When a group of outsiders behaves in a way that hurts your business, you usually do something about it. Yet, many business people are amazingly casual about their own external audiences. To me at least, they seem to ignore the reality that those behaviors really do impact their organizations.
Even when they do realize it, they often fail to associate the damage with the one remedy likely to help – public relations, America’s behavior modification specialists.
Not surprisingly, the fundamental premise of public relations spells out why businesses need public relations. Namely, to help alter the perceptions, and thus behaviors of their key target audiences which almost always leads to achieving their business objectives.
Here’s what the premise says: 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 those people whose behaviors affect the organization, the public relations mission is accomplished.
And here’s how you can apply it to your business.
Have you ever thought seriously about who these groups are that can wield such power over your organization? In addition to obvious audiences such as customers, prospects and employees, would your list of key external audiences also include such “publics” as area residents, political officeholders, minorities, fraternal groups, trade and industry leaders, nearby military personnel and union leaders? The test is, do their behaviors affect my business in any way? If they do, they belong on the list.
Now, put the names on that list into priority order and, for starters, let’s see how we might approach the group at the top of your list – your key, target public.
Can’t affect how they perceive you, or behave towards you, unless you take the time to find out how they currently perceive you and your business. Interact with several members of that important outside audience, and ask a lot of questions. Have you heard about us? Do you have a positive opinion about us? And listen carefully for any hint of negativity such as inaccurate beliefs about your product or service quality and pricing. Do you notice other misconceptions about your business, or a recurring rumor that needs to be confronted directly?
When you monitor individual perceptions this way, the responses you receive allow you to establish your public relations goal. For example, neutralize that rumor, or clear up that misconception, or correct that inaccuracy.
But what good is that public relations goal all by itself? No good, of course, until you know how you’re going to achieve it. And that means you need a strategy. Since there are really just three ways to affect perceptions or opinion, you must decide whether the public relations goal can be achieved by creating opinion/ perceptions where there isn’t any, or by changing existing opinion, or by reinforcing it.
And so, with goal and strategy all set, the real work begins. What are you going to say to those individuals whose perceptions of your organization you wish to alter? In other words, you need a message that, in addition to being crystal-clear as to intent, will be persuasive, credible and really compelling. And you must be specific as to whether you seek to correct a misconception, an inaccuracy, a rumor or a mistaken belief about the organization.
Every bullet needs a gun to fire it at the target. And the same goes for your message. The “beasts of burden” that will carry your message to the right eyes and ears among your target audience will be communications tactics. They include news releases, letters-to-the-editor, speeches, newsletters, brochures, face-to-face meetings, broadcast interviews and dozens of others.
In due course, you will wonder if you’re making any progress. Best way to tell is to monitor members of your target audience all over again. Ask questions similar to those you used earlier, and listen carefully for indications that their perceptions now reflect the corrective elements of your message.
Not enough movement in their perceptions? You’ll want to think about increasing the number of different communications tactics you’re bringing to bear as well as an increase in their frequencies. And don’t forget to re-evaluate the factual basis and impact of your message itself.
Your ongoing monitoring of perceptions among your key target audience will begin to reveal changes in that opinion as time passes. And that spells success in public relations.
Bob Kelly counsels, writes and speaks about the fundamental premise of public relations. He has been DPR, Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-PR, Texaco Inc.; VP-PR, Olin Corp.; VP-PR, Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of communications, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press secretary, The White House. mailto:bobkelly@TNI.net Visit: http://www.prcommentary.com