One of my students commented that “awareness” can seem like a weak campaign goal, particularly in contexts in which action is urgently needed. So what are the reasons for building awareness? Why stop there?
In public relations, a good campaign plan requires an evaluation component. Evaluation is based on a plan’s objectives. If an objective is to raise awareness, then evaluation of how successful we are is based on how much awareness we have raised.
This leads to three points:
1.We should not promise something we can’t deliver. When we over-promise and under-deliver, we make a good case that we are incompetent, public relations is ineffective, or both. This could harm our employment and our public relations budget.
In some cases, changing behavior is more than we can do. It’s much easier to raise awareness, and it’s a step in the right direction. How much we can inspire people to change what they’re doing is going to depend on the case. Having an awareness goal can be a cop-out when public relations practitioners are capable of inspiring action; the point is that we’re not always able to do this, so our goals and objectives must fit the situation.
2. People have the right to make their own choices. By making people aware of the facts, we have done our jobs in some cases. We are not in the business of coercing people to do something.
If some people decide not to floss, that is their choice. It might be our job to raise awareness about the consequences of not flossing, but ultimately, people can make an informed choice to do things that are not good for them, and that is fine in some cases.
Product or Service Scenario
We might not be doing PR for the best product or service. There could be a competitor that is better than us. Ideally, we will be able to have a seat with the “dominant coalition” (the informal group of decision makers in an organization) and persuade them to take actions that will make our products and services the best. Public relations practitioners are “boundary spanners,” helping organizations adjust to what people say, but some organizations don’t listen. If your organization doesn’t listen, you’ll likely have the most success sticking to awareness goals and looking for an employer who listens to PR people. At the very least, if you can demonstrate that your audience is aware of your product despite low sales, then clearly the problem with sales is not awareness. This can lead to a productive conversation in which a company does listen to PR people to find out what it needs to do.
3. Awareness can be a reasonable first step before tackling a goal to change behavior. In some instances, changing awareness is a triumph, and it can be a critical initial achievement that sets up future campaigns to influence people’s behavior. According to the extended parallel processing model, successful health messages require response efficacy (the belief that a solution is effective) and self-efficacy (people’s beliefs that they are capable of implementing the proposed solution). So health campaigns should always carry a recommended behavior, but it might take repeated awareness campaigns before people actually start doing something differently, depending on the case.