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by Robert A. Kelly

Bob KellyFor young people who have decided that a career in public relations will be their Latte Grande in life, here are four situations in which you do not want to find yourself:

1. You confuse the basic function of public relations with
    sub-parts that make up the whole like publicity,
    crisis management or employee communications.

2. You feel unsure in approaching public relations problems,
    then uncertain about what counsel to give your

3. As the years pass, you rely on career-long misconceptions
    about public relations but forge ahead anyway advising
    the employer/client ineffectively sometimes with damaging,
    if not dangerous counsel.

4. You realize too late that you have gone through your entire
    career without a firm grasp of what public relations is
    all about.

You can avoid those pitfalls by grasping early-on The Rosetta Stone of public relations, i.e., a guide to understanding the discipline and its core strength. Namely, people act on their perception of the facts; those perceptions lead to certain behaviors; and something can be done about those perceptions and behaviors that lead to achieving an organization's objectives.

Which is why, when public relations goes on to successfully create, change or reinforce public opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-action those people whose behaviors affect the organization, it accomplishes its mission.

The fact is that 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 that foundation of understanding is firmly set, an action pathway begins to appear:

  -- identify the problem or challenge
  -- set the public relations goal
  -- set the public relations strategy
  -- identify target audiences
  -- prepare persuasive messages
  -- select/implement key communications tactics
  -- monitor progress
  -- and the end game? Meet the behavior modification goal.

A bonus: you are using a near-perfect public relations performance measurement. 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.

So, as a beginner, can you expect to avoid the four pitfalls listed above? Yes, and here's why:

 -- With proper preparation, you will not confuse action
    tactics with the basic mission of public relations because
    you will know precisely what each is and just what fits
    where in the public relations problem solving sequence.

 -- You will feel more confident about providing counsel to
    the employer/client because the public relations problem at
    hand can be clearly identified allowing you to select
    solutions that obviously fit into the action sequence
    outlined above. You will identify your target audiences
    because you will know exactly who your employer/client
    wants to reach, and the necessary action tactics will
    then be self-evident.

 -- You realize that you have gone through your entire career
    WITH a firm, successful grasp of what public relations
    is all about.

Of course, on the way you will also nurture the relationships between your target audiences and your employer/client's business by burnishing the reputation of the organization, its service and products. You will do your best to persuade those target audiences to do what your employer/client wants them to do. And while seeking public understanding and acceptance of that employer/client, you'll ensure that your joint activities not only comply with the law, but clearly serve the public interest. Then, you will pull out all tactical stops to actually move those individuals to action. And your employer/client will be pleased that you have brought matters along to this point.

But when will that employer/client of yours be fully satisfied with the public relations results you have produced? Only when your "reach, persuade and move-to-action efforts have produced that visible modification in the behaviors of those target audiences you, and they wish to influence.

In my view, this is the central, strategic function of public relations - the basic context in which you must operate in your pursuit of a successful and satisfying public relations career.

PR consultant Bob Kelly was director of PR for Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-PR, Texaco Inc.; VP-PR, Olin Corp.; VP-PR, Newport News
Shipbuilding; director of communications, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press secretary, The White House.

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