How Do You Explain Public Relations To A Non-Public Relations Audience?

Here’s the way I’d explain … I want to give you a quick overview of where I believe public … is today. And second, an equally brief … of how I believe the process can work to

Here’s the way I’d explain it:

First,How Do You Explain Public Relations To A Non-Public Relations Audience? Articles I want to give you a quick overview of where I believe
public relations is today. And second, an equally brief
run-through of how I believe the process can work to the
advantage of your organizations.

Now, in case you just asked yourself, what am I doing here?,
let me say that I believe deeply that public relations,
properly executed, can be crucial to the success of ANY
organization. So, this is a topic that must be of interest to
a non-public relations audience whose members care about
their organization and, hopefully, who work productively
with their own public relations people. I hope you will
agree at the end of the talk.

Let’s start with a few givens.

The fact is that NO organization – business, non-profit
or public sector – can succeed today unless the behaviors
of its most important audiences are consistent – I guess we
say “in-sync” these days – with its objectives.

So, for most of your organizations, that means public relations
professionals must modify somebody’s behavior if they are
to hit their objective and earn a paycheck – everything else
is a means to that end.

Which is why, when public relations goes on to successfully
create, change or reinforce public opinion by reaching, persuading
and moving-to-action those people whose behaviors affect the
organization, it accomplishes its mission.

So, if your organization isn’t getting the behavior changes
it wanted at the beginning of the program, its wasting its
public relations investment. On the other hand, one way
management can increase its comfort level with that
investment, is to make certain those behaviors ARE modified
as agreed upon up front. That way, management KNOWS it’s
getting its money’s worth.

Here’s why I say that. People act on their perception
of the facts, and those perceptions lead to certain behaviors.
Which means that, at the end of the day, management must
keep its eye on the end-game because the main reason we do
public relations in the first place is to change the behaviors
of certain groups of people important to the success of our

While on the way to this goal, we insure that our activity
nurtures the relationships between those target audiences
and our organization by burnishing the reputation of its
products and services. Yes, we’ll do our best to persuade
those audiences to do what our organization wishes them to
do. But, while seeking that public understanding and
acceptance, we’ll insure that our activities not only
comply with the law, but clearly serve the public interest.
It is then that we pull-out all tactical stops to actually
move those individuals to action.

But where does it all begin? For emphasis, let me repeat
something I said a moment ago. The practice of public
relations is based upon three realities:

0 People act on their perception of the facts;
0 Perceptions lead to behaviors;
0 Something can be done about those perceptions and
behaviors that leads to achieving the organization’s
operating objectives.

But, too many of us – inside and outside the public relations
business – don’t think of public relations in that broad a
context. Instead, public relations is defined by only one
or two of its components: ”PR is all about publicity,” or
”PR is really crisis management” or ”PR is primarily special
events” when, in fact, it’s based upon the three realities above.

All of which brings me to a leading question: What IS a
public relations home run?

My answer to that question is short and sweet and, by now,
you probably can anticipate it: The public relations
professional must modify somebody’s behavior as agreed upon
at the beginning of the program. When accomplished, THAT is
the public relations home run, and that is the way we earn
our paychecks – as noted above, everything else really is a
means to that end.

What I want to do here, is demonstrate a logical progression in
public relations problem solving with the emphasis on a
clear, defined result that meets a key business objective.

And by the way, one reason I define a public relations home
run that way is because I believe very few general management
people, including those in this room, ever think about PR
this way. I want to get your attention by announcing that,
in public relations, a home run can mean nothing less than
survival when it successfully changes the perceptions and,
hence, the behaviors of certain groups of people important
to the success of the organization.

In other words, when those changes clearly meet the original
behavior modification goal set at the beginning of the
program, the public relations effort is successful.

Do I expect this general management audience to
question whether public relations is REALLY
equipped to do that? I certainly HOPE you will!

Answer? Yes, because our roots are planted deeply in
the principle that people act on their own perceptions
of the facts. When public relations successfully
creates, changes or reinforces public opinion by
reaching, persuading and moving-to-action those
people whose behaviors affect the organization, its
mission is accomplished.

Aha, you will ask, but does it work out in the REAL
world? It does, and here’s how:

First, we identify the key operating problem to be addressed.
For today’s talk, I’ll use the example of a national marketer
of furniture imported from the Far East. Let’s say we receive
news reports and other input, amplified by competitive
trouble-making out in the trade, about rumors circulating to
the effect that serious quality problems have cropped up in
the company’s factories in Southeast Asia.

Here, we verify whether the allegation is true or false.
We want to clearly understand how vulnerable we
may be. So, because the company’s sales have
leveled off and are starting to decline, public relations
counsel and staff, working closely with the
company’s manufacturing people here and abroad,
establish conclusively that reports and rumors of
declining quality are without foundation, and simply
untrue. Obviously, were they true, the major corrective
responsibility would fall to the manufacturing and
international marketing people in the company.

But since the rumors are NOT true, we want to verify the
status of both consumer and trade perceptions of the
company’s product quality. Again, we want to be certain
about this step because, here, we establish the specific
public relations problem.

But, a surprise! Probing consumer opinion through personal
contact and informal polling out in the market place, counsel
and staff determine that, in fact, there really IS a
disturbing perception out there that the company’s furniture
line is “of low quality and is overpriced.”

It’s useful to make the point here that public relations
problems are nearly always defined by what people think
about the facts, as opposed to the actual truth of the
matter. And, in this example, it’s clear that negative
trade and consumer perceptions about the company’s
products, however inaccurate they may be, really do account
for the decline in showroom traffic and sales, and
must be confronted.

So now, we establish the public relations goal. Namely,
begin the process of changing public perception of the
company’s furniture quality from negative to positive,
which will lead to consumer behavioral changes, in turn
attracting furniture buyers to company showrooms once again.

Now, and within the overall public relations goal, we set
down our perception and behavior modification objectives.
They will be measured in terms of customers returning to the
showrooms, along with increasing sales, in the first three to
six months following the program’s kickoff, which obviously
will require considerable communications firepower to achieve.
Once the negative perceptions are truly understood, such a
progress marker can be set down, and agreed upon, establishing
the degree of behavioral change that can be expected.

Now we determine the public relations strategy. We only have

Are You PR-Challenged?

Please feel free to publish this article and resource box in your
ezine,Are You PR-Challenged? Articles newsletter, offline publication or website. A copy would
be appreciated at [email protected]. Word count is 870
including guidelines and resource box. Robert A. Kelly © 2003.

Are You PR-Challenged?


You won’t be if you accept a very simple premise. Here,
in just two sentences, is your pathway to effective public
relations. A pathway that lets you target the kind of stake-
holder behavior change that leads directly to achieving
your objectives.

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 those people
whose behaviors affect the organization, the public
relations mission is accomplished.

And what behavior changes they can be. Legislators who see
you as a dynamic member of their business public; prospects
deciding to patronize your enterprise; customers buying from
you again and again; local thoughtleaders strengthening their
relations with you; employees who value their employer, and
on an on.

What it boils down to, is that people in your marketing area
behave like everyone else – they take actions based on their
perceptions of the facts they hear about you and your

So, you need to deal promptly and effectively with those
perceptions by doing what you need to do to reach them with
the right message. Your job is to persuade your stakeholders
to your way of thinking and move them to take actions that
lead to the success of your organization.

Here’s one way to do exactly that.

Who are those important outside audiences whose behaviors
have the most positive OR negative impacts on your enterprise?
List them in the order of how negatively or positively those
impacts affect you.

Working on the target audience in first place on your list, let’s
look at whether any of those perceptions out there are likely
to morph into behaviors that can hurt your organization.

Assuming you don’t want to make a large investment in a
professional opinion survey, you and your colleagues must
interact with members of that target audience and ask many
questions: “What have you heard about us and our products
or services? Have you done business with us? Do you have a
bone to pick with us? Keep an eye peeled for hesitant or
evasive responses, and watch for any negative undertones.
Notice a misconception, inaccuracy or rumor? Jump on it
right away!

The data you gather from such interaction lets you form
a specific public relations goal. In other words, you get to
decide exactly what perception out there you would like to
alter so that it improves your chances of getting the behavior
change you really want.

Now, unless you select the right strategy that tells you how
to pursue that goal, nothing’s going to happen. You’re lucky
there are just three strategies to choose from when you’re
dealing with matters of opinion: create perception/opinion
where there isn’t any, change existing opinion, or reinforce it.
And be certain that your choice matches the needs of your
goal. For example, if you aim to correct an inaccuracy, you
need a strategy that changes existing opinion, not one that
reinforces it.

As you might expect, you must now prepare the message that,
hopefully, will alter the offending perception and lead to the
desired behavior. Since it must clearly address the untruth,
inaccuracy, rumor or misconception in a believable and
compelling way, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Oh,
the message must also be persuasive as it makes the case for
your point of view.

Keep in mind that, to be successful, your message usually
must alter what a lot of people may have come to believe.
It’s a big job, but as said in literary circles, “it’s worth the

How do you get this stunning message of yours to the right
eyes and ears among members of your target audience?

Right! Communications tactics will do the job, and there are
a ton of them at your disposal. From newsletters, press
releases and letters-to-the-editor to brochures, consumer
briefings, personal meetings, print and broadcast interviews
and many others.

Soon, the question will arise, are we making any progress?
At this point, you are wise to go back to those members
of your target audience and ask the same questions you asked
during your original perception monitoring session.

This time, however, you’re looking for evidence that perceptions
are being altered in your direction.

If you are the impatient type, you can always increase the beat
by adding new communications tactics and increasing their
frequencies. It’s also worth re-examining your hard-won message
not only for clarity and persuasiveness, but for factual
effectiveness as well.