Using Psychology to Maximize Your Success in the PR Industry

Public relations pioneer Edward Bernays once said, “The stuff with which we work is the fabric of men’s minds.” As the nephew of Sigmund Freud, the connection between communications and psychology was likely a natural one for Bernays, who has been regarded as the “father of public relations” since the 1920s. He realized that there wasn’t a formula for how to sell a business or product, but by understanding a group of people’s needs and wants, he could manipulate their behaviors without them realizing.

Although the marketing and PR industries look drastically different than they did in the 1920s, the psychology behind them hasn’t changed. Below are three psychology-based strategies to help improve media results.

  1. Use Mimicry to Your Advantage

As humans, we tend to unknowingly mimic the emotional expressions of those around us to help fulfill our desire for connectivity. This mimicry occurs due to mirror neurons located in the premotor cortex of our brain, which help us process other people’s actions. When an individual observes a behavior, their mirror neurons are activated and prime the brain to perform that same behavior.

Research has shown that individuals who utilize mimicry in a negotiation setting are five times more likely to see a successful outcome because the mimicry performed helps to form a connection that results in smoother interactions with others. While a line should be drawn before imitating a person’s every move or word, subtly incorporating some mimicry into your day-to-day through hand gestures, body language or vocabulary may surprise you in a positive way.

  1. Leverage the Power of Memory

Understanding the role of memory in decision making can have an impact on our ability to communicate effectively in the PR world. When crafting pitches or content, incorporating elements of a story is essential due to how the brain forms memories. Introducing tension, challenges and emotional resolutions can help demonstrate the positive impact of a product or service in a way that is engaging and easier for the target audience to understand and remember.

Not only is it an art to effectively tell stories, but simplicity is a key component. Vance Packard, an American journalist from the mid-1900s once said, “We must bring the truth down to where the people can understand it…talk about common things…speak the language of the people.”

Just as using simplicity to convey a message in a relatable manner is key, appealing to the emotions of your audience is also a vital step in helping to change pre-existing attitudes or beliefs. While it may be difficult to alter an individual’s reasoning, psychology has shown that targeting their emotions can lead to a shift in one’s attitude towards a particular subject, making the process and persuasion more effective.

  1. Master Internal Communications

To foster a productive team dynamic, leaders must understand the strengths, weaknesses and individual preferences of each team member to better understand how they respond to criticism and what motivates them. Establishing clear expectations at the onset of a project also ensures that everyone is aligned and aware of their respective roles and responsibilities. This also helps to mitigate misunderstandings and avoids placing blame on specific individuals when expectations were not clearly defined.

Emphasizing internal communication not only improves productivity and efficiency, but also strengthens interpersonal skills among the internal team and enhances external relationships. By using open and effective communication to facilitate collaboration, problem-solving, and team cohesion internally, this will overtime translate into more positive and successful outcomes externally.          

Understanding the psychology behind PR can offer a glimpse into how colleagues and clients operate. Sometimes all it takes is tailoring your message differently or making a simple gesture is all it takes to change the narrative.

At the heart of public relations is communicating with people, so why not start with understanding why people think, do and say the things that they do?

By Abby Johnson

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