10 Oct 2022

Improving PR impact with psychology

By James Taylor

In a world of fragmented audiences, where those you want to influence are bombarded with thousands of commercial messages daily, communications need an edge.

We’ve long advocated that PR and content campaigns must connect with the heart and mind, as emotion plays a part in even the most practical decisions.

And we’ve spoken of the need to connect, human-to-human, using stories. We’re programmed from childhood to respond to familiar storytelling structures.

To give campaigns a further edge, psychology shows how people make decisions. Given the deluge of information people are exposed to, they don’t have time to consider all the data available to them when making decisions.

Instead, we use mental shortcuts to save time and energy. We rely on crucial cues, the wisdom of others, or a single piece of information to guide our actions.

Robert Cialdini, the American psychologist, is one of a handful of experts exploring psychology’s impact on decisions. His book ‘Influence’ is worth reading.

Cialdini talks of 7 factors that shape decisions:


People try to repay what another has provided. We don’t like to feel indebted, so obligation compels the continuation of relationships and transactions when a small gift or concession has been extended.


People prefer to say yes to those they like. Factors influencing liking include attraction, similarity, flattery and familiarity from repeated contact with a person or brand.

Social Proof

One way people decide what to believe or how to act is to examine what others are thinking or doing. The wisdom of the crowd is most influential in ambiguous situations.


People are more likely to act if encouraged to do so by an authority figure, an expert or someone in a position of power. This is maximised when figures are trustworthy.


The availability of an item or experience serves as a shortcut to quality, with things that are hard to obtain seen as more valuable.


People want to be (and appear to be) consistent in their actions and statements. We are more willing to agree to things that are consistent with earlier commitments.


People respond more favourably to those they believe are like them or part of a shared group. Unity can come from kinship, geography, acting together or focusing on what makes people similar.

Used correctly and responsibly, these levers can be powerful.

Generally, it is good advice to build liking through familiarity, creating repeated opportunities for an audience to connect with a brand, and ensure the message is delivered consistently.

Social proof and authority are also stalwarts of our campaigns.

Get in touch if you’d like to discuss how the principles of persuasion could benefit your business.