Does Nobel-Prize-winning psychologist hold the key to the future of PR practice?

A Nobel prize-winning psychologist has the answer for showing us the way ahead for making public relation fit for purpose for the 21st century - a ‘New School PR’.

Until now, anyone working in communications has essentially blagged it in terms of knowing how people think and what will get them to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

Now, we know different.

The revolutions in technology are evident to us all - and how we deliver public relations.

Yet, there has been a more profound, but largely unrecognised revolution in neuroscience and psychology which can transform the scope of PR.

Thanks to profound advances in neurological scanning, with the ability to detect how our brains function and perform, we now have a far better understanding of how we think, make decisions and react to the world around us.
If you were on a quest to redefine public relations where is the best placed to start your journey? Is it from where we have been blindly groping in the past in the pre-neurological science world?

Or would it be better to use a blank canvas of the post-neurological science world as a starting point, using our new knowledge and insight on how we think?

Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel-winning psychologist holds the key to shaping and defining how we do PR in the 21st century.

In his book ‘Thinking Fast, Thinking slow’ he shares how we have two modes of thinking: System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is characterised by quick, instant responses to questions or challenges we face. Ask anyone what’s the answers to 2 + 2, or the colour of a post box, or name a white coloured animal and you can answer with quick-fire ease. You don’t have to think hard. An answer comes easy-to-hand.

System 1 is like thinking without having to think. Most of the time it seemingly provides a satisfactory response. And that is its shortcoming: you are actually coming up with first available answers rather than consciously deliberating a response.

Pose questions however, like ‘What’s 17 x 23?’ or ‘What is the chemical composition of our atmosphere?’ and without resorting to Google, you can almost sense your brain having to move up a gear to generate a response.
That’s your System 2 thinking in operation, a mode of thought that in contrast to your System 1 thinking, is analytical, rational, and logical.

Most of our thinking is done in System 1, yet professional communicators mainly inhabit and articulate - and do their PR - through System 2 thinking.

So what does this mean for public relations?

Kahneman provides an answer: we humans are inherently lazy and use what are called ‘heuristics’ - aka simple rules of thumb - to guide and direct our thinking, directing us to when we say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.
And to make life even easier Kahneman has identified five key heuristics, or what I now call ‘Brand Heuristics’.

We say ‘Yes’ if we (and conversely ‘No’ if the opposite):

  • Know it
  • Like it
  • Trust it
  • It is front-of-mind
  • Others are talking about it

Using these 5 key Brand Heuristics, we now have a simple framework that shapes and guides everything you do in public relations.
Your job in PR is to make sure your Brand, organization, or campaign is:

  • Known
  • Liked
  • Trusted
  • Front-of-mind
  • Others are talking about it

If you are writing a PR brief just use these Brand Heuristics.
Brand Heuristics provides the framework for all of public relations activities. Think about it. What are you seeking to achieve in your public relations work?

  • Getting something known aligns itself with much existing PR activity for awareness raising.
  • Getting something liked characterizes much of our relationship-building work and the creation of equity in goodwill. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a brief that says ‘Get us liked more’)
  • Getting something trusted is the goal for our relationship building
  • Getting something front-of-mind is raising Brand profile and visibility
  • Getting others to talk about is viral or word-of-mouth strategies

Just because it is so brazenly simple doesn’t mean it is simplistic. It is based on the work and insight of a Nobel prize-winning psychologist. Rather, its simplicity is its strength in making it easily know, liked and trusted and meme-friendly.

We can easily create a dashboard using these Heuristics to provide a robust framework of measurement, evaluation an iteration.

These new insights from the revolutions in neuroscience and psychology provide us with a key part of a new theoretical framework to create a ‘New School PR’.

We should be bestowing the highest accolades our industry can proffer upon Kahneman in gratitude for the new way ahead he provides public relations folk.

Kahneman is now getting know, liked, trusted, front-of-mind, and others are talking about how a Nobel-winning psychologist holds the key to the future of public relations practice.

Isn’t it time you started unlocking new ways of thinking and doing to guide how you do PR, and start doing ‘New School PR’ rather than labouring with ‘Old School PR’?

Wtitten by Andy Green FCIPR, a Brand Story and creativity specialist and champion of ‘New School PR’