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March 18 2016


Public Relations: The Fundamental Premise

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It seems like difficult to believe on the dawn of the Modern, that there exists
a significant discipline with so many diverse, partial, incomplete and limited interpretations of its mission. Here, simply a sampling of professional opinion
on which public relations is all about:

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* actually talking to the media on behalf of a client.

* selling an item, service or idea.

* reputation management.

* engineering of perception

* doing good and having credit for it.

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

To find out an element of truth such definitions, most focus on only part of what advertising is capable of doing, kind of a halfway fundamental premise. Worse, they are not able to answer the question, to what end do they lead? Few even mention the actual end-game -- behavior modification -- the aim against which all advertising activity must be held accountable.

Here's my opinion concerning the fundamental premise of public relations: 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 people whose behaviors get a new organization, the public relations mission is accomplished.

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

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

Is there a alternative when we see some pr people managing to undergo their entire careers with no firm grasp from the fundamental premise of advertising? Their responses to crises, or to requests for well thought-out methods to public relations problems, reveal a significant lack of understanding. They confuse principle function of public relations with a variety of tactical parts that define the whole, such as publicity, crisis management or employee relations. Understandably, they feel unsure in approaching advertising problems, then uncertain in what counsel to give their clients. Many, relying on career-long misconceptions about publicity, forge ahead anyway advising the consumer ineffectively sometimes with damaging, otherwise dangerous counsel.

In seeking a solution to this challenge to understanding, we simply can't rely solely on tactics or even emulate the artillery training commander who tells his student gunners "point your guns in different direction and fire when you feel like it!"

Instead, in the same way that artillery commander teaches his newbie gunners to carefully analyze their target and exactly what they must do to reach it, so it's with public relations.

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

Bushy-tailed and bright with promise, the new generation of pr professionals must discover their employer/client wants us to make use of our special skills in ways that helps achieve their business objectives. Which no matter what strategic plan we create to resolve a problem, no matter what tactical program we put in place, at the end of the day we have to modify somebody's behavior as to earn our money.

The good thing is, when the behavioral changes become apparent, and match the program's original behavior modification goal, three benefits appear.
One, the population relations program is a success. Two, by experienceing this behavioral goal we set at the start, we are using a dependable and accurate pr performance measurement. And three, when our "reach, persuade and move-to-desired-action" efforts produce a visible modification within the behaviors of those people we want to influence, we are using public relations' special strengths to their very best advantage.

Budding professionals ought to learn at the beginning of their careers that many employers and industry is not primarily considering our ability to fraternize with the media, communicate or paint images. Nor is it 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 is really a change in the behaviors of certain key audiences which 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.

Which is why quality preparation and the degree of behavioral change it out produces, defines failure or success for a public relations program. Done efficiently, when public relations brings about modified behaviors among teams of people vitally important to your organization, we could be talking about nothing less than its survival.

So why, young people, do we feel so strongly concerning the fundamental premise of advertising? Because some of us have discovered from leaders from the field, from mentors and from long experience that there are only three ways a public relations effort could affect behavior: create opinion where it won't exist, reinforce existing opinion or change that opinion. No real surprise that the process where those goals are realized is known as public relations. While behavior could be the goal, and a host of communications tactics would be the tools, our strategy is the leverage supplied by public opinion.

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

I additionally believe that we should advise our newcomers when their employers/clients ever say they are not getting the behavior changes they taken care of, they're probably wasting the money they're spending on pr.

Here's why I only say that. Once again, we understand that people act on their perception of the facts, that those perceptions result in certain behaviors, understanding that something can be done about those perceptions and behaviors which leads to achieving the employer/client's business objectives.

Meaning s/he really CAN establish the desired behavior change up front, then require getting that result before pronouncing people relations effort a hit.

In other words, the way to grow their comfort level about their pr investment, is to make sure investment produces the behavior modification the trainer told us they wanted at the start of the program,

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

I'd personally 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 are going to find themselves using highly-subjective, restricted and only partially applicable performance judgments. One of them, inquiry generation, story content analysis, gross impressions as well as advertising value equal to the publicity space obtained.

The primary 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 outset of the program was, in fact, achieved. Usually, opinion surveys adequate on the job of establishing definitely that a behavioral goal was achieved, are cost-prohibitive, often far more than the overall cost of the advertising program itself!

However, young adults, all is not lost. Obviously, some behavioral changes are immediately visible, including 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, television and radio editorials, emails from target 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 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 as well as special events like promotional contests, financial road shows, awards ceremonies, trade conventions, celebrity appearances and open houses -- each built to impact individual perception and behavior.

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

Another piece of advice for the soon-to-be public relations professional. As we start 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

* as well as the end game? Meet the behavior modification goal.

I really hope these remarks contribute to a broadened comprehension of the fundamental function of pr in our organizations, especially among our entry-level colleagues. In particular, how it can strengthen relationships with those important categories of people -- those target audiences, those "publics" whose perceptions and behaviors will help or hinder the achievement of our own employer/client's business objectives.

A last thought for those entering or likely to enter the field of advertising -- you'll know you've arrived at each public relations end game once the changes in behaviors become truly apparent through feedback including increased numbers of positive media reports, encouraging supplier and thought-leader comment, and increasingly upbeat employee and community chatter.

Quite simply, sound strategy coupled with effective tactics leads directly to the bottom line -- altered perceptions, modified behaviors, plus a public relations homerun.

Don't be the product, buy the product!