Thursday, August 5, 2010

PR No-Brainers Managers Disregard

Set clear, measurable goals. Sounds simple enough, right? But CEOs and managers in organizations all around the country seem to get infatuated with ideas such as Oh! We’re going to make a really cool website! or Let’s see how many news releases we can get out this week!

Some officials seemingly go about these tactics without ever stopping to think about their overall strategy. Again, even if you get a lot of website visits and spam people with 40 news releases per week, it’s important to see if those materials are helping you achieve a clearly stated goal on which the entire public relations staff has been thoroughly briefed. Remember: Clear, measurable goals.

I’ve revised a slide from PRSA’s “Documenting the Business Outcomes of Public Relations” presentation to reflect the key public relations questions every practitioner should ask of his or her manager (presuming, of course, that person is regularly accessible, which sometimes isn’t the case):

  • Whom are you seeking to affect?
  • What about them are you seeking to affect?
  • How much must they be affected to be successful?
  • By when does this effect need to occur?
  • How are you measuring success or failure?
  • When are you adjusting your tactics according to your measurements of effectiveness or ineffectiveness?

If these questions have not been answered and effectively communicated internally, then forget having any sort of noticeable relationship management by any other way than luck (if you believe in such things). In order to begin answering these questions, quite a bit of formative research must be done. As often as vague objectives are poorly communicated to PR staffs, projects are launched before enough research is conducted. For example, how can you know what segmented audience needs a better relationship with your organization if you haven’t researched what specific public has issues and what those issues are? How can you know for certain that a website is the best medium through which to reach your target publics if you haven’t done research to find out what their preferred means of engagement are?

Once audiences, goals and tactics have been determined, the implementation of the overall strategic process can begin. Constant measurement of the effects of implemented tactics must take place in order to prevent wasting valuable time and resources. It’s not just enough to see website hits increasing — how do you know if your target audience is taking away the message you intend for them to if you aren’t interacting with that audience on a regular basis? Pretesting and post-testing in relation to your public relations efforts can be a great aid here. Remember, the business of public relations is about relationships, not sheer numbers.

I’ll leave you with two thoughts from two of my favorite communication scholars (and parents of the excellence theory of public relations), James and Larissa Grunig. This material came from a 2001 study on public affairs within a government agency:

“It is important to point out that measures of communication processes must go beyond measures of products. Too often, communication products (such as numbers of press releases or publications) are counted without understanding how those products fit into a strategic process for communicating with a particular public.”
Less-excellent departments conducted no formative or evaluative research and generally had only vague objectives that were difficult to measure.”

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Photo credit, Flickr Creative Commons uploader jayneandd.