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PR Is Just Smart Business

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. mailto:bobkelly@TNI.net, Website: www.prcommentary.com

The name of the game is doing our part to achieve management's objectives. And public relations best practice - properly applied - does just that.

How? The driving force is public relations' fundamental premise which promises to harness your most important external audiences in a way that actually helps reach those very same business objectives.

Just look at that premise: "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 those people whose behaviors affect the organization, the public relations mission is accomplished."

It strongly suggests that without the understanding of who and what your organization is all about, the behaviors of those important external audiences may hinder your efforts and, left unattended, tie your organization in knots.

This sentence sums up the bottom line. When public relations alters key audience perceptions, then reaches, persuades and moves them to an action you desire, it clearly helps achieve management's objectives.

Do you enjoy that kind of support? You can if you employ a program along these lines.

Decide at the start which outside audiences display behaviors that most impact your organization, and list them. We'll concentrate here on that #1 external audience you believe has the greatest effect on your operations. Of course, other audiences may need your attention as well.

The obvious first step is to find out how members of that "public," as we call them, actually perceive your organization. The best and quickest way to do this is to interact with those people and ask questions that probe their perceptions. Listen carefully for negative observations and remain alert to factual errors, inaccuracies, misperceptions and even rumors.

These responses enable you to create a public relations goal aimed directly at correcting the damaging perceptions, especially misconceptions and inaccuracies.

Now, you get to select one of three available opinion strategies that show you how you will reach your goal: create opinion where there may be none; change existing opinion, or reinforce it. Your public relations goal will lead you to theproper strategy selection.

The meat of the program is usually the message you will send to members of your target audience. After all, that message will be charged with the task of altering people's perceptions, and that means it must be persuasive and compelling. It must also be as clear as possible, and contain the facts and figures needed to repair the perception damage. In short, your message must be believable. You might also run it by a few members of your target audience to be sure it has the desired effect on the perception you are striving to alter.

Moving your message to many members of your #1 external audience requires aggressive and carefully targeted communications tactics. Public relations is fortunate to have dozens of such tactics from which to choose. For example, radio and newspaper interviews, letters-to-the-editor, face-to-face meetings and speeches. Or you might select tactics such as facility tours, brochures, community meetings, special events and promotional activity.

In due course, after your communications tactics have spread your message far and wide, you will want to know if you are making any progress. Experience shows that remonitoring your target audience is a must.

You will want to ask the same questions of audience members you used during your data gathering exercise at the start of the program.

Your objective, however, will be different. Now, you will be looking for signs that the offending perception has begun to be altered in the direction you desire. Should more work be necessary, a possible change in the mix and frequency of your communications tactics can be made. And, of course, you would want to review your message for clarity, impact and direction, especially with regard to your supporting facts and figures.

Because we know that predictable behaviors tend to follow changes in perception, your carefully planned public relations effort is well-positioned to create key audience support for management initiatives.

© Copyright, 2003, Robert A. Kelly

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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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