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What PR Does Best

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:

As a manager working for a business, non-profit or association, you have a right to expect your public relations expenditure to help produce behaviors like these: attract the confidence of your key target audiences; encourage them to take actions that lead to your success; help achieve your department, division or subsidiary objectives; increase repeat purchases; boost capital giving and membership applications, and build new community support.

Don’t see results like that? You may need to restructure your unit’s public relations effort beginning with a new foundation premise along these lines” 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.

If you and the PR team assigned to your unit buy that fundamental premise of public relations, the action phase is next. Sit down together and list those important outside audiences whose behaviors affect your unit the most. Then put them in priority order so that we can address your #1 audience in this article.

You need to know more about this key target audience. In particular, the way its members perceive you, and that means you and/or your public relations staff must interact with the folks who make up that audience. In turn, that requires you to ask a lot of questions. “What do you know about us? Have you ever had contact with our people? Was it a positive experience? Do you have any problems with our services or products?”

The alternative here is the use of professional survey specialists, but this can be quite expensive. Which is why I suggest that you use the public relations folks assigned to your unit, hopefully including yourself for this sensitive assignment.

At any rate, you and your people must stay alert to hesitant or evasive answers. Be on-guard as well for any negativities such as exaggerations, untruths, misconceptions, rumors or inaccuracies.

The result of these labors provide the data you need to create your corrective public relations goal. Which usually looks like these: replace the untruth with truth; calm the exaggeration; straighten out the misconception; correct the inaccuracy.

Reaching your public relations goal, however, requires a strategy that shows you HOW to get there. You may be surprised that you have only three to choose from in these matters of opinion and perception: create opinion where none exists, change existing perception, or reinforce it. But always make sure that the strategy you choose is an obvious fit with your new public relations goal.

Good writing is always a prize, and always worth the effort. Especially for you as you reposition your public relations effort to influence the behaviors of your most important outside audiences.

Your message is charged with changing the perception of the people who make up that target audience, and that’s no easy job. It must be clear about the errant perception and why it is untrue, and thus unfair. It must be both persuasive and compelling if it is to be believable. So take the time to run a draft by a few colleagues so that it winds up making your point in the most convincing manner.

Like a bullet, your message must be fired directly at the members of your target audience using a delivery system made up of communications tactics. Fortunately, they are in good supply and include “weapons” like speeches, newsletters, special events, newsletters, newspaper and radio interviews, brochures, news announcements and many others. By the way, for this very sensitive, corrective message, you may wish to build it into other announcements or presentations rather than using a high-profile news release.

Before questions are asked about the program’s progress, you and the public relations team assigned to your unit must return to the field and resume questioning members of your target audience. While using questions similar to those used in your earlier monitoring session, you’re now looking for indications that the communications tactics have worked. In other words, signs that the negative perception, and thus behaviors, are being altered in your direction.

You always have the option of increasing the pace of the program by adding new communications tactics to the mix, as well as increasing their frequencies.

Whether you call it the fundamental premise of public relations, or simply “best practice PR,” it lays out a workable pathway to achieving many unit manager’s operating objectives.

© Copyright, 2004, 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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