Mar 21st 2018

The power of persuasion in public relations

Words have power

In both our professional and personal lives, being able to influence others to buy into our ideas is invaluable.

Despite what some outside the industry may think, persuading and influencing in PR is not about bending the truth, insincere flattery or omission of facts. It’s about negotiating, considering a situation from the perspective of the other person (as well as a third-party observer), understanding how others operate, and anticipating and overcoming potential challenges to ultimately achieve the best results.

This also extends to content. Solving challenges, identifying demands, and delivering on expectations; feature articles, press releases, pitches – and, yes, blog posts – must present a compelling reason for a target audience to get on board with an idea. Some may have the gift of the gab, but in my content management role at Babel, persuasion by pen is vital.

No matter how you communicate, working in PR – and promoting a wide range of products, people and initiatives – means utilising ‘towards motivation’. This involves selling someone future benefits and focussing on positive outcomes; a key trope of all successful PR and comms activity.

We may not realise we’re doing it, but as I learnt in a workshop last week, this is a key part of communication, relationship building, influencing and persuading.

However, using emotion to inject a sense of peril, driving someone through fear, and focussing on negative consequences, can also influence behaviour. This is ‘away motivation’. The decision as to which approach to take will depend on who it is you’re communicating with, and if you understand what drives them.

We face countless scenarios on a daily basis where we (unconsciously) choose whether to utilise ‘towards’, or ‘away’ motivation. These may include contacting a journalist about a client’s product launch, pitching a campaign idea in a meeting, or re-negotiating a deadline.

To persuade and influence someone is to reduce barriers to resistance, and to make it easier for others to say yes. It is about enabling someone to first accept your recommendation (whether that’s to edit an article, scrap a stunt from a campaign or add an additional colleague to an account); then to feel positive about your suggestion; to remain convinced after the discussion has ended; and finally, for that person to then persuade others that your suggestion is the correct course of action.

How can you achieve this in practice?

First, show as well as tell. If you’re trying to convey an idea to your team in a meeting, talking the talk might not be enough. Instead, get creative – use a whiteboard, draw pictures, use visuals. There’s a reason why video, images, gifs and memes spread like wildfire online: they’re memorable, accessible, and as such we feel compelled to support and share these ideas.

Second, preparation and fact-finding. You can’t anticipate and prepare for every objection you encounter. However, you can do your homework before that meeting/phone call/pitch to discover why someone might object, and then during the encounter, listen, clarify and address this hurdle when it arises. Again, this is also applicable when writing – understanding what the challenges are enables you to show how they can be overcome.

Third, make sure you close every exchange. Persuading someone in the moment doesn’t necessarily translate to enduring conviction. So, ask the other person how they feel about what you’ve suggested/requested; outline next steps; pinpoint a time and date for a follow-up meeting; and be clear about any deadlines.

Of course, this all takes confidence. But if you can convince yourself you can do it, think of the positive outcomes of the approach, then you’ll likely win a lot of friends and influence a lot of people.


Holly Ashford
Holly Ashford SENIOR CONTENT MANAGER