The Psychology of Public Relations

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People ask me many questions about majoring in both public relations and psychology: What do those two have in common? Aren’t those both easy majors where you can only go to graduate school before finding a job?

The two fields play into each other more than many people realize. Psychology is an important tool to know in today’s competitive work field. There’s the psychology of jury decision making, workplace behavior and forensics. There’s also a psychology of public relations and it can be the difference between success and failure for a PR practitioner.

First, public relations practitioners must be excellent in communicating. There’s the right message for a client and the wrong one — practitioners must know the difference. They must also know how to formulate that message, phrase or even a word to represent a company to the public. While this does come with knowing your audience, psychology can help identify what a particular audience does and does not like. It can also explain why a certain audience responds stronger to one message than another does.

Behavioral science is one of the larger divisions of psychology and also happens to be one of the main goals of public relations. Practitioners want their target audiences to attend an event, buy a product or change their feelings about a product or company. Understanding behavioral science is the best way to know how to influence behavior for each audience and is one of the easiest ways to be successful in that aspect.

Aside from communication strategies and behavior change, memory is another psychological aspect to public relations. Someone can see a commercial on TV but he or she needs to remember that commercial if there is any hope of expecting him or her to buy whatever was just shown. A study by Red Crow Marketing found that Americans see anywhere from 4,000-10,000 advertisements each day. To stand out among the crowd, public relations practitioners must ensure their clients’ message is remembered.

The psychology of public relations will continue to be of great importance to a practitioner. Many other fields use psychology or even psychologists to get a leg-up so it is time for public relations to see the impact that psychology can have.


Maryellen Newton is a senior journalism and mass communication and psychology major at Samford University. She works in the office of marketing and communication at Samford as well as serving as the secretary for Samford’s PRSSA chapter. Follow her on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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