Want PRs Full Value?

by : Robert A. Kelly

Make sure somebody is worrying about those outside audience behaviors you need to help reach your objectives.

And I mean the kind of behaviors you like: prospective buyers browsing your services or products; specifying sources or major donors thinking about you; more frequent repeat purchases; new proposals for joint ventures or strategic alliances; elected officials who increasingly view you as a mover and shaker in the business, non-profit or association communities.

All doable when you base your public relations program on a reality such as this: 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.

Your payoff is the kind of key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your objectives.

Here’s one way to make it happen.

Consider those outside audiences whose actions you know have a serious impact on your organization. Then put them in order of how badly those impacts affect you. We can work right now on the first audience on that list.

The obvious question is, how do members of that target audience perceive your organization? To find out, you and your colleagues are going to have to meet with audience members and ask such questions as, “Do you have an opinion about our organization? How much do you know about us? Have you ever had dealings with us? Were they satisfactory?"

While you monitor those perceptions, be sure to stay alert to negative comments, and even to suspicious tones of voice in the responses. Watch carefully for untruths, false assumptions, inaccuracies, misconceptions or hurtful rumors which, left unattended, could do you some damage.

With that response data in hand, you can decide exactly which problem is the most severe, then establish it as your public relations goal. For instance, correct a false assumption, clarify a misconception, or spike a rumor that’s just dead wrong.

Every goal needs a strategy showing what needs to be done, if that goal is to be achieved. When it comes to matters of perception and opinion, there are just three strategy choices available to you: change existing perception, reinforce it, or create perception/opinion where none may exist. Be careful that the strategy you select is a good fit with your public relations goal.

Now, it’s time to sit down at the word processor and prepare the all-important message to do the heavy lifting and alter the perception/opinion of that key target audience.

But it can’t be a simple declarative sentence. It must be both compelling AND persuasive. At the same time, it must be crystal-clear as to exactly which untruth, false assumption or misconception you wish to correct, and why. The facts you use must be not only truthful and solid, but logical and believable if the message is to be seen as credible by members of the target audience, and move their perception in your direction.

In case of special sensitivity, you may wish to piggyback the message on other communications tactics so as to avoid the showcase effect of a separate announcement.

So, the perception monitoring phase is complete, the public relations goal is set, and the proper strategy applied. Now, you need a delivery system to carry your message to the right eyes and ears among your target audience. And that’s what communications tactics do. Luckily, there are dozens of them ready to help you. They range from community briefings, press releases, emails and speeches to letters-to-the-editor, personal contacts, open houses, broadcast and newspaper interviews and so many others. Only caveat is, make certain each tactic you choose has a proven record for reaching people like those in your target audience.

You’ll soon be on the lookout for signs that your public relations effort is succeeding. Those signs will be found by once again monitoring target audience perceptions. You’ll ask questions similar to those you asked during the first perception monitoring session. But now, you want to see signs that audience perceptions have moved as you planned.

Of course you can accelerate the process, and increase the impact, by expanding the number and variety of communications tactics you’re using. And, to the same end, you can also increase their frequency.

You can best realize public relations’ full value when, in fact, somebody DOES worry about managing the effort around key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your organizational objectives.