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PR: Room at the Bottom?

When special events and communications tactics rule the PR roost instead of a workable plan designed to manage external audience behaviors that impact your organization the most, that's where public relations results can wind up.

You know, bad results like key target audiences showing little confidence in your organization, or seldom taking actions that help you succeed and, in the end, failing to help you achieve your unit objectives.

If that sounds all too familiar, you've got to change a few things. So let's start with what your public relations should be about, perhaps something like this: 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.

Building on this kind of base means you'll be working with a blueprint that helps persuade those important stakeholders to your way of thinking. Hopefully, that will move them to take actions that lead to your success as a business, non-profit or association manager.

If this sounds like an approach to public relations you want to consider, here's the way to get started.

First big question to be answered? How DO those outside audiences whose behaviors hurt or hinder your operation the most, actually perceive your organization? Everything flows from the answers to that question, and that means you and the PR team assigned to your unit must interact with members of your target audience. Questions should include "What do you know about us? Have you had any dealings with our organization? Were you satisfied? Do you have any problems with us?" And while asking your questions, be especially alert to false assumptions, inaccuracies, misconceptions or rumors. Negative attitudes as well as hesitant or evasive replies should also be recorded.

The responses you gather will determine the public relations goal you will pursue. You may choose to correct an especially dangerous inaccuracy, or to clarify a potentially hurtful misconception, or to convert a painful rumor from false to true. Remember, negative perceptions often lead to the damaging behaviors you ultimately aim to alter.

Actually reaching your goal, however, is your next challenge. But not a complex challenge because there are just three strategies available to show you HOW to reach your public relations goal: reinforce existing opinion, change that perception, or create perception/opinion where there isn't any. One caveat: be certain the strategy you select is a good match for your public relations goal.

The message you prepare designed to alter the offending perception is the most important step in this public relations problem-solving sequence. Because it must be successful in altering perception among members of your target audience, it must be clear about what it intends to change, clarify or correct. On top of that, your message must be persuasive and compelling and, above all, while making the case for your point of view, your message must be believable. This suggests that running the message by several colleagues for their reactions is a good idea.

Next step sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But again, not complex. Simply put, you have to get your message before the eyes of those members of your target audience. Communications tactics will do the job.

The choice is broad and includes tactics such as speeches, customer or member briefings, press releases, newsletters, radio/newspaper interviews and many, many more. Be careful that the tactics selected are known to reach people like the members of your target audience.

Now, you need to be able to measure progress. And the best way to do that is to return to the field and interact again with your audience members. Ask questions similar to those asked in the first perception monitoring session. But now, you will be on the alert for clear signs that perceptions are, in fact, being altered as planned.

By the way, you can boost progress by adding more communication tactics to the battle, and increasing their frequencies.

Instead of a public relations program that produces results at the bottom of the efficiency scale, the action effort outlined above will do just the opposite. Namely, persuade your important outside stakeholders to take actions that lead to the success of your organizational unit.

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. mailto:bobkelly@TNI.net. Visit: http://www.prcommentary.com

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