6 factors of persuasion and how they relate to PR

People are hard-wired to have particular responses to things. Knowing what those responses are can help you predict how your pitches will go over.


Our CEO recently broadcast a link to “Secrets of the Science of Persuasion,” a whiteboard presentation by Robert Cialdini and Steve Martin (no, not that Steve Martin). In it, Cialdini and Martin discuss six factors of persuasion and include scientific validation of the concepts. As I watched, I wondered how these factors might relate to PR and media pitching. Here’s what I came up with: 1. Reciprocity People feel an obligation to give when they receive. Favors and partnerships abound in the business world. The key to reciprocity is to be the first to give, making sure it is personalized and unexpected. In the PR realm, this can manifest in many ways. For example, you could share contacts with a media outlet to help journalists find the story they are searching for. When you do get some juicy media coverage, put some money behind it to help promote the piece socially, and be sure to let them know you’ll be doing so. This type of converged media can go a long way toward building a relationship. If you can help the piece reach a larger audience, you’ll help not only your client but journalists as well—and they will remember that the next time you get in touch. 2. Liking People say yes to people they like, and we tend to like similar, complimentary, and cooperative people. Before you start pitching to the media, take a moment to research them. Read a couple of articles, learn their voice, identify a few similarities you may have, and compliment them on recent posts. Don’t be creepy about it, though; no one wants to feel as though they’re being stalked. Most important, be genuine with your compliments. 3. Scarcity Simply put, people want more of the things they can’t have or have less of. In media pitching, the classic “first look” approach takes advantage of those feelings. When pitching journalists, identify your “home run” sites, the ones that will be the most beneficial. Contact them personally before any other sites do, and offer your product or story ahead of schedule. The key is to make them feel special. The following formula is a good communication strategy: Benefit + uniqueness + what they stand to lose. 4. Authority People follow the lead of experts. You won’t always be authoritative in your client’s field, so let others prove your worth. For example, contact some influencers or thought leaders and get their thoughts to include in your pitch. Better yet, if your client employs a well-known authority on a given topic, pitch an exclusive interview. Become the outreach specialist who links journalists to those in the know and use their authority to your advantage. 5. Consistency In this case, consistency is looking and asking for commitments. If you’re asking for something big, try an incremental approach: Score small commitments, stay consistent, and move toward more voluntary, active, and public commitments in the future. For instance, if you’re trying to gain coverage for a long, boring white paper, first ask journalists whether they would be interested in seeing it instead of just dumping a 37-page attachment into their inbox. Once you have the go-ahead, send the white paper with the request to have it covered. They will be more willing to act on your request because they have already committed in some fashion. 6. Consensus People look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own. Of course, as PR professionals, you don’t want to say, “Hey, The Huffington Post covered this, you should too!” Nothing will turn off a journalist faster than getting seconds. Think of it this way: If you’re struggling to come up with an idea or pitch for a specific client, research what other online publishers and bloggers are covering in the client’s market. There’s a good chance that a similar angle will work for you as well. Find out what’s working in the space and try to formulate your pitch around similar factors. There you have it: secrets from the science of persuasion and how they relate to PR and media pitching. Is there anything missing, or do you have other ideas? Please offer them below. Austin Cobb is a media outreach manager at DigitalRelevance. A version of this story originally appeared on the company’s blog.

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