If I were coaching you as a business, non-profit or association manager on how to get the biggest bang for your public relations dollar, I would sum it up for you this way.
All About Changing Behavior
Use the fundamental premise of public relations to produce external stakeholder behavior change – the kind that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives. Usually, that outside behavior change can be created in the financial, marketing, crisis resolution, reputation management and other sectors of the public relations discipline.
Thus, you do something positive about the behaviors of those outside audiences that MOST affect your organization. And you do so by persuading those important external folks to your way of thinking, then move them to take actions that help your department, division or subsidiary succeed.
The reality is, your public relations effort must involve more than press releases, brochures and special events if you expect to get your money’s worth.
Perception is Reality – So Create It
And that’s what the fundamental premise of public relations really says when it points out that 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.
Happily, this kind of public relations approach can deliver results like capital givers or specifying sources looking your way; enhanced activist group relations; expanded feedback channels; new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; community service and sponsorship opportunities; rebounds in showroom visits, membership applications on the rise; not to mention new idea, leader, and special event contacts.
You could easily see improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies; prospects starting to work with you; customers making repeat purchases; promotional contest overtures, and even stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities.
Who Is Responsible for Public Relations
Still, the question remains, who makes the blueprint really work? Will your workers be regular public relations staff? Or people sent to you by a parent entity? Or possibly a PR agency crew? Regardless of where they come from, they must be committed to you as the senior project manager, to the PR blueprint and its implementation, starting with target audience perception monitoring.
Requires Total Buy-In
Now, simply because a PR person describes him/herself as a public relations specialist doesn’t mean they’ve bought into the whole program. Convince yourself that your team members really believe deeply why it’s SO important to know how your most important outside audiences perceive your operations, products or services. Be certain they buy the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.
How Will You Monitor Public Perception
Pore over the PR blueprint with your PR team. Especially your plan for monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. Use online review management tools to monitor for changes in public perception. Ask 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?
Surveys are Useful
You can always invite professional survey counsel to handle the perception monitoring phases of your program, if the budget is available. But remember that 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.
Establish Public Relations Goals
Here, you need a public relations goal to shoot for as you address the aberrations that cropped up during your key audience perception monitoring. And that goal could be to straighten out that dangerous misconception, or correct that gross inaccuracy, or stop that potentially fatal rumor dead in its tracks.
Need a Strategy
Of course what is a goal without a strategy to show you how to get there? Fortunately, there are only three strategic options available to you when it comes to handling a perception or opinion challenge.
- Change existing perception
- create perception where there may be none
- or reinforce it
The wrong strategy pick will taste like hot tea with too many teabags, so be certain the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. You wouldn’t want to select “change” when the facts dictate a “reinforce” strategy.
Identify Target Audience
Keep in mind that members of your target audience will likely react to a powerful message. Still, persuading an audience to your way of thinking is hard work. Which is why your PR folks must create some very special, corrective language. Words that are not only compelling, persuasive and believable, but clear and factual. Only in this way will you be able to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading to the behaviors you are targeting.
Review the Messages
Let your communications specialists review your message for impact and persuasiveness. Then, sharpen it before selecting the communications tactics most likely to carry your words to the attention of your target audience. 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. But be sure that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.
Determine Delivery Methods
It’s wise to respect the fact that the credibility of a message can depend on its delivery method. So you might consider unveiling it in presentations before smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile tactics such as news releases. Finally, please recognize that people love progress reports, a fact that will alert you and your PR team to get back out in the field and start work on 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. Only this time, you’ll be watching very carefully for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
Commit to the Program – It Takes Time
Here’s a tip for those among us who are impatient. If things aren’t moving fast enough for you, try increasing the beat with more communications tactics and increased frequencies.
Yes, if I were coaching you as a manager on how to get your public relations’ money’s worth, I would ask only that you internalize a single reality, then build from there, as outlined above.
By all means worry about the behaviors of those key external audiences that most affect your organization, and you as a manager. Then do something positive about them by persuading those key folks to your way of thinking, moving them to take actions that help you achieve your managerial objectives.