Psychology and PR

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Psychology and PR

Psychology and PR – Do you know who Edward Bernays is?

Some call him the ‘Father of PR’ whilst others know him as the nephew of famous psychologist Sigmund Freud.

Bernays is known for groundbreaking PR and advertising techniques that transformed the marketing industry in the early 20th century.

Bernays was a vital cog in building faux events, namely news incidents that were for the benefit of a client or cause.


One famous illustration of this is when he hired young women to smoke whilst marching in the NYC Easter parade. This was a very taboo act at the time. He ensured that there were a number of journalists and photographers in the vicinity. He then actively encouraged participants to call their cigarettes ‘torches of freedom.’

This firmly placed the women in question as fashionable role models against the sexist discrimination that is women smokers.

As one would imagine, this stunt made the front pages of the newspapers the following day across the USA. Women took to the streets in hordes, smoking to show solidarity. What later emerged was a cigarette company contracted Bernays. They had the aim of expanding sales to females.

Much like his uncle, Bernays strategies were psychology based. He strongly believed that it was not reason but emotion that controlled everything we do, from the products we purchase to the people we socialize with.

As marketeers and PR professionals it is our desire to lead others into purchasing our products and using our services and psychology is a vital part of this.

Do you use psychology and PR in your public relations strategy? 

Psychology can be used effectively in a number of industries and makes up the vast majority of the models and concepts used in public relations and social media strategies.

Perhaps you are planning a campaign to improve someone’s image or attempting to persuade people to use a new product. Either way the study of human behaviour is involved. This is because marketing is all about how you make your audience feel.

In order for professionals to fully comprehend how public relations and psychology tie so well together consider this:

A PR agency has a task to do. It doesn’t matter what this job is they will immediately assess the following.

  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the audience’s attitude and how is it formed?
  • How attentive it this audience to the messaging?
  • What’s the ability of this group to remember and use the messaging?

Understanding the answers to these four questions allows public relations specialists to accomplish their fundamental goal — to influence behaviour.

As you can see, psychology teaches those in the PR field that they need to understand their target audience and customize their communications appropriately in order to sit back and watch the subconscious behaviour evolve.

This is a topic best covered in bite sized chunks.

Take this example: Every time someone does you a favour you feel obligated to return and repay this. One study showed that if a waiter(less) left a mint (the favour) with the bill, tips increased by 14%.

However, if they then returned to the table with another mint and a compliment, the tip then increased to 23%.

You can apply this to your PR strategy by ‘giving’ first. An example of this in a PR situation, could be a relationship with a reporter. By cultivating the relationship by offering help they will remember you and are likely to reciprocate when you need them.

If this short article has made you wonder how you can incorporate psychology and PR into your marketing strategies, get in touch! We would love to hear from you.