About 2000 years ago, Aristotle created his theory of persuasion, which stated that anyone wishing to persuade an audience should craft a message using three things: facts and logic (logo), credibility and trustworthiness of the communicator (ethos), and appealing to the emotion of the audience (pathos).
It’s not often that something developed over two millennia ago remains relevant today, but every communicator has heard a version of this theory for their entire career. In the world of public relations, the ability to persuade and influence is very much tied to success. It’s how we effectively communicate messages, build relationships, pitch successful stories, and drive desirable outcomes for clients.
Sometimes there are misconceptions that persuasiveness in PR is about bending the truth or omitting facts, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather, persuasiveness is focused on a form of negotiating and understanding how others operate to achieve the best results.
This ultimately ties back to crafting messages that can compel changes in behaviours and attitudes over time. For PR professionals, it might look something like this:
Know who you’re speaking to
While you are unable to anticipate and prepare for the challenges you might face, you can do your homework and conduct audience research before any PR campaign. This means understanding the demographics, preferences and attitudes of your audience segments, which can help you to tailor your message accordingly.
One quick way to understand your audience is through dipstick surveys with the people around you, or to reach out to media contacts who could share insightful thoughts on their audiences’ taste and preferences. Personalisation is key here, as people are often more likely to be influenced by stories and campaigns that are relevant to them.
Establishing credibility and trust
In order to successfully persuade your client’s audience that your client is a voice of authority on the subject matter, you must be able to showcase their credibility and expertise. This can come in the form of deep industry knowledge, success stories, case studies or endorsements. It’s also why we often ask our clients to share personal anecdotes and stories that may strengthen the point they’re trying to make in media interviews or thought leadership articles – because adding in that firsthand experience helps to build trust.
Craft compelling stories that resonate
Building trust doesn’t just happen overnight – but unique storytelling techniques and visual content can work together to raise your client’s credibility over time. As humans, we are naturally drawn to impactful stories that are relevant or interesting to us – this often explains why clickbait articles are so popular despite – and as PR practitioners, we’ve got to become experts at weaving these stories together with the client’s key messages and values. This can be further amplified by visual content like images, infographics and videos to grab attention and convey information quickly.
For example, Mutant helped mental health tech company Intellect conceptualise and execute a multi-channel campaign, #Canyouhearme, which aimed to find common ground between HR and mass employees with a mental health narrative.
The campaign went beyond traditional press assets and utilised video assets, personal stories, and LinkedIn to connect with the relevant audiences. Through this campaign, Mutant secured a total of 17 pieces of coverage across mainstream and HR-trade publications, including an interview with CNA938 (Money Mind).
Remain open to feedback and conversations
You won’t always get the persuasion formula right the first time – and the best thing you can do is stay open to feedback and engage in constant conversations. This can be done through formal channels such as feedback sessions or informally via social media comments, DMs, or by conducting social listening. Understanding what the audience is saying about your client helps to frame certain messages and campaign accordingly to cater to their needs and can positively impact how the story or message is received.
For example, it is good practice to request for feedback from the media after the conclusion of successful interviews or large scale events. This can ensure that their concerns are addressed, and can formulate a more efficient and effective working relationship in the future.
Finally, always remember that persuasion in PR is an ongoing skill that constantly evolves with the landscape and audience. It is imperative to stay nimble, adaptable and strive towards refining these skills to best cater to your audiences.
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