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Are You the Culprit?

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

Are you a manager who pretty much ignores your organizationís important outside audiences?

If thatís you, do you realize how difficult youíre making it to achieve the important behavior changes you really need and want? I mean changes that lead directly to achieving your department, division or subsidiaryís objectives?

Iím talking about growing the repeat purchase rate; attracting new prospects; achieving new levels of membership applications or contributions; expanding the list of organizations officially specifying your service and products; or suppliers newly motivated to meet your strict quality and delivery requirements.

Start operating in your own best interest by taking a closer look at the public relations work underway on behalf of your unit.

Is it focused more on communications tactics than upon a workable, comprehensive plan for dealing with those key external audience behaviors that impact your operation the most?

What may be needed is a refocus on the fundamental premise of public relations: 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.

When you meet with the PR people assigned to your unit, be clear about the need to list and prioritize those key external audiences, and then monitor how your unit is perceived by members of those audiences. That means interacting with those folks and asking lots of questions. Now, and only now, can you mount an effort to alter those perceptions, and thus behaviors, in your direction.

You need to evaluate the data gathered during the perception monitoring session. Is there a glaring inaccuracy about your organization mentioned by several members of that audience? Any false assumptions come bubbling up about your products, services or management? Are misconceptions, rumors or distinctly negative attitudes obvious during your monitoring interviews?

From these data, you frame your public relations goal. For example, spike that rumor, correct that inaccuracy, clarify that misconception or ďweíd better do a better job of communicating our product and service benefits.Ē

Every good PR goal needs an equally good strategy showing you how to achieve your goal. But when it comes to matters of opinion and perception, there are only three choices available to you: reinforce existing perception/ opinion, create perception where there is none, or change existing perception. Just be certain your choice of strategies is a natural fit for your new PR goal.

Your public relations people should be especially useful to you for the next step, writing a message positioned to alter perception among members of the target audience. You should, however, be closely involved in putting the message together. It must be not only persuasive, but compelling as well. And it must be very clear as to why the offending perception is simply wrong, or unfair, including how you propose to correct, clarify or change it. Iím certain you will agree that, as you make the case for your point of view, you must be believable.

No easy task to alter what people have come to believe, but certainly worth the effort.

Your public relations people will help you deliver your message to the attention of members of your key target audience. They will identify the communications tactics to help you do the job. As they will tell you, you have a broad choice of tactics such as newsletters, radio and newspaper interviews, newsworthy special events, brochures, speeches and scores of others. The only caveat here, check carefully that your chosen tactics have a record of reaching people like those who make up your target audience.

In short order, all concerned will wonder aloud whether progress is being made toward the public relations goal. Obviously, to satisfy yourself that offending perceptions are actually being altered, leading to the behavior change you desire, you must remonitor the perceptions of members of your target audience.

The difference this time is, you will be watching carefully for clear indications that perceptions are, in fact, being altered.

Now, if youíre not pleased with the rate of progress, add a few more communications tactics, as well as using them more frequently, to increase the impact.

So, as a manager, youíve pretty much ignored those important outside audiences until now. But, hopefully, these comments have convinced you to ramp up your unitís public relations effort and pursue the behavior changes you really need and want, and that lead directly to achieving your department, division or subsidiaryís objectives.

© Copyright, 2003, 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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