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|Public Relations: A Natural Phenomenon
What else do you call a human discipline whose very nature
is firmly rooted in the principle that people act on their
own perception of the facts, then creates, changes or
reinforces public opinion by reaching, persuading and
moving-to-action the very people whose behaviors affect the
I call it public relations, and clearly a natural phenomenon.
In fact, I believe it is the fundamental premise of public
relations. Especially when it deals with the sheer survival of
the organization by successfully altering the perceptions
and, hence, the behaviors of certain groups of people important
to the success of that organization.
Because public relations problems are usually defined by
what people THINK about a set of facts, versus the truth of
the matter, we are well-advised to focus on that fundamental
Does it become any less of a phenomenon as it works its
magic in the real world?
No. Instead, it is the degree of human behavioral change it
produces ? through quality planning ? that defines the success
or failure of a public relations program.
In my experience, there is broad agreement that people really
do act on THEIR perception of the facts, and that how they
react to those facts actually does affect their behaviors.
So, to me, it follows that individual understanding of those
facts must be continually informed if the follow-on behaviors
are to help achieve the organization?s goal and objectives.
In the end, a sound public relations strategy combined with
effective communications tactics leads directly to the
bottom line ? perceptions altered, behaviors modified,
client/employer satisfied. In other words, when those changes
in perception and behaviors clearly meet the original behavior
modification goal set at the beginning of the program, the
public relations effort is successful.
So, what comes first? I believe acceptance that
individual perception of the facts is the guiding light
leading to behavioral change, and that something can be done
about those perceptions. While not everyone buys that, I
must say that it actually helped shape my career in public
I asked myself some time ago, why am I working in public
relations anyway? The answers only strengthened my conviction.
Was it to create major publicity for my employer or client?
Often yes, but I realized that it was only an interim
step designed to alter target audience perceptions and
behaviors. The same response applied to every tactic from
creating newsworthy special events, effective response to
crises and controversial public issues to managing investor
relations or major speech appearances.
Yes, such tactics are vital cogs in the public relations problem
solving sequence but, again, only as interim steps designed
to alter target audience perceptions and behaviors.
Fact is, NO organization ? business, non-profit or public
sector ? can succeed today unless the behaviors of its most
important audiences are in-sync with the organization?s
objectives. And that means public relations professionals
must modify somebody?s behavior if they are to help hit the employer/client?s objective and earn a paycheck. All else are
but means to that end.
Once public relations? natural phenomenon characteristics
are understood, an action pathway 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
And we get a bonus because we?re using a near-perfect public
relations performance standard. I mean, how can you measure
the results of an activity more accurately than when you
clearly achieve the goal you set at the beginning of that
activity? You can?t. It?s pure success.
Of course, as we develop those interim tactical activities,
we?ll be nurturing the relationships between our target
audiences and our employer/client?s business by burnishing
the reputation of the organization, its service and products.
We will do our best to persuade those target audiences to
do what our employer/client wants them to do. And while
seeking public understanding and acceptance of that
employer/client, we?ll insure that our joint activities not
only comply with the law, but clearly serve the public
interest. Then, we will pull out all tactical stops to
actually move those individuals to action. And our
employer/client will be pleased that we have brought
matters along to this point.
But when will that employer/client of ours be fully satisfied
with the public relations results we have produced? Only
when our ?reach, persuade and move-to-action? efforts have
produced the desired, visible modification in the behaviors
of those target audiences we, and they wish to influence.
In my view, this is the fundamental premise of a natural
phenomenon called public relations, and the strategic context
in which we must operate.
About the Author
Bob Kelly, public relations counselor, was director of public
relations for Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-Public Relations, Texaco Inc.;
VP-Public Relations, Olin Corp.; VP-Public Relations, Newport
News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of communications,
U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press
secretary, The White House. mailto:bobkelly@TNI.net