Influencing Behavior

May 30, 2013

Guest post from Tom Hagley Sr.:

I like to challenge people to define public relations in two words. Other professions define themselves in two words—doctors practice medicine, lawyers practice law, accountants keep records. People in these disciplines define their work in two words, issue invoices and get paid accordingly for their expertise.

Not everyone in PR can do the same because many people—yes, many people— in public relations cannot define what they do.

And if you can’t define what you do, you can’t measure what you do. And if you can’t measure what you do, you can’t evaluate what you do. And if you can’t evaluate what you do, no one will pay for what you do.

To arrive at a two-word definition of public relations, I looked back over the years, made a list of untold numbers of projects and programs I had completed and summarized them as follows:

I persuaded people to support, to vote, to consider, to champion, to follow, to read, to buy, to trust, to invest, to listen, to join, to leave alone, to contribute, to believe, to work, to authorize, to accept, to welcome, to compromise, to accommodate, to cooperate, to wait, to decide and the list went on and on and on.

The common denominator, the two-word definition, became perfectly clear. That is, in public relations, we influence behavior.

Whose behavior do we influence?

The answer for a public corporation, private company and for a not-for-profit organization is the same. We influence the behavior of anyone who has or could have an effect—positive or negative— on the organization’s ultimate performance.

That would include, as examples, employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders, labor unions, voters, government regulators, special interest groups and many more.

Is that ethical?

Of course it’s ethical. The ethical principles applied to PR are no different than those applied to any other profession. Is it ethical to persuade someone to replace a heart, a tooth, a roof or a brake cylinder? Certainly it’s ethical if one does, in fact, need to be replaced.

How do we influence behavior?

We influence behavior through strategic communication. And therein lies the “magic of the profession” that few PR practitioners possess and for which fewer still get proper recognition.

True expertise in strategic communication is hard to find. That’s why I call it the “magic of the profession.” Strategic communication requires knowledge, skills and problem-solving experience in the dynamics of persuasion, human interaction and communication design.

In public relations, we influence behavior through strategic communication. How do we evaluate our effectiveness? The answer, simply: Did we influence behavior or not? Trust me; employers and clients like measurable public relations.

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