Yes, There is a PR Sweet Spot

And here it is: public relations alters individual perception leading to changed behaviors among the key outside audiences of a business, non-profit or association manager. It happens when the manager applies positive actions affecting the behaviors of those important external audiences that most affect his or her operation.

That's the sweet ice cream. The whipped cream comes as that manager persuades those key outside folks to his or her way of thinking. The cherry-on-top arrives when s/he moves those people to take actions that let his/her department, group, division or subsidiary succeed.

A darn nice sweet spot, in this case described as an ice cream sundae. But one that has a real basis for such action: 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 usually accomplished.

Imagine some of the possible results: fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; customers making repeat purchases; new approaches by capital givers and specifying sources; community leaders beginning to seek you out; prospects starting to do business with you; welcome bounces in show room visits; rising membership applications; not to mention politicians and legislators viewing you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.

Getting your public relations people on board this particular approach to PR will be your first concern. Are they on board when it comes to knowing why it's so important to be certain how your outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services? And be sure they accept the reality that negative perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can damage your organization.

Tell them how you plan to monitor and gather perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Questions like these: how much do you know about our organization? Have you had prior contact with us and were you pleased with the interchange? How much do you know about our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?

Managers usually perk up when they realize that their PR people are already in the perception and behavior business and can be of real use for the initial opinion monitoring project. Professional survey firms are always available, of course, but that can cost many dollars. But, whether it's your people or a survey firm who handles the questioning, the objective remains the same: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions or any other troublemaker perceptions.

Now, you identify which of the problems outlined above will become your corrective public relations goal. In other words, clarify the misconception, spike that rumor, correct the false assumption or fix a variety of other possible inaccuracies.

Now, you can meet that goal only when you establish the right strategy from the three choices available to you. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. Picking the wrong strategy will taste like peanut butter in your cucumber salad. So please be certain the new strategy fits comfortably with your new public relations goal. You wouldn't want to select "change" when the facts dictate a "reinforce" strategy.

Tough job ahead! Put together a persuasive message aimed at members of your target audience. Yes, it's always a challenge to put together action-forcing language that will help persuade any audience to your way of thinking.

You had best have your best writer on the assignment as s/he must produce that very special, corrective language. And s/he will need words that are not only compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if they are to shift perception/opinion towards your point of view and lead to the behaviors you desire.

The next chore could even be fun. For example, identify the communications tactics you need to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. As long as you are certain the tactics you select have a record of reaching folks like your audience members, you can pick from dozens that are available. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others.

Often overlooked is the fact that the credibility of the message can be dependent on the credibility of its delivery method. Which means you may wish to deliver it in small getogether-like meetings and presentations rather than through a higher-profile media announcement.

An off-handed request for a progress report should be viewed as an alert that you and your PR team need to think about a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. You'll want to use many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session. But now, you will be watching very carefully for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.

Should program momentum slow, think of it as a blessing because you now have the opportunity to add more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.

Please remember that PR's sweet spot appears when the manager applies positive actions affecting the behaviors of those important external audiences that most affect his or her operation.

Now, stop doing public relations the hard way and embrace that sweet spot today!

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 2005.

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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