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:
- 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.
- Lead with non-controversial statements.
- 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.
- Praise the desired behaviour in anyone who exhibits it. The others will mindlessly model the behaviour to get praise.
- 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.
- Reward humans with attention when they seem to be moving in the right direction.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- There is no end to what can be accomplished if you don't care who gets the credit.
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.
- Keep your sense of humour at all times. It is the best weapon for disarming a harsh critic.
- Smoke 'em out. Get them to tell you what sort of argument would be convincing.
- 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.
- Use colourful language. Play on all the senses.
- Using ad hominems or other logical fallacies is not logical.
If I say it, they can doubt me.
If they say it, it is true
- If an argument is not working, no matter how logical it is, try something else. Humans are rarely persuaded by logic.
- Never underestimate the role of the seconder. No idea succeeds without one.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Help your opponent save face when he agrees with you. Humans consider changing one's mind dishonourable. Avoid shaming them by noticing publicly.
- A pause or complete silence is often more eloquent than any words. It also gives a chance for others to take up the charge.
- Counter contrarians by deprecating yourself or your ideas.
- Smoothly shift gears from third to second person.
- Use quantum salesmanship.
- The game isn't over until everybody wins.