Yesterday on IPR’s “Research Conversations” site, former Institute Trustee Lynn Brown posted an article enticingly titled “PR, Behavioral Economics & School Cafeterias.”  I loved the piece – and thanked her in a Comment for adding a new, personal story to our storehouse of Behavioral PR stories.

Behavior, behavior, behavior.  The PR business is about behavior.  We’re in the change business.  We want specific people, some defined demographic, to act differently – stop smoking, exercise more, vote in a particular way or buy our product.  We want change.

If we want to effect change, we have to effect change in behavior.  One of the best ways to do that, as Lynn Brown did in her article, is via storytelling that makes the good behavior memorable and compelling,

In efforts to seek behavior change, I’m finding the “Emerging Engagement Model” that the Arthur W. Page Society published in 2012 to be practical and productive.

I’m actually trying to use this model right now as a marketing template for a commercial venture, a play in Houston called Girls Only – The Secret Comedy of Women.  Think of it as Saturday Night Live on hyperdrive.  My wife is the show’s Houston producer and I have an interest (and a hand) in it. 

We followed this Page model last year in marketing the show in the Houston market — and it went on to play to more than 10,000 women here, an incredible run of five months and 99 performances.  So maybe this stuff really works!

As we bring Girls Only back for an extended run opening this weekend,  I have the ”Page Engagement Model”  posted right in front of us on our bulletin boards, for all to see and be guided by.  My goal is that it be our marketing trail-blazer, our “how-to” master-prototype.  And sometimes it is.

The model has four steps:

(1) What causes someone to BELIEVE?  I must hear it from people I trust.  I must see evidence.  I must experience it myself.

(2) What causes someone to ACT? I need to know what to do and how. I emulate role models. I need skills, tools and resources.

(3) What causes someone to have CONFIDENCE?  I see others like me succeed. I am deriving value and benefit from the decision I’ve made. I get positive reinforcement from my peer network.

(4) What causes someone to ADVOCATE?  It enhances my identity and reputation.  It is easy for me to share my opinion and experiences with my personal network.  I have adopted a new social norm and joined a new peer group.

I figure that, if the Page Engagement Model can work in building word-of-mouth ticket demand for a wacky comedy, it ought to work for just about any behavioral-change challenge.

How will we as the PR profession get Behavioral PR to become the norm?  Here’s a suggestion. Maybe we ought to use the Page Engagement Model itself as our roadmap in getting PR practitioners to use the Page Engagement Model.  How’s that for a novel idea?

Any thoughts?  Reactions?  Behavioral change does not come easy, but it might come about easier if we had a roadmap.  And, I suggest, now we do.


Ward White, former IPR co-chair and now honorary Trustee, is Strategy Officer at Edelman in Houston, after a 40 year career that has included service as CEO of Bozell PR (now part of Weber Shandwick), president of Golin/Harris East and CCO for 15 years at Northwestern Mutual.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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2 thoughts on “Behavioral PR & “Girls Only”

  1. I’m so relieved that we’re finally using the “B” word in PR again, Ward. No, not Bernays – although he and Pat Jackson would undoubtedly be delighted.

    Behavior! Behavior! Behavior!

    Good news is, while others were all striving for excellence in PR, the study of attitude, the antecedent of intent and behavior, has moved forward with new ideas, new research, and new methodologies that can actually predict the behavioral outcomes of mediated and unmediated communication. Real science with real numbers – not hunches, guesses and gut feels.

    How will we get the profession to embrace behavioral PR again? Maybe start by exposing our future practitioners, my students, to the theories and methods of social psychology early in their careers – before they become obsessed with “getting a seat at the corporate table.” I challenge anyone to find the Theory of Planned Behavior in a single PR textbook – even though the theory does more to describe and define the belief/attitude/behavior underpinnings of PR work than any communication theory ever did, or could.

    Cross over, children…all are welcome!

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