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Planning for 2002 Business Recovery? Use Public Relations Firepower

Who wants to face the challenges of Business Recovery 2002
without this kind of firepower? Especially when getting your
piece of the expected economic recovery this year will almost
certainly depend upon how well you modify the behaviors of
your target audiences.

That’s why public relations should play a central role in your
business planning in 2002.

Any recovery that takes place this year will be the result
of industrial, commercial and individual consumers alike
starting to behave like buyers, whether of luxury real estate,
frozen pizzas, industrial transformers, or running shoes.

So, before this train leaves the station, any manager unsure
how best to use public relations in the upcoming business
recovery is hereby advised that changed key-audience
perceptions, much stronger confidence levels and clearly
modified behaviors will be essential to business expansion
as never before. Fortunately, all three are social dynamics
at which public relations excels.

Consider its basic mission: Public relations is firmly rooted
in the principle that people act on their own perception of
the facts. Then it strives to create, change or reinforce
public opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to- action
those people whose behaviors affect the organization. When
the behavioral changes become apparent, and meet the
program’s original behavior modification goal, a public
relations venture can be deemed a success.

So, what comes first? In my opinion, a real acceptance that
(1) individual perception of the facts is THE guiding light
leading to behavioral change, and (2) that something really
CAN be done about those perceptions. Think about that for a
moment – not every one buys it. For me, I can tell you it
was an epiphany of immense proportion that actually helped
shape my career in public relations.

Next, What Will it Be? Opinion Creation, Change
or Reinforcement?

CREATION

O.K., now the real public opinion work begins. The public
relations squad must decide whether opinion among key
audiences is to be created from scratch, requiring a lot of
basic data, information and interpretation from which a person
can form an initial opinion.

CHANGE

Or, are we talking about a change in opinion, a nudge in
one direction or the other requiring a clear, credible and
well-supported explanation of, and rationale for why anyone
should alter their current views?

REINFORCEMENT

Or, do we simply reinforce opinion that pretty much tracks
with the opinion level we desire? Here, we use simple
corroboration and additional third-party support to strengthen
existing public opinion.

But for each of the three choices, the information and data to
be communicated must be creditably sourced, crystal-clear
and logically presented.

On to Reach, Persuade and Move-to-Action

REACH

Now, reach your key audiences, people whose behaviors will
affect your organization. Among others, these stakeholders
include customers, employees, prospects, retirees, media,
legislators, regulators, and both financial and plant
communities.

But reaching these target groups means applying the most
effective communications tactics available to you. These
will include such tools as media relations and publicity-
generating news conferences and press releases, newsletters
and e-mails, high-profile speeches, charitable contributions,
investor relations, informal opinion surveys and many others.

Special events also will be high on the “reach” action
list: newsworthy events like trade shows, open houses,
awards ceremonies, contests, VIP receptions, financial
roadshows, and even media-attracting stunts. At the same
time, marketing counsel will want to develop sales-oriented
communications to help build


brand franchise, win consumer
acceptance and gain competitive advantage.

PERSUADE

Persuading your key audiences, the third leg of the opinion
troika, is yet another challenge because bringing these
important groups of stakeholders around to your way of thinking
depends heavily on the quality of the message you prepare
for each target audience.

It’s hard work. You must understand and identify what is
really at issue at the moment; impart a sense of credibility
to your comments; perform regular assessments of how opinion
is currently running among that group, constantly adjusting
your message; as well as highlighting those key issue points
most likely to engage their attention and involvement; and
finally, identify and build into your messages pre-tested,
action-producing incentives for individuals to take the
actions you desire.

By the way, those incentives could include the very strength
of your position on the issues, a new plant expansion holding
the promise of more jobs and taxes for the City, or even your
organization’s efforts to attract low and middle income
housing to the area.

ACTION

Moving your target groups to action, hopefully with a mix
of activity such as the above, can be accelerated, even
amplified by careful selection of those media most likely
to reach your target audience. This applies whether, among
other tactics, you use print or broadcast media, key podium
presentations or a series of top-level personal contacts,
because when these tools communicate with your target
audiences you want them to score direct bullseyes.

Of equal importance to the success of your action program
will be the selection and perceived credibility of the actual
spokespeople who will deliver your messages. They must be
seen as people of stature, and they must speak with
authority, personal confidence and conviction if meaningful
media coverage is to be achieved.

Now, Let’s Gain and Hold

By this time, your action program should begin to gain and
hold the kind of public understanding and acceptance that
will lead to the desired shift in public behavior.

Signs that your messages are turning some opinion in your
direction will begin to appear. For example, indicators like
comments by a colleague in an outside business meeting,
observations in a local newspaper editorial, e-mails from
interested parties, public references by political figures
and local celebrities should begin to build. Each of these
indicators will reflect a segment of local, individual
perception which, in turn, will gradually begin to reflect the
modified behaviors you seek.

And The End-Game? Modify Behavior, Achieve your Goal

When the changes in behaviors become truly apparent through
media reports, thought-leader comment, employee and community
chatter and a variety of other feedback -- at the same time
clearly meeting your original behavior modification goal --
I believe your public relations program can be deemed a
success.

Obviously, your piece of the action in the business recovery
ahead will come at a price. And that will be your cost to
efficiently modify the behaviors of your target audiences.
But, the payoff makes it all worthwhile -- nothing less than
the achievement of your business objectives and, at slight
risk of overstatement, a real contribution to the survival
of your organization.

end

About the Author

Bob Kelly, public relations consultant, was director of public
relations for Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-Public Relations, Texaco Inc.;
VP-Public Relations, Olin Corp.; VP-Public Relations, 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


 

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