those people whose behaviors have the greatest
impact on your operation.
Often, however, that primary focus is limited to a communications
tactics debate about the relative merits of brochures versus press
releases versus newsletters instead of planning how to achieve those
key audience behaviors that directly support your business objectives
and make the difference between success and failure.
Nothing wrong with communications tactics. They fit in just fine
later in the effort, as you will see. Only point here? Use them
for what they are, tactics, not a substitute for your primary public
To insure that you're not wasting that PR budget, you really need
to stay in touch with your most important external audiences. Then
carefully monitor their perceptions about your organization, their
feelings and beliefs about hot topics at issue, both of which lead
to predictable, follow-on behaviors.
First, you need to list those external audiences that have the most
serious impacts on your organization. Rank them as to those impacts
and let's work on the one at the top of the list. Now, you and your
colleagues must interact with members of that outside audience and
pose a lot of questions in order to gather the information you need.
Listen carefully to what they say about your organization, its products
or services, and its management. Ask questions like "What do
you think of us? and Are you pleased with what you know about us?
Have you heard anything that you want explained?" It's important
to watch for negativity in attitudes and responses while staying
alert to misconceptions, inaccuracies, dangerous rumors and unfounded
beliefs and opinions.
The good news is the body of knowledge you will gather. Here are
the facts you need to establish your public relations goal. That
is, the actual perception change followed by the behavior change
you want. Specifically, you may decide to spend your resources on
clearing up a serious misconception, turning around that unfounded
belief or killing that dangerous rumor once and for all.
What to DO with that completed goal comes next. Luckily, there are
just three strategies to choose from when you deal with perception
and opinion. You can create perception/opinion when there isn't
any, you can change existing opinion, or you can reinforce it. It
will be obvious which one to choose once you've set your public
It's been real easy to this point, now you must prepare the message
that will hopefully alter the perception and behavior of your target
audience. It's not easy. But it must be done in a believable, persuasive
and compelling manner. The message must be clear and to the point
with regard to exactly what is incorrect or untruthful. Remember
this about the message: its only function is to alter existing perception
on the part of members of the target audience. So, the guidelines
are clarity, persuasiveness and credibility.
Here we are at the "public relations stable" housing our
"beasts of burden" your communications tactics
whose job it is to carry your message to the attention of those
key target audience members.
There is a really long list of tactics from which you can choose.
Letters-to-the-editor, news releases, speeches, briefings, personal
meetings, emails, newspaper and radio interviews and dozens more.
Main requirement? Do they have a proven record of reaching the members
of your target audience?
Are you making progress? Short of spending some real moneyon professional
surveys (the cost of which often exceeds the entire public relations
budget!), the best way to find out is to interact again with members
of that target audience. In addition to being among the very people
with whom you should regularly interact anyway, you and your colleagues
can now personally assess attitudes, responses and degrees of awareness
of your organization as well as particular misconceptions, untruths,
inaccuracies or rumors.
Now, after six or eight weeks of your communications blitz, the
difference between these perceptions and those gathered during the
earlier interaction is that you are looking for signs that perceptions
are now moving in your direction.
Should you decide to speed up the process, you might add a few more
communication tactics to the mix, and increase their frequencies.
Another look at your message would also be in order to reassure
yourself that its factual base, clarity and impact measure up.
Once your perception monitoring shows that you have persuaded many
target audience stakeholders towards your way of thinking, you may
be sure that instead of wasting your PR budget, you are moving those
stakeholders to behaviors that will produce the public relations
success you want.
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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