The PR BlogMedia & PsychologyPersuasion & InfluencePublic Relations 101: The Art of Persuasion

Public Relations 101: The Art of Persuasion

Learn how to shape public opinion and build trust.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

Do you want to learn “Public Relations 101”?

Look no fur­ther. In this short essay, I’ll briefly walk you through the abso­lute basics of pub­lic rela­tions.

My name is Jerry Silfwer, I’m a PR pro­fes­sion­al based in Sweden, and I’ve been help­ing many organ­isa­tions to com­mu­nic­ate bet­ter since 2005. I also have uni­ver­sity degrees in both PR and linguistics.

Here goes:

Introduction to Public Relations 101

Public Relations, often abbre­vi­ated as PR, is a stra­tegic com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­cess that builds mutu­ally bene­fi­cial rela­tion­ships between organ­isa­tions and stake­hold­ers, influ­en­cers, and pub­lics. PR is the art and sci­ence of man­aging inform­a­tion between indi­vidu­als, organ­isa­tions, and the pub­lic. This could include a busi­ness, a non-profit organ­isa­tion, or a gov­ern­ment agency. 

PR involves dis­sem­in­at­ing inform­a­tion from an entity to its tar­get audi­ence using top­ics of pub­lic interest, news items, and search engine beha­viours. The aim is to per­suade the pub­lic, pro­spect­ive cus­tom­ers, investors, part­ners, employ­ees, and oth­er stake­hold­ers to main­tain a par­tic­u­lar point of view about the organ­isa­tion, its lead­er­ship, products, or polit­ic­al decisions.

In an era where con­sumers value trans­par­ency and authen­ti­city, effect­ive pub­lic rela­tions can help organ­isa­tions build trust and cred­ib­il­ity with their stake­hold­ers. Thus, PR is pivotal in help­ing an organ­isa­tion achieve its object­ives and nav­ig­ate the com­plex pub­lic opin­ion landscape.

The Role of Public Relations

Public Relations plays a cru­cial role in shap­ing pub­lic opin­ion by stra­tegic­ally man­aging the spread of inform­a­tion between an organ­isa­tion and the pub­lic. PR pro­fes­sion­als use vari­ous tools and tech­niques to influ­ence the public’s per­cep­tion and atti­tudes towards an organ­isa­tion, its products, or its ser­vices. They craft com­pel­ling nar­rat­ives and crit­ic­al mes­sages that res­on­ate with their tar­get audi­ence and dis­sem­in­ate these through vari­ous chan­nels, includ­ing tra­di­tion­al media, social media, and dir­ect communications. 

PR pro­fes­sion­als con­trol the nar­rat­ive, mit­ig­ate dam­age, and restore pub­lic con­fid­ence dur­ing a crisis. Through con­sist­ent and effect­ive com­mu­nic­a­tion, PR can sway pub­lic opin­ion in favour of the organ­isa­tion, enhan­cing its repu­ta­tion and stand­ing in the community.

Building trust and cred­ib­il­ity is anoth­er cru­cial func­tion of pub­lic rela­tions. In an era where con­sumers are increas­ingly scep­tic­al of advert­ising and cor­por­ate speak, PR offers a more authen­t­ic and cred­ible way to com­mu­nic­ate with the pub­lic. PR pro­fes­sion­als strive to build and main­tain a pos­it­ive image for their organ­isa­tions by pro­mot­ing trans­par­ency, demon­strat­ing social respons­ib­il­ity, and enga­ging in open dia­logue with stake­hold­ers. They also work to high­light the organisation’s suc­cesses and achieve­ments, fur­ther enhan­cing its credibility. 

By fos­ter­ing sol­id rela­tion­ships with the media, PR can ensure that the organisation’s story is told fairly and accur­ately. Over time, these efforts can build a strong found­a­tion of trust and cred­ib­il­ity, which is invalu­able in today’s com­pet­it­ive busi­ness environment.

The Art of Persuasion in PR

Persuasion is a fun­da­ment­al concept in pub­lic rela­tions, serving as the linch­pin of many PR strategies and cam­paigns. It refers to the art and sci­ence of influ­en­cing people’s atti­tudes, beliefs, and beha­viours towards a par­tic­u­lar idea, cause, or product. 

Persuasion in PR is not about manip­u­la­tion or decep­tion; instead, it’s about present­ing com­pel­ling argu­ments and inform­a­tion that res­on­ate with the tar­get audi­ence, encour­aging them to see things from a par­tic­u­lar per­spect­ive. It’s about cre­at­ing an enga­ging and con­vin­cing nar­rat­ive that aligns with the audience’s val­ues and interests while advan­cing the organisation’s goals.

PR pro­fes­sion­als employ per­sua­sion as a crit­ic­al tool to influ­ence pub­lic opin­ion. They care­fully craft mes­sages that appeal to their tar­get audience’s emo­tions, val­ues, and needs, using storytelling, com­pel­ling visu­als, and oth­er per­suas­ive tech­niques to make these mes­sages more impact­ful. They also lever­age the power of social proof, show­cas­ing endorse­ments from respec­ted fig­ures or testi­mo­ni­als from sat­is­fied cus­tom­ers to enhance the cred­ib­il­ity of their message. 

Moreover, they use stra­tegic tim­ing and place­ment to ensure that their mes­sages reach the audi­ence when they are most recept­ive. By skill­fully apply­ing these and oth­er per­suas­ive tech­niques, PR pro­fes­sion­als can sway pub­lic opin­ion in favour of their organ­isa­tion, enhan­cing its repu­ta­tion and influence.

Useful Approaches to Persuasion in PR

Ethos Pathos Logos - Persuasion - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Classical per­sua­sion.

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos: Three Classical Modes of Persuasion

Ethos, pathos, and logos are three modes of per­sua­sion recog­nised since ancient Greece, and they play an essen­tial role in pub­lic relations. 

  • Ethos. This mode of per­sua­sion refers to the cred­ib­il­ity or eth­ic­al appeal of the com­mu­nic­at­or, which can be estab­lished through demon­strat­ing expert­ise, integ­rity, and goodwill.
  • Pathos. This mode of per­sua­sion per­tains to emo­tion­al appeal, which involves stir­ring the audience’s feel­ings to sway their opin­ions or actions.
  • Logos. This mode of per­sua­sion is the logic­al appeal, which relies on present­ing sound argu­ments and evid­ence to con­vince the audience.

In PR, these three modes of per­sua­sion are often com­bined to cre­ate com­pel­ling mes­sages that res­on­ate with the audi­ence on mul­tiple levels.

Influence-New-and-Cialdini-Expanded-The-Psychology-of-Persuasion
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Robert Cialdini: Six Principles of Influence

Robert Cialdini pub­lished Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion in 1984 and his prin­ciples of influ­ence are widely cited. They provide a frame­work for under­stand­ing how people are per­suaded, and pub­lic rela­tions, advert­ising, and sales pro­fes­sion­als often use them. 1Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: The psy­cho­logy of per­sua­sion (Rev. ed.). HarperCollins.

Here are Cialdini’s six principles:

  • Reciprocity. This prin­ciple is based on the idea that people feel oblig­ated to give back when they receive it. If a com­pany gives some­thing to its cus­tom­ers (like a free sample or a dis­count), those cus­tom­ers may feel com­pelled to pur­chase in return.
  • Scarcity. People tend to want things that are lim­ited or hard to get. Marketers often use this prin­ciple by cre­at­ing a sense of urgency around a product or ser­vice, such as a lim­ited-time offer or a lim­ited-edi­tion product.
  • Authority. People tend to fol­low the lead of cred­ible experts. In PR and mar­ket­ing, this can be achieved by hav­ing an expert endorse a product or demon­strate expert­ise and cred­ib­il­ity in the field.
  • Consistency (or Commitment). People like to be con­sist­ent with the things they have pre­vi­ously said or done. This prin­ciple is often used in mar­ket­ing by get­ting a small ini­tial com­mit­ment from a cus­tom­er, which increases the like­li­hood that they will make a more sig­ni­fic­ant com­mit­ment later.
  • Liking. People are more likely to be per­suaded by people they like. Physical attract­ive­ness, sim­il­ar­ity, com­pli­ments, and coöper­a­tion can influ­ence this.
  • Consensus (or Social Proof). People often look to the actions and beha­viours of oth­ers to determ­ine their own. If a product or ser­vice is pop­u­lar or endorsed by oth­ers, people are like­li­er to deem it good or trustworthy.

These prin­ciples are power­ful tools for per­sua­sion and can be used indi­vidu­ally or in com­bin­a­tion to influ­ence per­cep­tions and behaviours.

Jonah Berger - Contagious
Sticky ideas.

Jonah Berger: Word of Mouth Concepts

Jonah Berger, a mar­ket­ing pro­fess­or at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, pro­posed six key con­cepts in his book “Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age” (also known as “Contagious: Why Things Catch On”) that make ideas or products go vir­al or “stick.” 2Berger, J. (2014). Contagious: How to build word of mouth in the digit­al age. Simon & Schuster.

These con­cepts are:

  • Social cur­rency. People share things that make them look good or help them com­pare favour­ably to oth­ers. It has social cur­rency if a product or idea can make someone appear bright­er, more relaxed, or more in the know.
  • Triggers. Ideas that are top of mind spread. Things that are eas­ily mem­or­able and reg­u­larly triggered in every­day envir­on­ments are more likely to be discussed.
  • Emotion. When we care, we share. Messages that evoke strong emo­tions (pos­it­ive or neg­at­ive) are more likely to be shared.
  • Public. If some­thing is built to show, it grows. The more pub­lic some­thing is, the more likely people will imit­ate it.
  • Practical value. People share inform­a­tion to help oth­ers. Useful inform­a­tion gets shared because the sharer wants to assist others.
  • Stories. People do not just share inform­a­tion, they tell stor­ies. And stor­ies are the ves­sel that inform­a­tion travels. If people are engaged in the nar­rat­ive, they’re more likely to share.

These con­cepts can be used to craft mes­sages and cam­paigns more likely to be shared and spread, lead­ing to more effect­ive com­mu­nic­a­tion and mar­ket­ing efforts.

Case Studies: Famous PR Campaigns

Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign

One of the most suc­cess­ful PR cam­paigns that effect­ively used per­sua­sion is Dove’s “Real Beauty” cam­paign. Launched in 2004, the cam­paign sought to chal­lenge the tra­di­tion­al beauty stand­ards por­trayed in the media and pro­mote a more inclus­ive defin­i­tion of beauty. 

By fea­tur­ing women of dif­fer­ent sizes, ages, and eth­ni­cit­ies in their advert­ise­ments, Dove appealed to the emo­tions (pathos) of the audi­ence and sparked a glob­al con­ver­sa­tion about body pos­it­iv­ity and self-esteem. 

The cam­paign also demon­strated Dove’s com­mit­ment to its brand val­ues (eth­os) and presen­ted a com­pel­ling argu­ment (logos) for rede­fin­ing beauty.

The suc­cess of the “Real Beauty” cam­paign can be attrib­uted to sev­er­al factors:

  • The cam­paign res­on­ated with the audi­ence on an emo­tion­al level by address­ing a wide­spread con­cern about body image and self-esteem.
  • The cam­paign estab­lished Dove as a socially respons­ible brand that cares about its cus­tom­ers’ well-being, enhan­cing its cred­ib­il­ity and trustworthiness.
  • The cam­paign presen­ted a per­suas­ive argu­ment for rede­fin­ing beauty, which chal­lenged the status quo and encour­aged the audi­ence to view beauty in a new light.
  • The cam­paign effect­ively lever­aged vari­ous com­mu­nic­a­tion chan­nels, includ­ing TV com­mer­cials, print ads, social media, and inter­act­ive web­sites, to reach a broad audi­ence and engage them in the conversation.

Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” Campaign

Another not­able example is the “Share a Coke” cam­paign by Coca-Cola. 

Launched in 2011 in Australia and later rolled out glob­ally, the cam­paign involved repla­cing the Coca-Cola logo on bottles and cans with pop­u­lar names, invit­ing con­sumers to “Share a Coke” with someone they know. This cam­paign effect­ively used pathos by cre­at­ing a per­son­al con­nec­tion with con­sumers and logos by encour­aging shar­ing, which aligns with the brand’s val­ues of bring­ing people together.

The “Share a Coke” cam­paign was suc­cess­ful due to its innov­at­ive and per­son­al­ised approach. 

By put­ting con­sumers’ names on their products, Coca-Cola made them feel unique and recog­nised, fos­ter­ing a sol­id emo­tion­al con­nec­tion with the brand. The cam­paign also tapped into the uni­ver­sal human desire for con­nec­tion and shar­ing, which made it relat­able and appeal­ing to a broad audience. 

The cam­paign gen­er­ated buzz on social media, with con­sumers shar­ing pic­tures of their per­son­al­ised Coke bottles and cans, thereby amp­li­fy­ing the reach and impact of the campaign.

Tips on the Art of Persuasion in PR

Know your audi­ence. When it comes to using per­sua­sion in PR, under­stand­ing your audi­ence is para­mount. Tailor your mes­sage to res­on­ate with their val­ues, needs, and con­cerns. Use eth­os, pathos, and logos to build a com­pel­ling nar­rat­ive. Ethos estab­lishes cred­ib­il­ity and trust, pathos appeals to emo­tions, and logos provides logic­al reas­on­ing. Remember, authen­ti­city is critical. 

Tell the truth. Be trans­par­ent and hon­est in your com­mu­nic­a­tion to build trust and cred­ib­il­ity. Avoid mak­ing exag­ger­ated or false claims in your PR efforts. This can dam­age your cred­ib­il­ity and trust­wor­thi­ness, pos­sibly lead­ing to leg­al issues. Always strive for hon­esty and trans­par­ency in your communications.

Connect through stor­ies. Leverage storytelling to make your mes­sage more enga­ging and mem­or­able. Stories are inher­ently per­suas­ive and can help you con­nect deeply with your audience.

Respect the con­text. Be mind­ful of cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences and sens­it­iv­it­ies when com­mu­nic­at­ing with a diverse audi­ence. What works in one cul­ture may not work in anoth­er, and spe­cif­ic mes­sages may be per­ceived as offens­ive or inappropriate.

Stay con­sist­ent. It’s cru­cial to main­tain a con­sist­ent brand voice across all com­mu­nic­a­tion chan­nels. This helps rein­force your brand iden­tity and makes your mes­sage more recog­nis­able and impact­ful. One of the most com­mon mis­takes is not hav­ing a clear and con­sist­ent mes­sage. Ensure all com­mu­nic­a­tions align with your brand val­ues and object­ives to avoid this.

Speak through action. Don’t ignore neg­at­ive feed­back or crises. Address them promptly and pro­fes­sion­ally, and use them as oppor­tun­it­ies to demon­strate your com­mit­ment to cus­tom­er ser­vice and con­tinu­ous improvement.

Go digit­al-first. Use social media and oth­er digit­al plat­forms to engage with your audi­ence and foster a sense of com­munity. Encourage user-gen­er­ated con­tent and inter­ac­tions to increase engage­ment and brand loyalty. 

Monitor the media. Monitor and eval­u­ate the effect­ive­ness of your PR efforts reg­u­larly. Use ana­lyt­ics tools to track key met­rics and gain insights into your audience’s beha­viour and pref­er­ences. Listen to your audience’s feed­back and con­cerns, and respond to them promptly and respect­fully. This will help you refine your PR strategies and make them more effective.

Conclusion

In the dynam­ic world of pub­lic rela­tions, mas­ter­ing the art of per­sua­sion is not merely an option but a neces­sity. The lifeblood fuels effect­ive com­mu­nic­a­tion, shapes pub­lic opin­ion, and builds trust and credibility. 

The power of per­sua­sion lies in its abil­ity to con­nect, engage, and influ­ence. The tool trans­forms mes­sages into com­pel­ling nar­rat­ives, brands into trus­ted names, and audi­ences into loy­al communities. 

By under­stand­ing and apply­ing the prin­ciples of eth­os, pathos, and logos, PR pro­fes­sion­als can craft mes­sages that res­on­ate deeply with their audi­ence, driv­ing action and fos­ter­ing last­ing relationships.

So, go forth and com­mu­nic­ate with authen­ti­city, clar­ity, and pas­sion. After all, the power to shape per­cep­tions and influ­ence decisions lies in your hands.


Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: Perception Management

Walter Lippmann: Public Opinion and Perception Management

No one is basing their atti­tudes and beha­viours on real­ity; we’re basing them on our per­cep­tions of real­ity.

Walter Lippmann (1889 – 1974) pro­posed that our per­cep­tions of real­ity dif­fer from the actu­al real­ity. The real­ity is too vast and too com­plex for any­one to pro­cess. 3Lippmann, Walter. 1960. Public Opinion (1922). New York: Macmillan.

  • One who effect­ively man­ages the per­cep­tions of pub­lics acts as a mor­al legis­lat­or, cap­able of shap­ing atti­tudes and beha­viours accord­ing to the cat­egor­ic­al imperative.

The research on per­cep­tion man­age­ment is focused on how organ­isa­tions can cre­ate a desired reputation:

The OPM [Organizational Perception Management] field focuses on the range of activ­it­ies that help organ­isa­tions estab­lish and/​or main­tain a desired repu­ta­tion (Staw et al., 1983). More spe­cific­ally, OPM research has primar­ily focused on two inter­re­lated factors: (1) the tim­ing and goals of per­cep­tion man­age­ment activ­it­ies and (2) spe­cif­ic per­cep­tion man­age­ment tac­tics (Elsbach, 2006).”
Source: Hargis, M. & Watt, John 4Hargis, M. & Watt, John. (2010). Organizational per­cep­tion man­age­ment: A frame­work to over­come crisis events. Organization Development Journal. 28. 73 – 87.

Today, our per­cep­tions are heav­ily influ­enced by news media and influ­en­cers, algorithms, and social graphs. Therefore, per­cep­tion man­age­ment is more crit­ic­al than ever before.

We are all cap­tives of the pic­ture in our head — our belief that the world we have exper­i­enced is the world that really exists.”
— Walter Lippmann

Learn more: Walter Lippmann: Public Opinion and Perception Management

ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: The psy­cho­logy of per­sua­sion (Rev. ed.). HarperCollins.
2 Berger, J. (2014). Contagious: How to build word of mouth in the digit­al age. Simon & Schuster.
3 Lippmann, Walter. 1960. Public Opinion (1922). New York: Macmillan.
4 Hargis, M. & Watt, John. (2010). Organizational per­cep­tion man­age­ment: A frame­work to over­come crisis events. Organization Development Journal. 28. 73 – 87.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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