Public Relations: The Fundamental Premise

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This indicates difficult to believe in the dawn of the 21st Century, that there exists
a serious discipline with so many diverse, partial, incomplete and limited interpretations of the mission. Here, simply a sampling of professional opinion
on the public relations is all about:

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* talking to the media on behalf of a client.

* selling an item, service or idea.

* reputation management.

* engineering of perception

* doing good and achieving credit for it.

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

To find out an element of truth in this definitions, most focus on only part of what public relations is capable of doing, kind of a halfway fundamental premise. Worse, they don’t answer the question, from what end do they lead? Few even mention the true end-game — behavior modification — the goal against which all publicity activity must be held accountable.

Here’s my opinion concerning the fundamental premise of publicity: People act on their perception of the facts leading to behaviors about which something is possible. When public relations creates, changes or reinforces that opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired-action the individuals whose behaviors get a new organization, the public relations mission is accomplished.

Even when we feel certain in regards to the fundamental premise of pr, maybe we should take another look? Just like we are wrong, at the best we miss out on public relation’s enormous benefits. At worst, we could damage ourselves and our organizations.

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

Exactly what is the alternative when we see some advertising people managing to undergo their entire careers without having a firm grasp from the fundamental premise of publicity? Their responses to crises, as well as to requests for well thought-out methods to public relations problems, reveal a life threatening lack of understanding. They confuse the basic function of public relations with a variety 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 in what counsel to give their clients. Many, relying on career-long misconceptions about advertising, forge ahead anyway advising the consumer ineffectively sometimes with damaging, if not dangerous counsel.

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

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

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

Bushy-tailed and bright with promise, the modern generation of advertising professionals must discover their employer/client wants us to utilize our special skills in a way that helps achieve his / her business objectives. Knowning that no matter what strategic plan we create to fix a problem, no matter what tactical program we executed, at the end of the day we must modify somebody’s behavior while we are to earn our money.

One of the benefits is, when the behavioral changes become apparent, and satisfy the program’s original behavior modification goal, three benefits appear.
One, people relations program can be a success. Two, by having this behavioral goal we set at the beginning, we are using a dependable and accurate pr performance measurement. And three, when our “reach, persuade and move-to-desired-action” efforts develop a visible modification inside 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 a majority of employers and company is not primarily considering our ability to fraternize using the media, communicate or paint images. Nor is he especially fascinated with our efforts to identify target audiences, set publicity goals and strategies, write persuasive messages, select communications tactics, et al.

Just what the employer/client invariably DOES want can be a change in the behaviors of certain key audiences that leads directly to the achievement of the business objectives. Hence, the emphasis in the following paragraphs on careful planning for altered key audience perceptions and modified behaviors.

So in retrospect quality preparation and also 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 sets of people vitally important to your organization, we could be discussing nothing less than its survival.

So why, young people, do we feel so strongly in regards to the fundamental premise of public relations? Because some of us have discovered from leaders within the field, from mentors and from long years of experience that there are only three ways a public relations effort make a difference behavior: create opinion where it won’t exist, reinforce existing opinion or change that opinion. Not surprising that the process through which those goals are realized is recognized as public relations. While behavior may be the goal, and a host of communications tactics include the tools, our approach is the leverage given by public opinion.

We also learned the hard manner in which when your employer/client starts trying to find a return on his or her public relations investment, it becomes clear in a rush 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 aren’t getting the behavior changes they paid for, they’re probably wasting the bucks they’re spending on public relations.

Here’s why I have faith that that. Once again, we all know that people act on their thought of the facts, that those perceptions result in certain behaviors, which something can be done about those perceptions and behaviors top to achieving the employer/client’s business objectives.

This means s/he really CAN establish the specified behavior change up front, then insist on getting that result before pronouncing people relations effort a hit.

In other words, the way to grow their comfort level about their public relations investment, is to be sure that investment produces the behavior modification the course notes said they wanted at the start of the program,

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

I’d be remiss here easily omitted reference to the difficulties those a new comer to the field will encounter in wanting to evaluate public relations performance. Often, they’re going to find themselves using highly-subjective, very limited and only partially applicable performance judgments. Most notable, inquiry generation, story content analysis, gross impressions and also advertising value equal to the publicity space obtained.

The reason for this sorry scenario is the lack of affordable public opinion survey products that could demonstrate conclusively that the public relations perception and behavioral goal set at the start of the program was, in fact, achieved. Usually, opinion surveys adequate towards the job of establishing certainly that a behavioral goal was achieved, are cost-prohibitive, often far well over the overall cost of the public relations program itself!

However, the younger generation, 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 like comments in community meetings and business speeches, local newspaper, radio and TV editorials, emails from audience members and thought-leaders, and public statements by political figures and local celebrities.

We even shadow our very own communications tactics looking to monitor their effect on audience perception — tactics for example 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 as well as special events like promotional contests, financial road shows, awards ceremonies, trade conventions, celebrity appearances and open houses — each made to impact individual perception and behavior.

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

An additional piece of advice for the soon-to-be pr professional. As we commence to achieve proficiency in public areas relations, an action pathway to success also begins to appear:

* identify the problem

* identify target audiences

* set the general public relations goal

* set the public relations strategy

* prepare persuasive messages

* select and implement key communications tactics

* monitor progress

* along with the end game? Fulfill the behavior modification goal.

I really hope these remarks bring about a broadened comprehension of the fundamental function of publicity in our organizations, especially among our entry-level colleagues. Especially, how it can strengthen relationships with those important teams of people — those target audiences, those “publics” whose perceptions and behaviors will help or hinder the achievement in our employer/client’s business objectives.

One last thought for those entering or planning to enter the field of public relations — you’ll know you’ve attained each public relations end game in the event 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.

Quite simply, sound strategy joined with effective tactics leads right to the bottom line — altered perceptions, modified behaviors, and a public relations homerun.

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