Aubia Communications

The psychology of PR

The psychology of PR “Minds are bundles of expectations, preferences, ways of inference, geared to the greatest possible cognitive result for the smallest processing effort.”

Three weeks ago I was sitting in my hotel room in New York, reading On the Origin of Stories by Brian Boyd when I came across this entry. The book was assigned reading in my storytelling class for my master’s program, and it was the evening after the first day of classes for the summer semester (though it felt nothing like summer, or spring for that matter, in Syracuse’s 35-degree-Fahrenheit cold snap). Classes that day were interesting but different from what I expected.

I’m taking two classes this semester, Storytelling & Narrative Persuasion and Public Relations Measurement & Evaluation. I signed up for these classes because they cover emerging areas of PR that are hot topics in the industry. I imagined these classes would teach me what I needed to know in a straightforward fashion; I didn’t anticipate I would feel like I was back in Psychology 101.

Psychology’s place in PR  

As an undergrad, I really didn’t enjoy my mandatory psychology course. Some of it was stimulating; most of it was dull to me. After graduation, I watched as my friends who majored in psychology primarily took jobs in social work. Some struggled and ended up working in completely different areas. You always hear how students who don’t know what they want to do study psychology just to get a degree. I didn’t see much value in it then.

As my Storytelling and M&E classes continued for the rest of the week, it became increasingly clear how wrong I’d been on this subject. As Thaler Pekar, Storytelling instructor, taught the class about how stories allow people to build a framework around information to understand and remember facts, and Jean Vincent, M&E instructor, explained how to build target audience profiles and had the class read The Logic of Failure by Dietrich Dörner, I came to realize that psychology is interspersed throughout all of PR. Through questions that my classmates asked to debated discussions with the instructors in the conference-room style classrooms, each day brought on more and more of the realization that without an understanding of how people’s minds work toward the “greatest possible cognitive result for the smallest processing effort,” PR professionals cannot effectively meet the objectives of organizations and clients.

Applying psychology to your PR

I minored in Political Science for my undergraduate degree, and though I did enjoy those classes, I now wish I had taken some more courses in psychology. As I have learned, understanding what drives people and how to do that is vital to successful PR. How can you learn to apply psychology to your own PR practices?

1. Study theory

My current classes have opened my eyes to how important psychology is in PR, but I first had an inkling of realization while I was studying for my Accreditation in Public Relations two years ago. Much of PR theory is based on psychology, such as the Diffusion of Innovation theory that discusses why and how people will come to accept your message and act upon it. Having a theory base will give you a foundation to work out an effective plan.

2. Watch others

Once you have an understanding of theory and an idea of how your target audiences think, do some observing. Thaler instructed my class to watch people tell stories; think about why they are telling that particular story; and why they are telling that story to that specific audience. Since class ended, I have seen examples of this everywhere. Guest blogger here at Aubia, Tiffany Wood, recently posted a commentary to Facebook that was used in her installation newspaper at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. The story of how every employee’s job is important and supports the greater mission is particularly needed in the Department of Defense now as employees face budget cuts and furloughs.

3. Interview your clients

To find out what drives your clients, ask them. Most likely, you already have clients in the target audience you want to focus on. If you don’t, find professionals in your target audience and ask for informational interviews to find out what motivates them. Phrase your questions to draw out the “how” and “why” behind the “what,” such as “Give me an example of a time you felt excited about your work.”

Psychology allows us to understand our audiences at a higher level so that we can better work with them. How will you apply psychology to your PR practice?

photo credit: deadstar 2.1 via photopin cc

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2 Comments to "The psychology of PR"

  1. […] blogs, and student associations around the nation are talking about it. Don’t believe me? Look here, here, and […]

  2. […] master’s classes at Syracuse University, I had two major epiphanies. The first was how much psychology plays in public relations, and the second was how flexible making a public relations measurement […]

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