The Three Golden Rules for Public Relations should serve as guideposts for anyone interested in communicating more effectively. Whether you are a layperson trying to get your point across to another, a PR professional, or a crisis communications expert, these rules work.
While they won’t give you answers to every PR, marketing, or communication challenge, they will keep you focused on the most important communication elements: your goal, your audience, and your message.
Start With The End in Mind
We cannot say this more simply, if you do not know exactly what you want the outcome to be, then you should be happy with any outcome. Of course, we know this isn’t true; you won’t be happy with just any outcome. But, you get the point.
The key to an effective public relations, marketing, or strategic communication campaign is knowing clearly what success will look like if the right message is crafted and if the right audience is targeted. That is, start with the end clearly in your mind.
Therefore, the first step in any communications strategy is to define your intended goal. That is, what exactly do you want to result from your message? The second step, which we will explore in the next section, is to define how best to measure your success in achieving that goal.
Sun Tzu famously said that “strategy without tactics is the slowest way to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” When a goal is clearly articulated, crafting a strategy will help you realize that goal even if the selected tactics are imperfect. However, deploying PR tactics without an effective strategy only creates the illusion of success; it’s the noise before defeat.
Know Your Audiences
Now that you have a clearly defined goal, one that is SMART, ask what actions need to be taken for your goal to materialize. Since we are talking about strategic communication, a key element here is knowing to whom you will be communicating. In other words, your communication will need to animate a particular audience or group of audiences.
“Don’t choose your words wisely. Choose the right audience” is a well-known warning that is largely correct. Of course, word selection matters but only to the extent you know what your audience wants or needs to hear. That is why audience selection is a critical element of effective communication. Each audience needs to hear a message crafted for their ears, and no two audiences are the same.
Your goal is not to animate all your audiences because not all of them will be useful. So, the next step is to identify which audiences, out of the constellation of audiences that revolve around you, are the most likely to take the intended actions that advance you toward your goal. The list of potential audiences can be rather lengthy: customers, donors, investors, vendors, prospects, industry leaders, regulatory agencies, political leaders, the media (industry-specific outlets and mainstream local, regional, national, and international outlets), and let’s not forget employees.
This is why you must know your audience. You should know what motivates them, know what capabilities they have, and know how best to mobilize them on your behalf. Once you have winnowed your groups down to the most important, let the drafting begin.
It’s Not What’s Said but What’s Heard
Now that you have reduced the size of your audience to only those who are most likely to act, you must take one more step. Likely, each of these audiences will have different motivations for taking action. That is why you must always remember that what you say matters less than what your audience hears.
No one articulated this better than Frank Luntz, who identified this truism in his book, Words that Work: it’s not what you say, but what people hear. The key to this golden rule’s success lies in your ability for perspective finding. In other words, are you capable of putting yourself in your audience’s shoes and
seeing things from their perspective?
You may now begin crafting your message with their perspectives serving as the foundation. Of course, you have key talking points and core messaging you will want to use, but instead of employing them from your point of view, employ them from your audiences’ points of view. You will notice how each message you craft for each audience will differ from each other, in form not substance.
These golden rules are even more important for crisis communications where the stakes are higher than long-term positive PR campaigns. During a crisis, everything is heightened: time frames are compressed, reaction times must be fast, and stress is high. Since reputations and livelihoods are often on the line during a crisis, there is little room for getting any of these rules wrong.
Follow the Three Golden Rules for PR to create more successful strategic communication and public relations campaigns, or just to communicate more effectively with others. Start with the end in mind, know your audience, and it’s not what’s said but what’s heard.
About Orwell Grey Strategic Communications
Orwell Grey is a public relations firm dedicated to helping our client partners translate their goals into communication strategies that place them on the best path for long-term success. We have worked with individuals, non-profits, and corporate clients on a wide variety of matters and across a wide variety of industries.
If you are looking to create a more effective strategic communications program, please contact Orwell Grey Strategic Communications to learn more about us.