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Public opinion is an elusive and fragile commodity.

It can take years to build credibility and nurture trust, but only minutes to destroy it. Individuals and companies in the public eye cannot afford to tarnish their reputations.
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Copyright 2011 Pearson Education, Inc. publishing as Prentice Hall

The best public relations campaign cant build trust when reality is destroying it. In the 21st century, public opinion is a combustible and changing commodity. It is difficult to move people toward a strong opinion on anything, and harder yet to move them away from an opinion once it is formed.
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Copyright 2011 Pearson Education, Inc. publishing as Prentice Hall

The heart of public relations work lies in influencing the public opinion process.

Most PR programs are designed to: 1. Persuade people to change their opinion. 2. Crystallize uninformed opinions. 3. Reinforce existing opinions.

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To understand: What public opinion is How it evolves from peoples attitudes How it is influenced by communication

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Experts have created dozens of definitions. Public relations pioneer Edward Bernays called it a term describing an ill-defined, mercurial, and changeable group of individual opinions.

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A public signifies a group of people who share a common interest in a specific subject. Opinion is the expression of an attitude on a particular topic. When attitudes become strong enough, they surface in the form of opinions. When opinions become strong enough, they lead to verbal or behavioral actions.
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Copyright 2011 Pearson Education, Inc. publishing as Prentice Hall

Attitudes

Opinions

Actions
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Attitudes are evaluations that people make about specific problems or issues. Their conclusions may not be connected to any broad attitude on a given subject. An individuals attitude may differ from issue to issue.
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Copyright 2011 Pearson Education, Inc. publishing as Prentice Hall

Attitudes are based on many characteristics:


Personal Cultural Educational Familial

Religious Social class Race

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On any given issue: A small percentage expresses strong support. A small percentage expresses strong opposition. The vast majority doesnt care much.
This muddled middle represents the greatest opportunity for public opinion change.

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We tend to avoid information that is opposed to our own point of view.


We tend to seek out information that is consistent with our own point of view.

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People have a range of opinions on a certain subject, anchored by a clear attitude. Although it is seldom possible to change this anchor position, communicators can work within this range, or latitude of acceptance.

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The bottom of the hierarchy contains basic needs, which must first be satisfied before moving upward to higher needs.
PR practitioners must know their audiences and correctly target their levels for effective message design.
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Copyright 2011 Pearson Education, Inc. publishing as Prentice Hall

Attitudes can be changed in one of two ways:

When we are interested and focused enough on a message, we take a central route to decision making. When we are not engaged with a message, we need to take a more peripheral route to decision making. Can you think of some persuasion settings in which this theory might apply?

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Persuasion is perhaps the most essential element in influencing public opinion.

Persuading is the ultimate goal of the vast majority of public relations programs.

Copyright 2011 Pearson Education, Inc. publishing as Prentice Hall

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Radical organizer Saul Alinsky says:


People only understand things in terms of their own experienceIf you try to get your ideas across to others without paying attention to what they have to say to you, you can forget about the whole thing.

To persuade, you must cite evidence that coincides with peoples own beliefs, emotions and expectations.
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Facts Good PR programs always start with research: the facts. Emotions We can think, but we also respond to emotional appeals. Personalizing People respond to personal experiences and stories. Appealing to you People want to know, Whats in it for me?
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Copyright 2011 Pearson Education, Inc. publishing as Prentice Hall

Opinion is highly sensitive to important events. Opinion is determined more by events than words. At critical times, we are more sensitive to the adequacy of leadership. Once self-interest is involved, opinions are slow to change.

People are able to form opinions more easily on goals than on methods to reach those goals. If people in a democracy are provided with education and access to information, public opinion reveals a hardheaded common sense.

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Organizations must understand that credibility is a fragile commodity. To keep public support, they must operate with the implicit trust of the public. In the 21st century, winning favorable public opinion isnt an option its a necessity.
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Copyright 2011 Pearson Education, Inc. publishing as Prentice Hall

For anyone concerned about public opinion, it all comes down to managing reputation.
Reputation is gained by what one does, not by what one says. The practice of reputation management aligns communications with an organizations character and action.

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Organizations must be empathetic to broader society and its needs.


Although reputation is difficult to measure, it is a tangible asset. Managing reputation is a frontline public relations responsibility.

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General Betray Us and the Great Gray Lady


Review this case on p. 70. As a class, discuss:

What are the implications in terms of the credibility of The New York Times discounting the MoveOn ad? How would you assess the Times reaction to the controversy?

For more information on this case, go to: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D05 E1D61E31F935A1575AC0A9619C8B63


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