Strategic Public Relations Help to Change Perceptions


The most important PR in America: Just happens to be public relations activity that alters individual perceptions leading directly to changed behaviors. PR pulls that off by persuading a manager’s key outside audiences with the greatest behavior impacts on the organization, to its way of thinking. Then it moves those external stakeholders to take actions that help the organization succeed.

I don’t believe public relations can deliver much more than that.

Not surprisingly, PR runs best on its own fundamental premise that gets everyone working towards the same external audience behaviors. Insuring that your PR effort stays focused, the blueprint goes like 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.

Results can range from community leaders beginning to seek you out, welcome bounces in show room visits and specifying sources looking your way to prospects starting to do business with you, customers making repeat purchases, and even fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures.

If, as a manager, that scenario appeals to you, try this path.

First, who handles the work required to produce such results? Your own full-time public relations staff? Some people assigned by the corporate office to your unit? An outside PR agency team? No matter where they come from, they need to be committed to you, to the PR blueprint and to its implementation, starting with key audience perception monitoring.

It’s useful to make certain the public relations people assigned to your unit really believe - deep down - why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Make sure they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.

Working closely with the PR folks, start by nailing down who among your important outside audiences is behaving in ways that help or hinder the achievement of your objectives. Then, list them according to how severely their behaviors affect your organization.

Now, take steps to find out precisely HOW most members of that key outside audience perceive your organization. If you don’t have the budget to pay for what could be costly professional survey counsel, you and your PR colleagues will have to monitor those perceptions yourself. Actually, they should be quite familiar with perception and behavior matters.

Best way to get that activity under way is to meet with members of that outside audience and ask questions like “Are you familiar with our services or products?” “Have you ever had contact with anyone from our organization? Was it a satisfactory experience?” Be sensitive to negative statements, especially evasive or hesitant replies. And watch carefully for false assumptions, untruths, misconceptions, inaccuracies and potentially damaging rumors. When you find such, they will need to be corrected, as they usually lead to negative behaviors.

Now, it’s time to select the actual perception to be altered, which then becomes your public relations goal. Naturally, you want to correct any untruths, inaccuracies, misconceptions or false assumptions.

Kind of goes without saying that a PR goal without a strategy to show you how to get there, is like a sailor’s sandwich without the knockwurst. As you select one of three strategies especially constructed to create perception or opinion where there may be none, or change existing perception, or reinforce it, what you want to do is insure that the goal and your new strategy dovetail. You don’t want to pick “change existing perception” when current perception is just right suggesting a “reinforce” strategy.

At this juncture, you create a compelling message carefully structured to alter your key target audience’s perception, as directed by your public relations goal.

Your message must be a grabber and crystal-clear about what perception needs clarification or correction, and why. Of course you must be truthful and your position logically explained and believable if it is to hold the attention of members of that target audience, and actually move perception in your direction.

Then try this. Combine your corrective message with another news announcement or presentation which may provide more credibility by downplaying the need for such a correction.

Believe it or not, I call the communications tactics you will use to move your message to the attention of that key external audience, “beasts of burden” because they must carry your persuasive new thoughts to the eyes and ears of those important outside people.

You will be glad to know that a long list of such tactics awaits your pleasure. It includes letters-to-the-editor, brochures, press releases and speeches. Or, you might choose radio and newspaper interviews, personal contacts, facility tours or customer briefings. The only selection requirement is that the communications tactics you choose have a record of reaching people just like the members of your key target audience.

A fortunate factor is, things can always be accelerated by adding more communications tactics, AND by increasing their frequencies.

Questions will soon arise with regard to progress. Of course, you will already be hard at work remonitoring perceptions among your target audience members to test just how good your PR program really is. Using questions similar to those used during your earlier monitoring session, you’ll now be alert for signs that audience perceptions are beginning to move in your general direction.

We are fortunate indeed that our key stakeholder audiences behave like everyone else - they act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about you and your operation. Leaving you little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions by doing what is necessary to reach and move your key external audiences to actions you desire.

There’s never a happier moment in the practice of public relations than when the data shows that you have achieved the kind of key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your department, division or subsidiary objectives.

Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would be appreciated at mailto:[email protected]. Word count is 1125 including guidelines and resource box.

Robert A. Kelly © 2004.

About The Author

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.

Visit his website.

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Tags: public relations strategies, changing perceptions with public relations, PR, public relations

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