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Public Relations: The Fundamental Premise

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This indicates difficult to believe in the dawn of the Twenty-first century, that there exists
an important discipline with so many diverse, partial, incomplete and limited interpretations of the company's mission. Here, merely a sampling of professional opinion
on which public relations is all about:

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


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To find out an element of truth such definitions, most zero in 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 actual end-game -- behavior modification -- the goal against which all pr activity must be held accountable.

Here's my opinion about the fundamental premise of publicity: People act on their understanding of the facts leading to behaviors about which something can be carried out. 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 regarding the fundamental premise of public relations, maybe we should take another look? If we are wrong, at the 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 right to influencing the organization's most critical audiences. And THEN insure 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 can be on achieving the organization's primary objectives.

Exactly what is the alternative when we see some pr people managing to undergo their entire careers without having a firm grasp from the fundamental premise of advertising? Their responses to crises, or requests for well thought-out ways of public relations problems, reveal a serious lack of understanding. They confuse principle function of public relations with any number of tactical parts that comprise the whole, such as publicity, crisis management or employee relations. Understandably, believe that unsure in approaching pr problems, then uncertain by what counsel to give their potential customers. 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 simply can't rely solely on tactics or perhaps emulate the artillery training commander who tells his student gunners "point your guns in different direction and fire when you feel like it!"

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

Healthy opportunity resides with the get-go where we really can make certain our publicity students CLEARLY see the basic premise of pr at the beginning of their careers. AND that they have an equally clear comprehension of the organizational context -- business, non-profit or public sector -- that they will be expected to apply what they've got learned, and in which they must operate successfully.

Bushy-tailed and bright with promise, the newest generation of advertising professionals must learn that their employer/client wants us to utilize our special skills in a manner that helps achieve his or her business objectives. Understanding that no matter what strategic plan we create to resolve a problem, no matter what tactical program we applied, at the end of the day we've got to modify somebody's behavior as to earn our money.

The good thing is, when the behavioral changes become apparent, and fulfill the program's original behavior modification goal, three benefits appear.
One, the public relations program is really a success. Two, by experienceing the behavioral goal we set in the beginning, we are using a dependable and accurate advertising performance measurement. And three, when our "reach, persuade and move-to-desired-action" efforts produce a visible modification from 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 customers are not primarily considering our ability to fraternize with the media, communicate or paint images. Nor could they be especially fascinated with our efforts to identify target audiences, set pr goals and strategies, write persuasive messages, select communications tactics, et al.

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

Which is the reason quality preparation as well as the degree of behavioral put it back produces, defines success or failure for a public relations program. Done correctly, when public relations leads to modified behaviors among categories of people vitally important to your organization, we could be referring to nothing less than its survival.

Why, young people, do we feel so strongly concerning the fundamental premise of advertising? Because some of us learned from leaders within the field, from mentors and from long experience that there are only 3 ways a public relations effort can impact behavior: create opinion where it won't exist, reinforce existing opinion or change that opinion. No surprise that the process where those goals are realized is recognized as public relations. While behavior may be the goal, and a host of communications tactics will be the tools, our technique is the leverage furnished by public opinion.

In addition we learned the hard way that when your employer/client starts searching for a return on his or her pr investment, it becomes clear in a rush that the goal Should be the kind of change in the behaviors of key stakeholders that leads directly to achieving business objectives.

Furthermore, i believe that we should advise our newcomers that when their employers/clients ever say they're not getting the behavior changes they taken care of, 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 perception of the facts, that those perceptions result in certain behaviors, knowning that something can be done about those perceptions and behaviors leading to achieving the employer/client's business objectives.

This means s/he really CAN establish the actual required behavior change up front, then insist upon getting that result before pronouncing the public relations effort successful.

In other words, the way to enhance their comfort level about their pr investment, is to make sure that investment produces the behavior modification they said they wanted at the beginning of the program,

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

I would be remiss here only omitted reference to the difficulties those new to the field will encounter in trying to evaluate public relations performance. Often, they will find themselves using highly-subjective, limited and only partially applicable performance judgments. Most notable, inquiry generation, story content analysis, gross impressions as well as advertising value similar to the publicity space obtained.

The main reason for this sorry situation 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 for the job of establishing definitely that a behavioral goal was achieved, are cost-prohibitive, often far over the overall cost of the publicity program itself!

However, teenagers, all is not lost. Obviously, some behavioral changes are immediately visible, such as customers returning to showrooms, environmental activists abandoning plant gate protests or perhaps 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, television and radio editorials, emails from target audience members and thought-leaders, and public statements by political figures and local celebrities.

We even shadow your own communications tactics looking to monitor their influence 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.

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

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

* find out the problem

* identify target audiences

* set people relations goal

* set people relations strategy

* prepare persuasive messages

* select and implement key communications tactics

* monitor progress

* and also the end game? Match the behavior modification goal.

I hope these remarks contribute to a broadened knowledge of the fundamental function of advertising 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 may help or hinder the achievement individuals employer/client's business objectives.

One last thought for those entering or likely to enter the field of pr -- you'll know you've attained each public relations end game once 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.

Put simply, sound strategy joined with effective tactics leads straight away to the bottom line -- altered perceptions, modified behaviors, and a public relations homerun.