Behaviour psychology can help the whole PR industry plan better

The PR industry as a whole can learn from the healthcare sector by using the psychology of behaviour change more in its planning

The comms industry should learn more about psychological theory, says Simon Hackett
The comms industry should learn more about psychological theory, says Simon Hackett

The comms world is evolving faster than ever. We are seeing a dizzying mixture of redefinition, new models and different propositions.

There has been much discussion about how old models no longer apply and how comms teams that take a brief, apply multi-channel insight and deliver int-egrated solutions that go well beyond brand mention into genuine outcomes will be the ones that sprint ahead of the rest.

Insight-led planning is emerging as king, where data from the impact of cross-channel campaigns is being used to bolster strategic thinking.

The PR industry continues to use increasingly smart evaluation techniques that prove the relationship between the strategy, content and the desired change in consumer behaviour.

We are getting much better at demonstrating our value against business objectives and, in turn, staking a bigger claim when budgets are being allocated.  

Where do we go from here?

We need to bolster our planning capability and must become even more sophisticated in tracking outcomes.

Importantly, this needs to be grounded in a stronger, more scientific narrative and I think we should look towards healthcare comms for the answer – we can and do blend data and insights with the psychology of behaviour change to impact measurably on perception and behaviour.

Why healthcare comms? Put simply, the stakes are higher.

Understanding behaviour change theory and practice has long been of great importance to us.

It sounds dramatic, but in some instances it can literally mean the difference between life and death e.g. encouraging someone in a high-risk group to visit their GP and check their blood pressure.

People are irrational and often the drivers that shape decisions surprise you, so by better understanding the psychology of why people make the decisions they do, we can better help inspire them to not just behave in ways that are beneficial for their health but maintain that behaviour for the long term.

Although we may not articulate it well as an industry, we are all agents of behaviour change.

Regardless of sector, the comms industry should learn more about psychological theory and look to evidence-based behaviour change guidelines from bodies such as the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence.

But the industry must avoid the temptation to trot out psycho-bollocks that has no real meaning.

Look beyond the traditional degree/experience set at who you are employing and consider the role of psychologists. Get closer to your client/research, digital and social teams and better understand the data they have.

Develop a basic understanding of why people behave the way they do and put this at the heart of your planning. Use more evaluation in the right way.

Making these changes will require strong leadership within agency and in-house teams, but it will be worth it. If we look to healthcare comms and learn, we’ll generate better insights, develop more impactful campaigns and build our value as an industry.

We may even change lives along the way.

Simon Hackett is deputy manager director at Pegasus

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