PR = Persuasion, not presentation


In his PR Week column this week, Anthony Hilton takes a pop at "listen only" conference calls – where journalists and analysts are only allowed to hear what the company wants and not allowed "to interrupt, challenge, question or even express disbelief." About as far away from the PR 2.0 concept of conversation as you could hope to get.

Hilton also makes a rather good observation – namely that "the art of PR is to persuade others of the merits of a client’s case, not simply present it."

And is that not the problem with a lot of PR? Endlesss amount of "presenting" the clients case, but little done to actually justify.

Let is linger longer on the concept of persuasion. There are plenty of books on the subject – and a bit of random googling brought up this. I don’t know Tom Hopkins from Adam, and his list below may be rather old hat on the subject. But it did raise the interesting question of how PRs normally would respond to each of the points below – I’d argue in most cases, they’d behave in exactly the opposite to that described in order to try and "persuade" a journalist:

  1. Teach by example. If you want to stop a mob from panicking in a theatre during a
    fire, walk calmly. If you want humans to adopt some ethical moral code, or
    philosophical system, live it rigorously. They will pick it up from you
    unconsciously by modelling you.
  2. Lead with non-controversial statements.
  3. Humans reason mostly by analogy. The key is finding the right analogy and
    letting them reason it through for themselves. You don’t even need to assert the
    two models are related, just put them in the same vicinity.
  4. Praise the desired behaviour in anyone who exhibits it. The others will
    mindlessly model the behaviour to get praise.
  5. Don’t bother with the reasons why you want humans to do something. Get into
    their heads. Why would they want to do it? People are much more likely to
    trust you if you obviously like them and have their desires and well being in
    consideration.
  6. Reward humans with attention when they seem to be moving in the right direction.
  7. In debate, concede as many points as you possibly can. Your opponents will then
    perceive you as emminently reasonable and stop fighting you so hard.
  8. If you want to get humans angry at some injustice, don’t model anger. They will
    think you already have it covered and do nothing. Just calmly tell them the
    facts and let them create their own anger.
  9. Look on every response to what you say, no matter how vitriolic, as a gift from
    the universe to continue the debate. The worst thing that can happen is humans
    will ignore you totally. Treat every attack as a cry for more information.
  10. Express your own doubts about anything you say. The more middle-of-the-road you
    are in any controversy the more weight you have as a wise unbiased judge.
  11. There is no end to what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the
    credit.
  12. A thing hasn’t been said until its been said a thousand times.

    ~ Ring Lardner

    And, you had better find a different way to say it every time.
  13. Keep your sense of humour at all times. It is the best weapon for disarming a
    harsh critic.
  14. Smoke ’em out. Get them to tell you what sort of argument would be convincing.
  15. Play Matlock.
    Play it a little dumber than you really are. It is useful if your opponents
    underestimate you. You are not as intimidating that way. The ethics of doing
    this are grey.
  16. Use colourful language. Play on all the senses.
  17. Using ad hominems or other logical
    fallacies
    is not logical.
  18. If I say it, they can doubt me.

    If they say it, it is true
  19. If an argument is not working, no matter how logical it is, try something else.
    Humans are rarely persuaded by logic.
  20. Never underestimate the role of the seconder. No idea succeeds without one.
  21. Be as ruthlessly honest as you can. Be willing to share any intimate detail
    about yourself. That way humans can get a sense of who you really are. They need
    that before they can trust you.
  22. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your
    sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention.

    ~ Benjamin Franklin

    On the other paw, it can be a way to stimulate discussion.
  23. Use Pavlovian conditioning. Get them to associate what they like (e.g. sex) with
    what you want them to do. Get them to associate what they don’t like (e.g. pig
    vomit) with what you don’t want them to do. Iconic symbols are even better.
  24. Don’t rub it in when you score a debating point. The goal is to seek truth then
    persuade the humans of that truth, not to humiliate your opponents.
  25. Help your opponent save face when he agrees with you. Humans consider changing
    one’s mind dishonourable. Avoid shaming them by noticing publicly.
  26. A pause or complete silence is often more eloquent than any words. It also gives
    a chance for others to take up the charge.
  27. Counter contrarians by deprecating yourself or your ideas.
  28. Smoothly shift gears from third to second person.
  29. Use quantum salesmanship.
  30. The game isn’t over until everybody wins.
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