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Yes, Public Relations Can Help Your Business
by Robert A. Kelly

Do you worry about certain behaviors among your most important audiences because those behaviors are vital to achieving your objectives? If your answer is yes, you need public relations.

The payoff? When those audiences do what you want them to do, achieving your organizational objectives gets a lot easier. That's why this article is all about how to make welcome, key-audience behavior a regular occurrence.

Some of us learned long ago that people act on their own perceptions of the facts, leading to predictable behaviors about which something can be done. We call all those perceptions opinion…public opinion.

So, public relations tries to create, change or reinforce that opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired-action the very people whose behaviors affect your organization.

Oh, those painful behaviors.

Negative perceptions almost always lead to unhappy behaviors such as loud complaints about slipshod association communications, cancelled reservations due to a motel chain's housekeeping mismanagement, or falling sales because of a fast food product's poor taste.

What to do About Them

How can any business prepare itself to deal effectively with such key-audience, opinion challenges?

Well, because public relations problems are usually defined by what people THINK about a set of facts, as opposed to the actual truth of the matter, one would be well-advised to focus on three realities:

1. People act on their perception of the facts;

2. Those perceptions lead to certain behaviors;

3. Something can be done about those perceptions and behaviors that leads to achieving the organization's objectives.

First, what's the Problem?

Identify the key operating problem. Is it declining sales in a specific product line or location? Is it an allegation of wrongdoing? Is it a quality or performance issue? Has an elected official spoken negatively about your industry? Have you learned that a national activist group may target your business? Or, is there simply clear evidence of negative behaviors among your key audiences?

Set the public relations goal.

Let's say there's a perception that you lost a key customer which concerns your workers. That gives you some hiring and retention problems, and it also worries your suppliers and some community leaders. Since it isn't true, you set the following public relations goal:

Change the negative perceptions of the company's customer longevity from negative to positive, thus correcting the hiring and retention problems and calming supplier and community concerns.

What about the public relations strategy?

Now, you must select one of three choices available to you when selecting a proper strategy. In this example, you are choosing to CHANGE existing opinion rather than CREATE opinion where none exists, or REINFORCE an existing opinion, neither of which are applicable to this case.

With your perception and behavior modification goals, and now the strategy set down, progress will be measured in terms of reduced employee departures, a satisfactory increase in the company's employee retention rate as well as reassured suppliers and community leaders.

But who do we talk to?

Identifying key audiences and prioritizing them – crucial steps in any public relations action planning – were identified early on in this example as employees, suppliers and the community-at-large and its leaders, in that priority order.

And what do we say?

The messages must disarm the rumor with clear evidence such as plain talk by the boss possibly speaking before a town meeting in the event turmoil increases. It might be smart to seek a public endorsement by a believable third-party. It could even be reassurance by the "large customer" himself, or herself, that "we have no intention of switching suppliers as long as the company continues to provide the same superior quality, service and pricing it now does."

It's Tactics Time

Now, you select the most effective communications tactics available to you, and kickoff your action plan.

How will your target audiences actually be reached? Choices include face-to-face meetings, email, hand-placed feature articles and broadcast appearances, special employee, supplier or community briefings, news releases, announcement luncheons, onsite media interviews, facility tours, promotional contests, brochures and a host of other carefully targeted communications tactics.

So, how are we doing?

Signs that your messages are moving employee, supplier and community opinion in your direction will begin showing up. Signs like comments in community meetings, local newspaper editorials, e-mails from suppliers as well as public references by political figures and local celebrities.

The End Game

By this time, your action program should begin to attract the sort of employee, supplier and community understanding that leads to the behavior shifts you want – namely, the unsettling rumor has been disarmed and operations are returning to normal.

You know you've arrived at the public relations end game when the changes in behaviors become really apparent through supportive media reports, positive supplier and thought-leader comment, and increasingly upbeat employee and community chatter.

In the end, a sound strategy using high-impact tactics helps achieve program success – perceptions that have been altered leading to behaviors that have been modified, and another win for public relations.

Related Articles:

Doubt PR's Clout? Don't!
Done right, PR helps modify the behaviors of your most important target audiences, and that can spell S-U-R-V-I-V-A-L.

The Increasing Power of Publicity...and how it can benefit your business
Publicity placements have always been a cost-efficient way to market a product/business and generate clients or customers. But because of lack of knowledge or a misunderstanding of what publicity is and does, many entrepreneurs don't take full advantage of publicity opportunities. That can lead to missed marketing chances.

Successful Small Businesses Use PR
Are you ready to follow the winners and get public relations working for your small business? The payoff can be significant – key audience behaviors that directly support your business objectives and make the difference between failure and success.


Robert A. Kelly © 2003

Bob Kelly counsels, writes and speaks to general management personnel 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. Visit: http://www.prcommentary.com

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