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Psychology is in every move you make and every word you type

Throughout my blog journey at C&B, people have been asking me questions about how public relations is related to psychology and what the two subjects have in common.

These two fields are more intertwined than you may realise. Psychology is a very important tool that allows you to better grasp today’s competitive work field. On one side, you have the psychology of decision making, workplace behaviour, and forensics and on the other, there is the psychology of public relations and its role in the communications industry. Psychology can definitely be the deciding factor for success or failure for a PR practitioner.

Communication skills are a must-have for PR staff. In this field, the professionals need to know what is the right message for their clients and which is the wrong one. They should also understand how to formulate these messages. Psychology can help identify what the niche target audience likes and dislikes. It can also shed light on why a certain audience responds stronger to specific messages than another does.

Behavioral science is one of the larger branches of psychology, but also plays a key part in public relations. Understanding behavioral science is possibly the best way that allows one to see how they can influence audiences’ behavior.

In addition to behaviour change and communication strategies, memory is yet another key psychological aspect of the PR industry. On average, a person sees 4,000–10,000 ads a day across multiple channels, whether billboards, outdoor, mobile, social, or even news ads. Therefore, to ensure the message gets across to the audience and in order to stand out among the crowd, one needs to make sure that the brand message is remembered.

The history of psychology and PR

Have you ever wondered how relationships between organisations and their publics are built? What PR tool helps make that connection? Is it the strength of the message? The way it’s delivered?

The answer is simple: psychology. Indeed, having a strong message may help your marketing campaign or brand, but it can never sustain without a theory behind how people think, and why they remember what they do.

Psychology allows you to understand your target audience, tailor their message, and watch the subconscious behaviour unfold. The bond between PR and psychology dates back to the early 1920s when Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, was the first to establish a link between psychology and influencing human behaviour through communications.

A good PR plan is naturally guided by theories of psychology. Bernays, the father of PR, was the first practitioner to marry the two disciplines of PR and psychology with the theories learned from Freud, the father of psychology. Now that you see the strong relationship between the two that dates back almost 100 years, you might be interested in some psychology tricks to up your game when creating a PR campaign. Can psychology help you build a strong and successful PR campaign?

Connecting the dots between psychology and PR

Public relations is often described as a strategic communication process that forms mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their audiences, and psychology is the fundamental basis of how these relationships are built. Relationships in PR are not just constructed on a message, but they are also related to the theory behind how people think.

Psychology can ideally help you understand how you can connect with your target audience by assessing four main aspects: identifying the target audience, understanding their attitude, comprehending their awareness, and their ability to remember what you are trying to communicate.

Like psychology, professionals in PR develop hypotheses regarding human behaviour. It is then looked upon using different scientific methods, including direct observation, experimentation, and field studies. These allow PR professionals to provide information that is effective, persuasive, and often leads to action.

One may ask how a successful PR strategy can be developed for a client. The answer is simple; effective plans and strategies are guided by psychology. When you correctly analyse and use the four main aspects mentioned above, you can link psychology to PR, which will enhance the effectiveness of your strategy and plan.

Using Psychology to better understand client needs

Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behaviour, including conscious and unconscious phenomena, as well as feeling and thought. Every word you say or type is directly related to Broca’s area, the part of the brain that makes speech unique to every individual.

Psychological analyses can be highly efficient to better understand your clients’ needs. In PR agencies, using client-specific key messages is crucial for any document being written, whether it is a press release, speech, or even a social media post.

When used adequately, psychological analysis of your client needs can really influence the choices being made and material being written; it is highly important for driving SEO to your clients’ news releases, or channels. This allows PR specialists to perform required tasks while proactively recommending clients with a way forward, identifying new trends that influence clients and create a specific plan and tactic related to their key messages to best tackle trends in a timely and effective manner.

It is no secret that crises often occur, both major and minor ones, hence the need to have a crisis communication plan ready for tackling any crisis that comes along the way. Psychologically adapting your clients’ crisis communications to suit their needs can be highly effective for PR agencies to support their credibility across the market.

Coming from a scientific background, one of the things that allowed me to excel at Cicero & Bernay, and in public relations in general, is the application of psychology to my everyday work. Body language is an extremely efficient tool to effectively spread your messages across the board.

Applying psychology to understand your client needs

There are many things you can do to understand your clients, but one of the main secrets is establishing their behaviour. Only when you fully grasp this factor can you uncover what they really need and how best to give it to them.

To fully understand how you can , I have listed below some tips to help guide you through the process:

  1. Personalisation: Personalising the experience for your client is one of the best ways to connect with them. Try not to think about your client as an entity, rather an individual.
  2. Be active: When you are active, whether it is by email, phone call, or even social media, you are signalling your client that you are available, no matter what. This helps strengthen the bond between you, bringing you one step closer to your goals.
  3. Help them learn new things: Educating your clients on specific matters related to their sector can be hugely beneficial. It can be as simple as sending them an article recently published and noting their take on it. This can help you tailor content that specifically interests them.
  4. Tell your brand story: Be a storyteller, tell them your and your agency’s latest experiences and successes, this allows them to believe that they are an integral part of your success story, which can ultimately give them the platform to explain what they need to succeed.
  5. Have the last word: As simple as it can be, having the last word in this scenario means to carefully listen to client requests, and then laying out a proposal or idea that suits their needs. This allows them to believe that you are the best option they have.

Implementing psychology into your PR campaign

When creating your campaign, you need to first determine your target audience. Your target audience differs based on your campaign topic. This is where psychology can help clarify how and why your target audience reacts differently, based on the science of perception.

PR professionals always aim to relay information that is persuasive and effective. To know how to influence a person, you need to first learn how people form attitudes. In psychology, an attitude is a group of emotions, beliefs, and behaviours toward a particular subject, which may ultimately have an emotional impact on their behaviour. There are three basic attributes of attitude formation: emotional, cognitive, and behavioral.

When planning your campaign, you should also take into account your target audience’s different social insight, including sentiment bias, ethnic and circumstantial influences, and stereotypes. Once you understand your audience’s attitudes, you must then learn how to grab and keep their attention; a concept of cognitive psychology that establishes how we process specific information in one’s surrounding environment.

Upon grabbing your audience’s attention, you need to ensure they always remember what you introduced. In memory formation, three major processes are involved: encoding, storage, and retrieval. Memory is indeed a tricky topic, but psychology has proven that storytelling is one of the most effective tools in memory formation. This is part of why PR professionals often use storytelling elements in their client’s press releases.

There are several tips to help you keep someone’s attention, including stimulating curiosity and pushing them to questions, introducing a pleasant surprise by replacing some of your campaign content with different ideations and visuals, affirming the relevance of a topic of importance to your audience, and telling them stories.

It is fascinating how psychology can affect your day-to-day jobs, and uncovering the secrets of psychology is a lengthy and amazing process.

Antoine Boghos is Account Executive at Cicero & Bernay Public Relations, an independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the MENA region. |