Public Relations’ Grand Illusion
“Public Relations is really all about communications
tactics and publicity.” Sorry, no. Whether you are a
business, non-profit, government agency or
association manager, PR actually is all about a high-
impact action plan which does something meaningful
about the behaviors of those important audiences that
most affect your organization; creates the kind of
external stakeholder behavior change that leads directly
to achieving your managerial objectives; and does so
by persuading those key outside folks to your way of
thinking by helping move them to take actions that
allow your department, group, division or subsidiary
Communications tactics are nice, and really necessary
when you need to move a message from here to there.
But that’s all they are.
The PR illusion that simple tactics like press releases,
broadcast plugs, special events or brochures can
deliver the end-products outlined in the first paragraph
all by themselves, is not merely misguided, it’s wishful
Worse, it can become a dangerous tactical preoccupation
with many managers, diverting their attention from the
PR end-product he or she has a right to expect.
Unfortunately, it also denies that manager the best that
public relations has to offer.
Of course, all options are open when our manager bases
his or her public relations planning on its underlying
premise: 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 usually accomplished.
At the core of PR’s premise is the fact that good public
relations planning really CAN alter individual
perception and result in changed behaviors among
key outside audiences. But you’ll only get there when
your PR demands more than news releases, special
events and broadcast plugs. Only then will you receive
the quality public relations results you deserve.
What kind of PR end-products can you expect? Here
are several: politicians and legislators begin looking
at you as a key member of the business, non-profit
or association communities; new prospects actually
start to do business with you; capital givers or
specifying sources begin to look your way; welcome
bounces in show room visits occur; community leaders
begin to seek you out; new proposals for strategic
alliances and joint ventures start showing up;
customers begin to make repeat purchases; and
membership applications start to rise.
I’d suggest that you look first to your public relations
professionals for your new opinion monitoring project
since they’re already in the perception and behavior
business. But be certain that the PR staff really accepts
why it’s SO important to know how your most
important outside audiences perceive your operations,
products or services. Essentially, be sure they believe
that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that
can help or hurt your operation.
Take the time needed to go over your plans for
monitoring and gathering perceptions by questioning
members of your most important outside audiences.
Ask questions like these: how much do you know
about our organization? Have you had prior contact
with us and were you pleased with the interchange?
Are you familiar with our services or products and
employees? Have you experienced problems with
our people or procedures?
The fact, however, is this. When you use professional
survey firms to do the opinion gathering work, your
costs can exceed the expense of using those PR folks
of yours in that monitoring capacity. But whether it’s
your people or a survey firm asking the questions, the
objective remains the same: identify untruths, false
assumptions, unfounded rumors, inaccuracies,
misconceptions and any other negative perception
that might translate into hurtful behaviors.
Setting a clearcut and realistic PR goal now comes
front and center. As with most strategic programs,
it must call for action on the most serious problem
areas you uncovered during your key audience
perception monitoring. Possibly, you will decide to
stop that potentially painful rumor cold. Or
straighten out that dangerous misconception?
Or correct that gross inaccuracy?
Equally key, you must link your goal to an equally
action-oriented strategy that shows how to get to
where you’re going. Actually, you have just three
strategic options available to you when it comes
to doing something about perception and opinion.
Change existing perception, create perception
where there may be none, or reinforce it. Needless
to say, the wrong strategy pick will taste like some
brands of vegetarian meatballs. So be sure your
new strategy fits well with your new public relations
goal. You certainly don’t want to select “change”
when the facts dictate a strategy of reinforcement.
Because good writing is central to the public
relations business, the best writer on your team must
prepare a persuasive message that will help move
your key audience to your way of thinking. It has
to be a carefully-written message targeted directly
at your key external audience. Your writer must
come up with really corrective language that is
not merely compelling, persuasive and believable,
but clear and factual if they are to shift
perception/opinion towards your point of view
and lead to the behaviors you have in mind.
Here’s a lighter topic. Selecting the communications
tactics most likely to carry your message to the
attention of your target audience. There are many
available. From speeches, facility tours, emails
and brochures to consumer briefings, media
interviews, newsletters, personal meetings and
many others. But be certain that the tactics you
pick are known to reach folks just like your
Of course how you communicate must concern
you at this point. The reason is that the credibility
of any message is fragile and always suspect.
Which is why the means by which you
communicate is always be a concern. And that’s
also why you may wish to unveil your corrective
message before smaller meetings through
presentations rather than using higher-profile news
To establish comparative progress, you may wish to
demonstrate how the monies spent on public relations
can pay off in the form of periodic progress reports.
But, it’s also an alert to begin a second perception
monitoring session with members of your external
audience. You’ll want to use many of the same
questions used in the benchmark session. But now,
you will be on strict alert for signs that the bad news
perception is being altered in your direction.
Any program can suffer from occasional slowdowns
in momentum. Your options include speeding
things up by adding more communications tactics
and/or increasing their frequencies.
Clearly, it is no illusion when managers move
beyond communication tactics, and create a high-impact,
PR action plan certain to deliver to them the very best
public relations has to offer.
“This article is brought to you by Gus Woltmann”.