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The Relation of Psychology to PR

Connecting the dots

Does psychology relate to PR. If so, is it in the structure or in the delivery of the message? How does psychology come into play?

The connection between PR and psychology dates back to the early 1920s. Edward Bernays, an Austrian-American pioneer in the field of public relations, also known as the father of public relations, was the first to make a link between psychology and influencing human behaviour through communications.

PR professionals aim to relay information that is persuasive, effective, and that leads to an action. Knowing how their audience forms their attitudes guarantees them a leading edge.

In order to understand the ways public relation connects to psychology, professional insight is necessary. PR professionals will tell you that they take the same four steps when making a PR plan time and time again:

  • Identifying an audience
  • Establishing how an audience is currently forming an opinion of a brand/product
  • Finding out how attentive an audience is to messaging
  • Discovering how keen an audience is to retain a message

Using these four steps accurately can propel a PR plan to an ingrained societal belief. Take the example of Beech-Nut packing company, which in the 1920s assigned Edward Bernays to promote the sale of bacon. By using expert endorsements from physicians and classical conditioning, a theory developed by his uncle Sigmund Freud, Bernays made a PR plan that linked bacon with eggs as a ‘Traditional American Breakfast,’ an idea which still permeates to this day.

These behaviours fall under the umbrella of social psychology, namely consumer behaviour. Simply put, psychology helps practitioners understand their subjects and tailor their messages accordingly.

Quantifying public relations

It is well-known that PR practitioners are the ones responsible for establishing or consolidating a brand’s position, creating interest, and offering consultation with the aim to increase demand and interest in a brand. The question is: how can they precisely quantify the impact of public relations?

The main role of public relations is to effectively communicate a client’s message to the mass audience. If a significant amount of coverage is generated, a message will be received, but in order to establish how it influences the behaviour of the masses or if it was received positively PR professionals must always review the quality of the coverage in question.

Another important facet that people in PR must be in tune with is the credibility of the outlets relaying messages for them and if they are providing exclusive coverage.

A positive impact for a brand on social media, for example, is recognised as a growth in relation to its own social media presence through an increased number of followers and more importantly, engagements.

Market surveys are also paramount to tracking a campaign’s success by yielding significant results that would validate efforts. By surveying the market before and after a PR campaign, you can identify which factors had the strongest impact.

A well-tailored, effective PR campaign includes elements of evaluation due to a handful of reasons:

  • For achieving client objectives.
  • Future plans – Measurement and evaluation tools help to note down campaign mishaps, in turn preventing the same error from occurring twice.
  • Avoiding misunderstandings. People nowadays receive numerous messages from different organisations and companies. This is directly related to the number of social, traditional, and online media outlets.

When measuring return on investment (ROI), it is important to quantify and measure the impact of PR campaigns. It also highly reflects on a performance in both the present and future.

The psychology of public relations will remain of great importance to a practitioner. The strong relationship between these two practices dates back almost 100 years, I wouldn’t blame you if you were to find yourself interested in a psychology class to boost your PR and communication skills.

Omar Medani is Account Executive Intern 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. |