Jesse Singal’s “Awareness is Overrated” piece in New York magazine struck a nerve with me as a PR professional, as I’m sure it did with others. After all, “Raise awareness for XX brand” is often the first objective in a typical public relations proposal. And for a client who suffers from lack of visibility, awareness is half the battle, maybe more. A product launch, better technology, startup company — all depend on breaking through in order to accomplish goals.
But when it comes to changing behavior or motivating action, awareness is just a starting point. In fact, too much visibility, or the wrong kind, can even have unintended consequences; it can lessen the stigma of anti-social behavior or possibly normalize opinions or actions a campaign is trying to change, like apathy about climate change or lifestyle advice to prevent illness.
At the end of the day, what most professional communicators – and our clients – are after is a degree of influence. The nature of influence is altogether more nuanced, but more powerful, than simple visibility. Even the knowledge that visibility has registered among certain audiences isn’t enough if nothing has changed as a result.
The need to move from awareness to ultimate action is why PR strategies and earned media results need to include tactics that create influence. Here are the most common ways.
Enhancing understanding. Unlike paid media, earned media and shared content can offer the depth and space needed to offer insights, marshall arguments, or explain a previously misunderstood issue or position. Think opinion pieces and talk radio interviews that unpack a complex issue or rebut arguments.
Leveraging peers, usually through social influence. “A person like me” is perceived as more credible than celebrities or institutions when it comes to influence, according to Edelman’s trust barometer.
Inspiring through storytelling. A powerful story about changed behavior or opinion and the outcomes that follow, can have a measurable impact. Again, the experience of peers can be far more credible than that of so-called experts, and when a strong emotional or inspirational component is part of the package, it’s a winning argument for change.
Using earned media in marketing. It’s as simple as leveraging product or entertainment reviews in ads. When it comes to purchase consideration, timing is everything, so earned media + paid media = a strong selling proposition.
Rewarding action. PR shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. When linked with a compelling promotional offer or incentive campaign, the influence of its message can increase exponentially.
Leveraging public opinion. Public pressure works. By giving ordinary citizens the tools and information to lobby for change, from online petitions to customer boycotts, a strategic PR campaign is at its best and most powerful.