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PR and the Small Matter of Results

As a business, non-profit and association manager, how satisfied are you when the public relations people assigned to your unit spend the bulk of their time on someone's favorite special event, brochures, press releases and talk-show mentions?

Especially when you'd rather have a public relations effort that creates the kind of key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives?

You know, PR that does something positive about the important outside audiences whose behaviors most affect your operation. And, in the bargain, helps persuade those key external audiences to your way of thinking, helping move them to take actions that allow your department, division or subsidiary to succeed.

After all, what public relations boils down to are these realities: the right PR really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors that help you succeed. Your public relations effort must involve more than parties, videos, booklets and column mentions if you really want to get your money's worth. And you need a simple blueprint that gets everyone working towards the same external audience behaviors insuring that the organization's public relations effort stays sharply focused.

Sounds like good stuff, and it is!

Here's one blueprint that can lead you in that direction: 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.

And results like these can come your way. New proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; customers making repeat purchases; prospects starting to work with you; membership applications on the rise; capital givers or specifying sources looking your way, and even bounces in showroom visits.

How, you are asking, do such managers produce results like those?

They spend some time figuring out who among their most important outside audiences behaves in ways that help or hinder the achievement of their objectives. Then, they list them according to how severely their behaviors affect their organization.

More to the point, precisely how do most members of your key outside audiences perceive your organization? If paying for professional survey counsel isn't in the cards (or in the budget!), your PR colleagues will have to monitor those perceptions themselves. Actually, they should be quite familiar with perception and behavior matters since they're already in that business.

All of which means meeting with members of that outside audience and asking 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?" And if you are that manager, you must 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 inevitably lead to negative behaviors.

Big job now is to pick out the actual, offending perception to be changed, and that becomes your public relations goal. You obviously want to correct those untruths, inaccuracies, misconceptions or false assumptions.

The toughest part of this exercise is that a PR goal without a strategy to show you how to get there, will taste like asparagus with pancake syrup. So, as you select one of three strategies (especially constructed to create perception or opinion where there may be none, or change or reinforce it,) what you want to do is insure that the goal and its strategy match each other. You wouldn't want to select "change existing perception" when current perception is just right suggesting a "reinforce" strategy.

Now you must create a compelling message carefully put together to alter your key target audience's perception, as specified by your public relations goal.

Remember that you can always combine your corrective message with another news announcement or presentation which may give it more credibility by reducing the apparent need for such a correction.

The message you convey must be not only compelling, but quite clear about what perception needs clarification or correction, and why. Naturally, 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.

It's easy to see why some folks refer to the communications tactics necessary to move your message to the attention of that key external audience, as "beasts of burden." After all, they must carry your persuasive new thoughts to the eyes and ears of those important outside people.

You have a really wide choice because the list of tactics is a long one. 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. There are scores available and 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.

Of course, you can always move things along by adding more communications tactics, AND by increasing their frequencies.

In short order, you'll hear calls for progress reports. But you will already be hard at work remonitoring perceptions among your target audience members to test the effectiveness of your communications tactics. Using questions similar to those used during your earlier monitoring session, you'll now become beady-eyed looking for signs that audience perceptions are beginning to move in your general direction.

Despite the article's headline, public relations results are no small matter. In my view, your results will be directly dependent on whether you base your PR budget primarily on tactics, or the creation of key stakeholder behavior change that leads directly to achieving your managerial objectives.

One can hope it will be the latter.


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 and 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:

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