Add Some Firepower to your PR

Sure, as tactics usually presented to business, non-profit and association managers, special events, brochures and news releases are fine.

But they're not the high-octane PR firepower you need to deliver growth results like new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; accelerating prospect contacts; rising membership applications; customers making repeat purchases; rebounds in showroom visits, or capital givers and specifying sources looking your way.

As you add such firepower, you should see stronger relationships with educational, labor, financial and healthcare interests; new community service and sponsorship opportunities; improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies; enhanced activist group relations, and expanded feedback channels, not to mention new thoughtleader and special event contacts.

And here's the key that can unlock such a bonanza, the underlying 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.

There seems little doubt that you as a manager work hard to insure that your most important outside audiences see your operations, products or services in the best possible light. Which is why you need to assure yourself that your PR people are totally on board this effort. Be especially careful that they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.

Because you will need to monitor perception by questioning members of your most important outside audiences, take some time to review the PR blueprint in detail with your staff. Consider questions like these: how much do you know about our organization? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

You have a choice as to who handles the perception monitoring phases of your program. Of course professional survey people can do the job, IF the budget is available. But fortunately, your PR people are also in the perception and behavior business and can pursue the same objective: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.

Now, let's talk about your public relations goal. You need one that speaks to the "problematics" that showed up during your key audience perception monitoring. In all probability, it will call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or doing something about that damaging rumor.

Yes, your strategy now will show you how to get there. But remember that you have only three strategic choices when it comes to handling a perception or opinion challenge: create perception where there may be none, change the perception, or reinforce it. As luck would have it, a bad strategy pick will taste like sauteed prunes, so be certain the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. For example, you don't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a "reinforce" strategy.

Here you must persuade an audience to your way of thinking by creating just the right, corrective language. Which is why we're looking for words that are compelling, persuasive and believable AND clear and factual. This is a must if you are to straighten out a perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, thus leading to the behaviors you desire.

Now we pick out the communications tactics most likely to carry your words to the attention of your target audience. Get input from your communications specialists and review your message for impact and persuasiveness. There are dozens of available tactics ranging from speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. Just be sure that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.

Unfortunate but true, the credibility of a message can depend on how it's delivered. So you might think about introducing it to smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile communications such as news releases or talk show appearances.

When the topic of a progress report is suggested, you know it's time for you and your PR folks to return to the field for a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. The same questions you used in the first benchmark session will do nicely once again. But this time, you'll be watching carefully for signs that your communications tactics have worked and that the negative perception is being altered in your direction.

If patience seems in short supply, things can always be gunned with a broader selection of communications tactics AND increased frequencies.

High-octane PR firepower makes all the difference once you decide to do something positive about the behaviors of those important outside audiences of yours that most affect your operation.

You'll do it by creating external stakeholder behavior change leading directly to achieving your managerial objectives. And by persuading those key outside folks to your way of thinking, thus moving them to take actions that allow your business, non-profit or association to succeed.

Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at

Robert A. Kelly 2004.

Bob Kelly counsels, writes and speaks to business, non-profit and association managers about using the fundamental premise of public relations to achieve their operating objectives. He has been DPR, Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-PR, Texaco Inc.; VP-PR, Olin Corp.; VP-PR, Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of communi- cations, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press secretary, The White House. He holds a bachelor of science degree from Columbia University, major in public relations.


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