Public Relations Mixup?

by : Robert A. Kelly

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Public Relations Mixup?

When you pay good money for public relations services, you have a right to expect its primary focus to be on your most important outside audiences, those people whose behaviors have the greatest impact on your operation.

Often, however, that primary focus is limited to a communi- cations tactics debate about the relative merits of brochures versus press releases versus newsletters instead of planning how to achieve those key audience behaviors that directly support your business objectives and make the difference between success and failure.

Nothing wrong with communications tactics. They fit in just fine later in the effort, as you will see. Only point here? Use them for what they are, tactics, not a substitute for your primary public relations effort.

To insure that you’re not wasting that PR budget, you really need to stay in touch with your most important external audiences. Then carefully monitor their perceptions about your organization, their feelings and beliefs about hot topics at issue, both of which lead to predictable, follow-on behaviors.

First, you need to list those external audiences that have the most serious impacts on your organization. Rank them as to those impacts and let’s work on the one at the top of the list.

Now, you and your colleagues must interact with members of that outside audience and pose a lot of questions in order to gather the information you need.

Listen carefully to what they say about your organization, its products or services, and its management. Ask questions like “What do you think of us? and Are you pleased with what you know about us? Have you heard anything that you want explained?" It’s important to watch for negativity in attitudes and responses while staying alert to misconceptions, inaccuracies, dangerous rumors and unfounded beliefs and opinions.

The good news is the body of knowledge you will gather. Here are the facts you need to establish your public relations goal. That is, the actual perception change followed by the behavior change you want. Specifically, you may decide to spend your resources on clearing up a serious misconception, turning around that unfounded belief or killing that dangerous rumor once and for all.

What to DO with that completed goal comes next. Luckily, there are just three strategies to choose from when you deal with perception and opinion. You can create perception/opinion when there isn’t any, you can change existing opinion, or you can reinforce it. It will be obvious which one to choose once you’ve set your public relations goal.

It’s been real easy to this point, now you must prepare the message that will hopefully alter the perception and behavior of your target audience. It’s not easy. But it must be done in a believable, persuasive and compelling manner. The message must be clear and to the point with regard to exactly what is incorrect or untruthful. Remember this about the message: its only function is to alter existing perception on the part of members of the target audience. So, the guidelines are clarity, persuasiveness and credibility.

Here we are at the “public relations stable" housing our “beasts of burden" – your communications tactics whose job it is to carry your message to the attention of those key target audience members.

There is a really long list of tactics from which you can choose. Letters-to-the-editor, news releases, speeches, briefings, personal meetings, emails, newspaper and radio interviews and dozens more. Main requirement? Do they have a proven record of reaching the members of your target audience?

Are you making progress? Short of spending some real money on professional surveys (the cost of which often exceeds the entire public relations budget!), the best way to find out is to interact again with members of that target audience. In addition to being among the very people with whom you should regularly interact anyway, you and your colleagues can now personally assess attitudes, responses and degrees of awareness of your organization as well as particular misconceptions, untruths, inaccuracies or rumors.

Now, after six or eight weeks of your communications blitz, the difference between these perceptions and those gathered during the earlier interaction is that you are looking for signs that perceptions are now moving in your direction.

Should you decide to speed up the process, you might add a few more communication tactics to the mix, and increase their frequencies. Another look at your message would also be in order to reassure yourself that its factual base, clarity and impact measure up.

Once your perception monitoring shows that you have persuaded many target audience stakeholders towards your way of thinking, you may be sure that instead of wasting your PR budget, you are moving those stakeholders to behaviors that will produce the public relations success you want.