This blog is provided by the IPR Behavioral Insights Research Center.

Stacey Smith discussed this topic at her December 7, 2021 IPR Master Class: Behavioral Science in Communication session. See the link for more information on the series.

The science that supports the practice of public relations continues to grow exponentially, both due to the work of our esteemed public relations colleagues in academia, and educators from related disciplines including the behavioral and communication sciences.

A quick — and fairly conservative estimate — of the number of academic journals published in these fields alone would suggest there might be over 30,000 new studies published yearly!  Given this volume and the clear reality of the work life of a public relations professional, it is understandable that staying abreast of this work and integrating it into practice may be near impossible. Yet, without this constant study and advancement, we risk becoming dinosaurs, relegated to making plans and creating tactics that are no longer effective.

Enter the models that these academics and practitioners have developed over the years that have given us short cuts– “F” keys, if you will — for integrating the science into practice. There are a variety of models out there, so when choosing/using one or more to guide your plans for meeting goals and objectives, be sure they meet the following criteria:

1)   Developed by reputable sources and vetted by professional associations, journals, and other academically credible bodies
2)   Supported by underlying science which is clearly defined and updated regularly
3)   Replete with case studies that show how the model has been used in other situations so that interpretation and application is successful

Of the favorite models used and created by Jackson Jackson & Wagner, the mainstay model, of course, is the “Behavioral PR Model” developed by Jim Grunig and Patrick Jackson. Built on the chassis of the Diffusion Process (Everett Rogers), it integrates psychological and sociological concepts that explain an individual’s (and group’s) latent readiness to behave, including the barriers and affinities that might drive or prevent a certain behavior. It pulls from the behavioral sciences to explain how triggering events can jumpstart those behaviors, and if not stimulating the ultimate desired behavior right away, could produce some intermediate behaviors that might eventually lead to “ultimate desired behaviors.” The Behavioral Model pulls in more sociological and anthropological underpinnings to support the need for (and in fact, the demand for) social influence to cement behaviors and move them across the finish line. See here for an example applying the Behavioral PR Model to a case involving Lyme Disease.

As our academic colleagues continue to study all aspects of our profession and human nature, these models will be reinforced, tweaked, or changed entirely.  With the advent of new communication systems and dynamics, we must continue to stay alert to the ever-changing world of human behavior.  One way to do this is to learn together by sharing what we see and where we have stumbled or succeeded. Resources like the Institute for Public Relations and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) are great conduits for making that happen if we all commit to continuing to contribute to the Body of Knowledge.

Stacey Smith is Senior Counsel & Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner and a member of the IPR Behavioral Insights Research Center and IPR Measurement Commission. 

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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