Managers, there’s some good news on the public relations front. The right public relations planning really CAN alter individual perception and lead to changed behaviors among your key outside audiences. Therefore, try to remember that your PR effort must demand more than special events, news releases and talk show tactics if you’re to receive the quality results you deserve. Doing so may result in:
- Capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look your way;
- Customers begin to make repeat purchases;
- Membership applications start to rise;
- New proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures start showing up;
- Politicians and legislators begin looking at you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities;
- New (and very ) welcome bounces in show room visits occur;
- Prospects actually start to do business with you; and/or
- Community leaders begin to seek you out.
Your public relations professionals can be of real use for your new opinion monitoring project because they are already in the perception and behavior business. Be certain, however, 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. Above all, be sure they believe that perceptions almost always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your operation.
Go over your plans with them 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 cost of using professional survey firms to do the opinion gathering work will be considerably more than using those PR folks of yours, who are already in the perception business, 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.
It’s time to establish a goal-focused call for action on the most serious problem areas you uncovered during your key audience perception monitoring. Will it be to straighten out that dangerous misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy? Or, stop that potentially painful rumor cold?
It goes without saying that setting your PR goal requires an equally specific strategy that tells you how to get there. Only three strategic options are 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.
The wrong strategy pick will taste like pancake syrup on your parmesan crusted tilapia 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.
Here, good writing comes to the fore. You must prepare a persuasive message that will help move your key audience to your way of thinking. It must be a carefully-written message targeted directly at your key external audience. Select your very best writer because s/he 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.
At this point, you must select 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. Be certain, however, that the tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like your audience members.
Since the credibility of any message is fragile and always up for grabs, how you communicate is a concern. Thus, you may wish to unveil your corrective message before smaller meetings and presentations rather than using higher-profile news releases.
Inevitably, the need for a progress report will cause you 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. This time, you’ll be on strict alert for signs that the bad news perception is being altered in your direction.
And there you have it. Putting these tactical devices to use allows managers to alter individual perception in a way that leads to changed behaviors among key outside audiences, and thus insuring the success of that manager’s operation.