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Let Public Relations Do The Job It’s Meant To Do

By: Robert A. Kelly

Bob Kelly, public relations counselor, was director of public relations for Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-Public Relations, Texaco Inc.; VP-Public Relations, Olin Corp.; VP-Public Relations, Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of communications, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press secretary, The White House., Website:

Here’s one view of the job its meant to do.

Public relations is firmly rooted in both the principle and reality that people act on their perception of the facts, and that something can be done about those underlying perceptions. When public relations activity successfully creates, changes or reinforces that opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-action those people whose behaviors affect the organization, the public relations effort is a success. In the end, a sound public relations strategy combined with effective tactics leads directly to the bottom line – perceptions altered, behaviors modified, client/employer satisfied.

But not everybody believes that’s the job public relations is meant to do. Here, in hopes of getting closer to the truth, are a few “contrasting opinions,” and a reaction to each.

“PR is all about image.”  This would ring truer if it aimed that image directly at affecting individual perception leading to predictable behavior modification. And all as planned at the beginning of the public relations program.

“PR creates mutual understanding?” Yes, but why not take that phrase to its logical conclusion and add “leading to modifying the perception and thus the behavior of  key audiences as planned before the effort got under way.”

“PR is doing good and getting credit for it.”  But most effective when that credit is expressed through altered perceptions and modified behaviors of key audiences.

“PR is the management of communications between an organization and its publics.” And, as above, so much more effective when those communications are positioned to reach and alter individual perception and behaviors.

“PR is the science of cultivating a presence in the community.” As long as that presence impacts groups of people important to the organization and results in altering their perceptions and modifying their behaviors, as planned at the outset.

“PR is talking to the media on behalf of a client.” An important means to an even more important end – communicating, as planned, with target audiences in order to alter their perception and modify their behaviors.

“PR is the art and science of helping clients or employers communicate more effectively and persuasively with audiences that impact them.” Good, as far as it goes. But, it would be better if it said “the science of helping clients or employers achieve the behavior modification they really want,” rather than stopping at the interim communications step.

And finally, “PR is the ability to influence public opinion.” Which displays a trait common to most of these pronouncements – it stops short of a clear description of what people who are paying for public relations really want.

Employers and clients are not primarily interested in our ability to schmooze with the media, communicate or paint images. Nor are they especially fascinated with our efforts to identify target audiences, set public relations goals and strategies, write persuasive messages, select communications tactics, et al.

What they invariably do want is a change in the behaviors of certain key audiences which leads directly to the achievement of their business objectives. Hence, the emphasis in this article on careful planning for altered key audience perceptions and modified behaviors.

Which is why quality planning, and the degree of behavioral change it produces, defines success or failure of a public relations program.

Done correctly, when public relations results in modified behaviors among groups of people important to an organization, we’re talking about nothing less than its survival.

© Copyright, 2002, Robert A. Kelly

Other Articles by Robert A. Kelly

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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