Inoculate Yourself Against Bad PR
What is bad PR?
Well, if you’re a business, non-profit or association manager, bad PR does nothing positive about the behaviors of those important outside audiences of yours that most affect your operation.
It fails to create external stakeholder behavior change leading directly to achieving your managerial objectives.
And it never does persuade those key outside folks to your way of thinking, or move them to take actions that allow your department, division or subsidiary to succeed.
Good PR, on the other hand, really CAN alter individual perception and lead to the changed behaviors you need. At the same time, however, it requires more than special events, brochures and news releases if you really want to get your PR money’s worth.
Your inoculation against bad PR is the underlying premise of public relations, and here it is: 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.
You may be surprised that good PR can generate results like prospects starting to work with you; customers making repeat purchases; stronger relationships with the educational, labor, financial and healthcare communities; improved relations with government agencies and legislative bodies, and even capital givers or specifying sources looking your way
As the effort gains momentum, you can also see results such as new proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; rebounds in showroom visits; membership applications on the rise; community service and sponsorship opportunities; enhanced activist group relations, and expanded feedback channels, not to mention new thoughtleader and special event contacts.
Just how vital is it that your most important outside audiences really perceive your operations, products or services in a positive light? Vital indeed, so assure yourself that your PR staff has bought into the whole effort. Be especially careful that they accept the reality that perceptions almost always lead to behaviors that can help or hurt your unit.
Take the time to review the PR blueprint in detail with your staff, especially how you will gather and monitor matters by questioning members of your most important outside audiences. 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?
The perception monitoring phases of your program can obviously be handled by professional survey people, IF the budget is available. But always keep in mind 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.
Now, let’s talk about your public relations goal. You need one that speaks to the aberrations that showed up during your key audience perception monitoring. In all probability, it will call for straightening out that dangerous misconception, or correcting that gross inaccuracy, or doing something about that damaging rumor.
The realities of public relations are that goals need strategies to show you how to get there. And also that you have just three strategic choices when it comes to handling a perception or opinion challenge: create perception where there may be none, change the perception, or reinforce it. Unfortunately, a bad strategy pick will taste like ice cream on your corned beef and cabbage, so be certain the new strategy fits well with your new public relations goal. For example, you don’t want to select “change” when the facts dictate a “reinforce” strategy.
Your PR team must create just the right, corrective language. Persuading an audience to your way of thinking is awfully hard work, so we’re looking for words that are compelling, persuasive and believable AND clear and factual. You must do this if you are to correct a perception by shifting opinion towards your point of view, leading to the desired behaviors.
Here you must select the communications tactics most likely to carry your words to the attention of your target audience. Meet again with your communications specialists and review your message for impact and persuasiveness. You can pick from dozens of available tactics. From speeches, facility tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings, media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and many others. Just be sure that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.
On the chance that the old line about the credibility of a message depending on its delivery method is true, you might think about introducing it to smaller gatherings rather than using higher-profile communications such as news releases or talk show appearances. Consider yourself alerted when the topic of a progress report is suggested. Time for you and your PR folks to return to the field for a second perception monitoring session with members of your external audience. Using many of the same questions used in the first benchmark session, you’ll now be watching very carefully for signs that your communications tactics have worked and that the negative perception is being altered in your direction.
If impatience rears its head, you can always accelerate things with a broader selection of communications tactics AND increased frequencies.
Obviously, this will convert bad PR into good PR by doing something positive about the behaviors of those important outside audiences of yours that most affect your operation. It will do the job by creating external stakeholder behavior change leading directly to achieving your managerial objectives. And it will pull this off by persuading those key outside folks to your way of thinking, thus moving them to take actions that allow your business, non-profit or association to succeed.
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:bobkelly@TNI.net. Word count is 1100 including guidelines and resource box.
Robert A. Kelly © 2004.
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.
Robert A. Kelly