Let’s say it how it is…
Brochures, broadcast plugs and press releases don’t call them public relations. Call them what they really are, valuable tactical devices which public relations calls upon from time to time, to move a message from here to there.
Nothing more, nothing less, and certainly not public relations mother strategy which (1), marshalls the resources and action planning needed to alter individual perception leading to changed behaviours among a business, non-profit,or associations most important outside audiences. And (2), goes on to help a manager persuade those key folks to his or her way of thinking, then (3) moves them to take actions that allow their department, group, division or subsidiary to succeed.
People act on their own perception
The management reality behind such an achievement is the underlying premise of public relations: People act on their own perception of the facts before them, which leads to predictable behaviours 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 behaviours affect the organisation the most, the public relations mission is usually accomplished.
The good news for those managers is that the right public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviours among key outside audiences.
You may be such a manager. If you are, try to remember that your PR effort must demand more than special events, news releases and talk show tactics if you are to receive the quality public relations results you deserve.
Leaders begin to seek you out
You’ll be glad you took such a step when capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way; customers begin to make repeat purchases; membership applications start to rise; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures start showing up; politicians and legislators begin looking at you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities; new (and very ) welcome bounces in show room visits occur; prospects actually start to do business with you; and community leaders begin to seek you out.
Your public relations professionals can be of real use for your new opinion monitoring project because they are already in the perception and behaviour business. But be certain that the PR staff really accepts why its SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Above all, be sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviours that can help or hurt your operation.
Go over your plans with them for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Ask 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? Are you familiar with our services or products and employees? Have you experienced problems with our people or procedures?
Professional survey firms
The cost of using professional survey firms to do the opinion gathering work will be considerably more than using those PR folks of yours, who are already in the perception business, in that monitoring capacity. But whether its your people or a survey firm asking the questions, the objective remains the same: identify untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.
Its time to establish a goal calling for action on the most serious problem areas you uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring. Will it be to straighten out that dangerous misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy? Or, stop that potentially painful rumor cold?
It goes without saying that setting your PR goal requires an equally specific strategy that tells you how to get there. Only three strategic options are available to you when it comes to doing something about perception and opinion. Change existing perception, create perception where there may be none, or reinforce it. The wrong strategy pick will taste like pancake syrup on your Finan Haddie, so be sure your new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. You certainly dont want to select change when the facts dictate a strategy of reinforcement.
Persuasive and believable
Here, good writing comes to the fore. You must prepare a persuasive message that will help move your key audience to your way of thinking. It must be a carefully-written message targeted directly at your key external audience. Select your very best writer because s/he must come up with really corrective language that is not merely 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 have in mind.
At this point, you must select the communications tactics most likely to carry your message to the attention of your target audience. There are many available. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. But be certain that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.
Since the credibility of any message is fragile and always up for grabs, how you communicate is a concern. Which is why you may wish to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.
A source of comfort for you
Inevitably, the need for a progress report will cause you to begin a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Youll want to use many of the same questions used in the benchmark session. But now, you will be on strict alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
A source of comfort for you, should programme momentum slow, will be the fact that you can always speed things up by adding more communications tactics as well as increasing their frequencies.
Calling tactical devices just that, avoids confusing them with the broader, more comprehensive mission known as public relations. A mission that allows managers of all stripes to alter individual perception in a way that leads to changed behaviours among key outside audiences, thus ensuring the success of that manager’s operation.