Is PR a Precise Art Form or Beautiful Scientific Procedure?

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Elizabeth Edwards, president & CEO Volume Public Relations, bylined an article for The Review, asking the question, “Is what we [communicators] do a science or an art?” Gain yourself some knowledge and satisfy your curiosity by reading the article below.


Art or Science? When PR and Marketing Bridges The Gap

By: Elizabeth Edwards, President & Founder, Volume Public Relations

If you’ve been working in advertising, marketing or PR for any length of time, you’ve probably faced the age-old question at some point in your career: Is what we do a science or an art?

More often than not, your immediate response to this question will depend upon the role you play in your organization. Creatives responsible for eye-catching visuals or memorable, engaging copy will almost always demand that their work be respected as an art form. Market researchers or campaign analysts will insist they are engaged in scientific undertakings. And PR professionals, whose experience and intuition often play into strategic and tactical decisions, will typically steer their answer toward the response that best meets the needs of the questioner. (We can’t help it; it’s in our blood.

But no matter your instinctual response, the truth is that what we practice is, more and more, a combination of art and science. While crafting the perfect message and creating stunning marketing collateral are indeed artistic endeavors, these activities fall far short of their targets when they aren’t based on scientific data that informs the design and language. What’s more, today’s smart marketers are engaging more than traditional market research to develop their approach. With an increasingly niched market segmentation, the need for more accurate (and more personal) information on audience needs, desires, pain points and motivators is more important than ever.

Fortunately, advances in neuroscience and an increased awareness of the importance of incorporating psychological and cognitive research findings into campaign approaches are creating stronger marketing efforts that tap into the brains of consumers. You see the growing influence of neuroscience with the rise of firms like SalesBrain, which has staked a claim as the “first neuromarketing agency,” as well as through the popularity of Roger Dooley’s Neuromarketing blog and book, “Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing.”

The influence can also be seen in a myriad of scientifically designed campaigns that have produced results far beyond what could be expected through traditional methods. Utilizing insights from neuromarketing principles, these efforts help communication professionals better identify and connect with brand personas, as well as reveal the  “pains and drivers” attached to each persona. Ultimately, this information creates stronger connections between your brand messages and your target audiences, leading to greater engagement.

Public Relations: Tapping the Scarcity Principle

When things are scarce, we want them. That’s the simple premise behind the Scarcity Principle – a psychological and economic theory that engages the fear of “losing out” to motivate a person to action. But the perception of scarcity is more difficult to create than you might imagine. And attempting to use it to a brand’s advantage comes with its own precarious pitfalls. What if the scarcity created for a brand, product or event merely elicits a collective “meh” from the intended audience? The secret is to build a sense of scarcity while simultaneously generating enthusiasm for the brand.

Volume Public Relations leveraged the principle to great advantage when it managed the promotion of the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver. The BMW Championship, the third of four golf tournaments that make up the Professional Golfers Association tour’s annual FedEx Cup, had not been held in the Rocky Mountain Region since 1947. There were doubts that the event could grab audience attention in a sports market dominated by football and alpine skiing, so building demand and excitement for the event to meet attendance expectations was going to be a challenge

To accomplish this, a science-based strategy of seeding demand by creating a priority ticket launch program a full year prior to the event was developed. The campaign encouraged consumers to register for “exclusive” access to event tickets before they would be made available to the general public, implying that without such access tickets would quickly sell out. The consumers that had registered for the exclusive were given 48 hours advanced access to buy all the tickets their hearts desired before they went on sale to the general public. The outcome? A tremendous surge in golf fans hit the system in the first two days of launch week, followed by a second surge from the community once the restraint for pre-registration to buy was lifted. This well-timed surge of traffic caused Denver’s BMW Championship to break every opening week sales record in the event’s history, doubling opening week ticket sales from $300,000 to $600,000. The surge in community interest and record breaking sales also gave the PR team more news to share with the media, and ultimately, the campaign achieved a completely sold-out event that enjoyed 400 percent more media coverage than the previous year’s competition.

Messaging: Customize to appeal to diverse audiences

Transamerica, the leading provider of life insurance, savings and retirement, and investment solutions, enjoys a significant level of awareness among American consumers. The company’s success depends on its ability to connect with a variety of audiences to convince them to participate in its investment and retirement programs. But just as media audiences have diversified into niche targets, consumers are also identifying themselves among increasingly diversified groups. This means that a “one size fits all” approach to messaging is no longer appropriate – and companies that want to appeal to these new niche audiences must adapt their messaging.

Volume PR was recently hired by Transamerica to help it identify the diversification among its audience and develop brand personas and customized messages that better reflect the company’s targeted investors. The identification of niche persona targets relies heavily on a variety of demographic, socio-economic, psychographic and behavioral segmentations, and every persona possesses its own emotional motivations. This is far superior to a traditional approach toward message development, which often relies on data gathered via focus groups lumping consumers into singular categories. Research has demonstrated that focus group participants often parse their responses, steering them toward what is “acceptable” or desired – particularly if their true answers can be considered embarrassing

By identifying and studying multiple customer personas, companies gain a greater understanding of the various human characteristics that make up their customers. This scientific approach to messaging is critical in today’s increasingly individualized culture. Rather than just “creating more noise,” with broad-based messages, messaging to brand personas allows companies to create “the right noise” that resonates.

Collateral: Engaging the mind in play

Tremendous effort is often taken to ensure that collateral pieces are visually appealing and chock full of information. But it’s not unusual for even the most well-designed collateral pieces to quickly land in a pile of papers on a desk or coffee table at best – or in the round file at worst. But the European company Logoloop has made a name for itself by utilizing the concept and theory of play in order to increase engagement with collateral pieces. This new “haptic communication medium” creates messages that literally unfold before a customer’s eyes, encouraging them to review the piece over and over again. As a result, collateral created through Logoloop’s process resist disposal, ensuring that a message almost never gets thrown in the trash

These collateral pieces can be distributed like any conventional mailing and once delivered are fascinating to hold. Because the pieces fold and unfold with seeming endless options, there are multiple opportunities to showcase different products or aspects of a company or service. The process can be used to create business cards, direct mail pieces, invitations or greeting cards and even special ad inserts. To see Logoloop in action, visit However, even in this beautiful Internet age, some things still need to be seen in person to be fully appreciated, so to experience a sample Logoloop first hand, contact [email protected].

Advertising: Enlisting the stages of change to alter behavior

Renowned psychologist James Prochaska identified five “stages of change” that all individuals undertake in the process of dropping bad habits or effecting change in their lives. These stages, precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance, can help guide a person to success and have been integral in behavior modification programs ever since their introduction more than 20 years ago

Regional advertising agency RIESTER engaged Prochaska’s Stages of Change in a groundbreaking advertising campaign to help individuals quit tobacco use. First created for the state of Arizona, the “Chuck” campaign followed a single individual (named Chuck) as he worked his way through the five stages of change. The innovative TV spots followed the lead character through each stage, allowing viewers to follow an average male smoker from the pre-contemplation stage, through the contemplation, preparation, and action stages, to the maintenance stage. These spots allowed viewers to identify themselves wherever they might be in the change process – and viewers could empathize with Chuck as they learned to cope with the stages along with him.

The “Chuck” ads aired during prime time as well as during daytime soap operas. As a result of the ads, call volume to the Arizona Smokers’ Helpline increased to 500 calls per week and the Helpline’s name recognition reached 90 percent. As many as 75 percent of callers reported that they heard about the Helpline from the TV ads. During the first phase of the campaign, up to 95 percent of callers contacted the Helpline to gather infor­mation. But as awareness of the Helpline increased and callers became increasingly knowledgeable about quitting tobacco use, the percentage of clients choosing proactive counseling to quit increased to 60 percent.

As a result, Arizona saw a remarkable drop in tobacco use, and Arizona’s success was so impressive that the Chuck campaign was ultimately utilized across several other states (including Colorado) and a version of the campaign was even adopted by Health Canada for a national effort in Canada.

The science of communication

The mind works in mysterious ways, and uncovering those mysteries is the key to creating and delivering powerful marketing messages and programs that move your audience toward action. Volume PR has taken this innovative philosophy to heart, moving beyond traditional approaches in the development of communication programs to see inside the minds of client audiences. The result: Strategies and tactics that map the obvious to the hidden and unconscious motivations of customers – producing PR and marketing outcomes that far exceed those available through traditional approaches.

Volume’s process utilizes a combination of proven behavioral and cognitive science practices to understand the forces governing human behavior, and the nature of consumer drives and impulses. When married with decades of B2B, technology and consumer marketing experience, these insights create a powerful combination that produce messaging, marketing and PR campaigns that are impossible to ignore. As marketing audiences become more and more fragmented, this research and science-based approach becomes increasingly necessary. Companies that resist the move toward a scientific approach risk becoming irrelevant to their audience – and marketers that ignore the power of cognitive and behavioral insights close off the possibilities of reaching their targets with more relevance than ever.

So is marketing art or science? Increasingly, the answer is “both,” with an ever-growing dependency on science.

   As president and founder of Volume Public Relations, Elizabeth Edwards leads the nations premier communications agency delivering marketing, PR and corporate communication programs rooted in the principles of cognitive science.

   Creating “More Awareness, More Customers, and More Results” is Volume Public Relation’s mantra, and Elizabeth and her team achieve this by implementing PR campaigns developed with scientific precision rather than  just a marketing expert’s conjecture.

Click here for the full article on The Review.

Picture of Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards is the founder of Volume PR, Engagement Science Lab, and creator of The Frequency of Understanding; an international movement to combining behavioral science and neuroscience with communication strategies to accelerate understanding and change.

About Elizabeth & Volume PR

Volume PR

Communication. Conversation. Conversion.