Public Relations: The Fundamental Premise

It seems difficult to believe at the dawn of the 21st Century, that there exists
a major discipline with so many diverse, partial, incomplete and limited interpretations of its mission. Here, just a sampling of professional opinion
on what public relations is all about:

* talking to the media on behalf of a client.

* selling a product, service or idea.

* reputation management.

* engineering of perception

* doing good and getting credit for it.

* attracting credit to an organization for doing good and limiting the downside when it does bad

While there is an element of truth in such definitions, most zero in on only part of what public relations is capable of doing, kind of a halfway fundamental premise. Worse, they fail to answer the question, to what end do they lead? Few even mention the REAL end-game — behavior modification — the goal against which all public relations activity must be held accountable.

Here’s my opinion about the fundamental premise of public relations: People act on their perception of the facts leading to behaviors about which something can be done. When public relations creates, changes or reinforces that opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired-action those people whose behaviors affect the organization, the public relations mission is accomplished.

Even when we feel certain about the fundamental premise of public relations, maybe we should take another look? Because if we are wrong, at best we miss out on public relation’s enormous benefits. At worst, we can damage ourselves and our organizations.

The fundamental premise suggests that, to help achieve true competitive advantage, management must insure that its public relations investment is committed directly to influencing the organization’s most important audiences. And THEN insure that the tacticians efficiently prepare and communicate messages that will influence those audience perceptions and, thus, behaviors. For non-profits or public sector entities, the emphasis would be on achieving the organization’s primary objectives.

What is the alternative when we see some public relations people managing to go through their entire careers without a firm grasp of the fundamental premise of public relations? Their responses to crises, or to requests for well thought-out solutions to public relations problems, reveal a serious lack of understanding. They confuse the basic function of public relations with any number of tactical parts that make up the whole, such as publicity, crisis management or employee relations. Understandably, they feel unsure in approaching public relations problems, then uncertain about what counsel to give their clients. Many, relying on career-long misconceptions about public relations, forge ahead anyway advising the client ineffectively sometimes with damaging, if not dangerous counsel.

In seeking a solution to this challenge to understanding, we cannot rely solely on tactics or even emulate the artillery training commander who tells his student gunners “point your guns in any direction and fire when you feel like it!”

Instead, just as that artillery commander teaches his newbie gunners to carefully analyze their target and precisely what they must do to reach it, so it is with public relations.

Our best opportunity resides at the get-go where we really can make certain our public relations students CLEARLY understand the basic premise of public relations at the beginning of their careers. AND that they have an equally clear understanding of the organizational context — business, non-profit or public sector — in which they will be expected to apply what they have learned, and in which they must operate successfully.

Bushy-tailed and bright with promise, the new generation of public relations professionals must learn that their employer/client wants us to apply our special skills in a way that helps achieve his or her business objectives. And that no matter what strategic plan we create to solve a problem, no matter what tactical program we put in place, at the end of the day we must modify somebody’s behavior if we are to earn our money.

The best part is, when the behavioral changes become apparent, and meet the program’s original behavior modification goal, three benefits appear.
One, the public relations program is a success. Two, by achieving the behavioral goal we set at the beginning, we are using a dependable and accurate public relations performance measurement. And three, when our “reach, persuade and move-to-desired-action” efforts produce a visible modification in the behaviors of those people we wish to influence, we are using public relations’ special strengths to their very best advantage.

Budding professionals should learn at the beginning of their careers that most employers and clients are not primarily interested in our ability to fraternize with the media, communicate or paint images. Nor are they especially fascinated with our efforts to identify target audiences, set public relations goals and strategies, write persuasive messages, select communications tactics, et al.

What the employer/client invariably DOES want is a change in the behaviors of certain key audiences which leads directly to the achievement of their business objectives. Hence, the emphasis in this article on careful planning for altered key audience perceptions and modified behaviors.

Which explains why quality preparation and the degree of behavioral change it produces, defines success or failure for a public relations program. Done correctly, when public relations results in modified behaviors among groups of people vitally important to any organization, we could be talking about nothing less than its survival.

But why, young people, do we feel so strongly about the fundamental premise of public relations? Because some of us have learned from leaders in the field, from mentors and from long years of experience that there are only three ways a public relations effort can impact behavior: create opinion where it doesn’t exist, reinforce existing opinion or change that opinion. No surprise that the process by which those goals are realized is known as public relations. While behavior is the goal, and a host of communications tactics are the tools, our strategy is the leverage provided by public opinion.

We also learned the hard way that when your employer/client starts looking for a return on his or her public relations investment, it becomes clear in a hurry that the goal MUST be the kind of change in the behaviors of key stakeholders that leads directly to achieving business objectives.

I also believe that we should advise our newcomers that if their employers/clients ever say they’re not getting the behavior changes they paid for, they’re probably wasting the money they’re spending on public relations.

Here’s why I say that. Once again, we know that people act on their perception of the facts, that those perceptions lead to certain behaviors, and that something can be done about those perceptions and behaviors that leads to achieving the employer/client’s business objectives.

Which means s/he really CAN establish the desired behavior change up front, then insist on getting that result before pronouncing the public relations effort a success.

In other words, the way to increase their comfort level about their public relations investment, is to make certain that investment produces the behavior modification they said they wanted at the beginning of the program,

That way, they KNOW they’re getting their money’s worth.

I would be remiss here if I omitted reference to the difficulties those new to the field will encounter in attempting to evaluate public relations performance. Often, they will find themselves using highly-subjective, very limited and only partially applicable performance judgments. Among them, inquiry generation, story content analysis, gross impressions and even advertising value equivalent to the publicity space obtained.

The main reason for this sorry state of affairs is the lack of affordable public opinion survey products that could demonstrate conclusively that the public relations perception and behavioral goal set at the beginning of the program was, in fact, achieved. Usually, opinion surveys adequate to the job of establishing beyond doubt that a behavioral goal was achieved, are cost-prohibitive, often far in excess of the overall cost of the public relations program itself!

However, young people, all is not lost. Obviously, some behavioral changes are immediately visible, such as customers returning to showrooms, environmental activists abandoning plant gate protests or a rapidly improving job retention rate. We follow less obvious behavioral change by monitoring indicators that directly impact behavior such as comments in community meetings and business speeches, local newspaper, radio and TV editorials, emails from target audience members and thought-leaders, and public statements by political figures and local celebrities.

We even shadow our own communications tactics trying to monitor their impact on audience perception — tactics such as face-to-face meetings, Internet ezines and email, hand-placed newspaper and magazine feature articles and broadcast appearances, special consumer briefings, news releases, announcement luncheons, onsite media interviews, facility tours, brochures and even special events like promotional contests, financial road shows, awards ceremonies, trade conventions, celebrity appearances and open houses — each designed to impact individual perception and behavior.

And it does work — we ARE able to demonstrate an impact on perception and behavior for the employer/client. But affordable professional opinion/behavioral surveys would be the best solution. Clearly, solving this problem remains a major challenge for both the public relations and survey disciplines.

One more piece of advice for the soon-to-be public relations professional. As we begin to achieve proficiency in public relations, an action pathway to success also begins to appear:

* identify the problem

* identify target audiences

* set the public relations goal

* set the public relations strategy

* prepare persuasive messages

* select and implement key communications tactics

* monitor progress

* and the end game? Meet the behavior modification goal.

I hope these remarks contribute to a broadened understanding of the fundamental function of public relations in our organizations, especially among our entry-level colleagues. In particular, how it can strengthen relationships with those important groups of people — those target audiences, those “publics” whose perceptions and behaviors can help or hinder the achievement of our employer/client’s business objectives.

A final thought for those entering or planning to enter the field of public relations — you’ll know you’ve arrived at each public relations end game when the changes in behaviors become truly apparent through feedback such as increased numbers of positive media reports, encouraging supplier and thought-leader comment, and increasingly upbeat employee and community chatter.

In other words, sound strategy combined with effective tactics leads directly to the bottom line — altered perceptions, modified behaviors, and a public relations homerun.

Please feel free to publish this article and resource box
in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website.
A copy would be appreciated at [email protected].

Robert A. Kelly © 2005.

Why Public Relations Is Essential To Any Sales And Marketing Company

For some time, public relations has been viewed by executives as a soft discipline of questionable value to a company’s bottom line. Recently, however, PR’s reputation has received support from metrics being pressed upon every marketing initiative. “They don’t always understand there are a variety of steps required in gaining media attention, I have encountered at times a general lack of clarity about how the things I do day-to-day connect to PR” says Renee Deger, PR manager at Loyalty Lab in San Francisco.

Public relations is a strategic process used to develop a comprehensive communications plan to reach its target audience. The company’s message is received by its audience using research-based strategies and tactics created. It is essential that an effective public relations plan is in action for any sales and marketing company to reach its full potential.

By starting with what PR practitioners call a S.W.O.T. analysis, a company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats can be addressed. This research is necessary in order to establish future business avenues to explore. Short and long term goals should also be noted to ensure a clear and coherent message is being delivered.

A useful model used in the public relations process is the R.O.P.E. theory. The fundamentals research, objectives, planning, and evaluation are fully examined to develop an effective communications plan. These elements help guide the campaign.

Research is the first step in this strategic process, followed by setting realistic objectives, planning and execution, and finally evaluation of the campaign to tweak any areas in need of improvement. A company’s target market is identified and located. Quantitative ( eg. surveys) and qualitative (eg. focus groups) research methods can, then, be conducted to later develop an effective strategy to best reach this audience. Who and where are your potential audience(s) and how are they reached. Whether it be TV, radio or print ads, every market has their own preference and it should be known prior to creating any tactical material.

For example, press releases market a company’s involvement, success, or services in an industry; therefore, welcoming more interviews from the media than its competitors. This is only one example of how public relations can save a company from making unprofitable business ventures. Every company can benefit from a more cost efficient approach to doing business.

Moreover, strategic public relations can be essential when dealing with risk and crisis management. A company’s reputation with the public can make or break future networking opportunities. With a strategic plan in place, touchy issues can be handled in a more delicate manner resulting in a more favorable position for the company.

Al Maag, currently the chief communications officer at Phoenix-based electronic components supplier Avnet, joined the company for his first tour of PR duty. His responsibilities fell under the “communications” heading, but the CEO at the time favored advertising and other disciplines that had a set budget and wide acceptance over the squishier practice of PR.

“Nobody in our company talked to the press in those days,” he tells Monster Contributing Writer, Kelly Shermach. “Management didn’t understand it, didn’t appreciate it, didn’t care.” This wasn’t just Maag’s impression. The CEO made it clear to him that PR didn’t have a place on his priority list.

Maag convinced Avnet’s CEO that PR created the demand that its salespeople needed as well as maintaining its public image and leverage with shareholders’ investments. Now, managers at Avnet “know it’s their job,” Maag says, to create good news that can be shared with the public. “Most people believe journalism over advertising.”

Effective public relations helps build stronger and mutually beneficial relationships with existing and future clients. Loyal clients are a company’s most valuable asset and need to be carefully preserved. As noted in Monster Career Advice, with good PR, even managers struggling with small ad budgets can generate sales leads.

Make Public Relations Work for Your Business

The magic word that every consumer loves to hear more than any other is, FREE! Sales promotions offering a free sample or product inducement are always exceedingly popular. Human nature being what it is, the opportunity to obtain something of perceived value for nothing is usually very desirable.

Creative entrepreneurs can craft and develop a very effective, and free, promotional tool for their business or invention. The ability to utilize public relations is a key component of any successful enterprise. The potential to create and deliver your own message, and widely disseminate this message, is very powerful.

Advertising is a wonderful sales promotional tool. It offers a product the opportunity to deliver a specific message detailing the features and benefits inherent in the item being advertised to a potentially vast audience. A business can buy advertising to custom deliver a story to an appropriate demographic. Based on a company’s advertising budget, an effective campaign can be crafted to deliver a maximum result and return on invested advertising dollar.

Nevertheless, contemporary media is a vast, cluttered world of segmentation, niche players and competing new technologies. It has become very difficult to measure advertising effectiveness owing to this maelstrom. The inter-net is now a huge advertising vehicle being utilized by many businesses that only a few years ago were exclusive users of television as the advertising medium of choice.

Additionally, advertising can be extremely expensive. A campaign designed to effectively reach the masses is prohibitively expensive for almost any entrepreneur or small business. Creative, production and media-buy are expensive if any level of quality is to be achieved when delivering a print ad, television spot, direct mail message or radio commercial.

Free publicity offers several benefits denied when using most advertising mediums. Every consumer recognizes advertising when they see it. We are bombarded every day with thousands of commercial messages, everywhere we turn the senses are being challenged. Publicity, however, does not assault our senses and cause a barrier response. Effective publicity informs, teaches and imparts useful detail that assumes editorial status and is readily read. Publicity is not framed in advertising structures where content is exclusively commercial. We change the channel when commercials come on, but we are interested in gaining knowledge, exactly the benefit proffered by public relations.

I am always amazed at how few businesses and entrepreneurs effectively utilize a public relations component in their sale promotion campaign. The ability to spread product/company specific messages to interested consumers of this information, at no expense, is a bonanza not to be missed. If you can write a letter you can write a press release. If you have access to the inter-net you have the delivery system required to implement a publicity campaign for your new product or small business. If your industry has trade journals, industry specific magazines, trade associations or affiliations you have a built in audience interested in staying current on industry happenings. Take full advantage!

It costs nothing to e-mail a press release to thousands of consumers. It costs virtually nothing to fax a press release to targeted, important decision- makers in your area of commerce. The opportunity to have a portion, or all, of your press release re-printed in a newspaper, magazine or trade journal, for free, is exponentially more important and beneficial than an ad placement in the same vehicle.

There are professional public relations firms everywhere. They perform a valuable service and can be as important to a business as an advertising agency relationship. However, there is no reason for an entrepreneur to have to pay to implement a publicity campaign for their business. It can be self-directed and achieve excellent results.

I utilize Public Relations for every client I serve. The results have proven, when measured against the time invested, stunningly positive. A cosmetic product highlighted in Mademoiselle, a tow-able float featured in Boat Magazine or a novel fire extinguisher described in Popular Mechanics are only a few of the dozens of examples of placements that have leveraged successful product launches.

When organizing a self-directed publicity campaign keep several things in mind. Your goal is to highlight a new feature, offering or extension of your business. You are not trying to sell an item in the press release. A blatant commercial appeal will not be read, re-printed or quoted. The content should be written as an informational announcement. A new product, featuring a new technology, available at sporting goods stores, will be launched by (your name/company here). Provide a contact name, phone number, e-mail address, and fax number so consumers of your press release can make contact and ask questions. This often leads to an interview or expanded quotes.

The effective press release is NEVER more than one page in length. Obviously, it is crucial that grammar, spelling and wording be correct and appropriate. Keep sentences short, one bullet point per sentence, and clear. Summarize you, or your company, in a short last paragraph. An example:

Duquesa Marketing is an international marketing and product development consulting firm specializing in consumer products. The firm typically works with inventors, entrepreneurs and small business to customize and execute sales, marketing, launch and funding strategies.

There are a number of inter-net sites that are highly efficient at broadly distributing free lance written press releases. PRWeb.com is one, and there are many more. You will need to submit your press release for consideration and review. Editors will confirm that the press release has been accepted for network distribution. You might be asked to provide key words relative to your content. This will enable the distributor to target industry subsets more likely to be interested in learning about your product.

These services are offered at no charge. However, there are optional maximization programs. Utilizing this service requires making a small investment. I usually use this service. My experience is that a $40 investment gives me an outsize return in terms of response, pick-ups and placement.

Most entrepreneurs and startup businesses face daunting financial issues at every step of development. The library, a few mentors, and not much else will be available at no cost. Publicity for an opportunity is invaluable. Take advantage of every chance to publicize any and all aspects of your venture, especially when the notoriety gained is positive and free.