Improving Your Small Organization's Image

By Cole, Richard T. | Public Relations Journal, June 1989 | Go to article overview

Improving Your Small Organization's Image


Cole, Richard T., Public Relations Journal


Improving your small organization's image

SMALL organizations that perceive the need to get a better grip on their organizational images but feel hampered by limited budgets can do a lot to help themselves. If an organization's managers are motivated to think about its image, they are probably also willing and able to execute an effective strategy for altering it.

What they need is a basic framework. The process that has worked well in my experience as a consultant to a variety of groups and organizations, centers on a series of questions that can be discussed either in an informal meeting or a more structured setting of a focus group. Before I describe this process, I'd like to note that I agree with public relations guru Ed Bernays that improving image should mean helping an organization to adjust its behavior, not just to put the best possible face on it.

The group process of discussing a planned series of questions will provide important revelations about image. It must also enlist organizational support for behavioral change. Here are the questions that should be addressed:

* How do the members of your organization describe its role?

Before the members of an organization begin the process of determining how they are viewed by others, it's important that they describe how they see themselves and their organization--what they think they do, and how they think they fit within society.

Ask the participants to write down the one word they believe best describes the organization. For example, advocator, arbitrator, defender, provider, innnovator or promoter are all words that can be used to describe the role of almost any type of organization.

Although these words might seem similar on the surface, the specific choices of the participants may reveal dramatically different approaches to operating the organization, and to relating to key audiences--the essence of public relations. On one hand, such diversity of opinion may be a sign of lots of individual initiative and interpretation of mission. On the other hand, it may express itself in a kind of group drift or in chaotic and conflicting organizational behavior.

Stimulating the argument by raising the issue of whether your organization is in a service or product-based business might produce even more dramatic results. Simply ask: Who is the customer here, and what are we selling?

* How do we communicate our organization's mission?

Using a blackboard, get participants to describe some of the ways the organizational mission is communicated. Allow a free-flowing discussion to take place about reports, letters, newsletters, exhibits, advertisements, community service efforts and the other obvious ways that the organization "speaks."

However, as soon as someone begins to focus on the more subtle, but meaningful ways that you communicate--that is, on aspects of your organizational behavior--seize the moment. Emphasize that good public relations must be based upon good performance and that good performance is defined by bringing your organization's behavior in line with the expectations of your publics--a classic definition of public relations.

* What actions do we take to emphasize the importance of effective external communication?

Any plan to improve relationships between an organization and its key audiences--to improve the organizational image they perceive--depends heavily upon the organization's commitment to communication. An organization that does not express this commitment won't be able to communicate effectively, and will not last long in today's competitive business environment.

Therefore, while your organization might be doing an adequate communication job now, it might need to place even more emphasis on this activity. This priority must be made explicit so that effective efforts are reinforced and wasted efforts are eliminated. …

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