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Mission-Critical Public Relations?

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

As a business, non-profit or association manager, any tool that helps you reach your department, division or subsidiary objective IS mission-critical.

And particularly so when that tool helps you persuade your most important external stakeholders to your way of thinking, and then moves them to take actions that lead to your success.

Here is such a mission-critical tool. One that lets you get serious about your public relations. It shifts the emphasis away from communications tactics to a workable plan for reaching those outside groups of people with a large say about how successful you’re going to be – namely, your key external target audiences. The tool says, “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.”

Use this blueprint to create behaviors that lead to activities like more follow up purchases, higher contributions levels, increased qualified employment applications, new joint venture proposals or a big boost in capital contributions.

First, meet with the public relations people assigned to your department, division or subsidiary and let them know you’re serious about finding out what your most important outside audiences actually think about your organization. The rationale being that target audience perceptions usually lead to behaviors that can help or hinder you in achieving your operating objectives.

Decide among you which audiences are really key to your success then build and prioritize your list of important outside groups of people whose actions most affect your unit. Now, let’s work on #1 on that list.

Your new mission-critical public relations effort will rest heavily on how efficient you are in rounding up the perceptions of your key target audience.

You can put your public relations team to work interacting with members of that #1 outside audience. Or, if you can tap a good sized budget, you can ask a professional survey firm to do the job for you. However, because your PR folks are already in the perception and behavior business, my choice would be to use them for this assignment.

One way or the other, someone must interact with members of that prime audience and ask questions like “What do you know about our operation? Are you familiar with our services or products? Have you had any negotiations with us? If so, were they satisfactory?”

But watch the responses carefully. Notice any evasive or hesitant comments about your organization? Be especially alert for misconceptions or untruths. Are there false assumptions or inaccuracies you need to remedy in light of experience that shows negative perceptions inevitably lead to negative behaviors – the kind you must correct to protect your unit’s operations.

The result of all this work is that you are now prepared to set your public relations goal. For instance, clarify a hurtful inaccuracy, fix that misconception or flatten that rumor once and for all.

But there’s more to reaching your goal. As with just about any goal you pursue, you don’t reach it without the right strategy to show you how to get there. Fact is, with matters of perception and opinion, you have three strategic options: change an offending opinion/perception, create it where there isn’t any, or reinforce an existing perception.

Now comes some work that requires real writing talent – preparing the message you will use to carry your corrective facts and figures to members of your key target audience.

The message must display several characteristics. It must be clearly written as to why that misconception, inaccuracy or false assumption should be corrected or clarified. Your supporting facts must be truthful leading to a finished message that is both believable and compelling.

Now, how about moving your message to your audience? This is the least complex step in the sequence because there are so many communications tactics ready to do the message delivery job for you. They range from op-eds in local newspapers, radio and TV interviews, speeches, consumer briefings and brochures to newsletters, emails, personal meetings and many, many others. Only caution: be sure the tactics you assign to the job have a good record of reaching people just like those members of your target audience.

What about progress? Only way to know for certain if offending perceptions have been altered, is to interact out there once again with those audience members asking the same questions as before. But this time, you and your PR team will be watching carefully for indications that the troublesome perception really is moving in your direction.

That’s where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it? Alter the offending perception…that leads directly to the predictable behavior…that helps business, non-profit or association managers use mission-critical public relations…to reach their department, division or subsidiary 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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