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Picture: 123RF/Deyan Georgiev
Picture: 123RF/Deyan Georgiev

Gone are the days when PR was relegated to being just a press office or simply involved working with influencers and being responsible for getting the right people into the right room to swoon over the latest product or newest service offering.

There’s been much talk about PR going through a paradigm shift – how the role of PR and what we do for our clients has changed. But if you break it down to its absolute essence, the job we do today remains the same as the job we did 50 years ago: to encourage a certain attitude or action. It’s the execution of that job that has become endlessly harder in a world where business expectations are higher, budgets are tighter and audiences and stakeholders are disparate and tougher to reach and connect to through similar mediums. Indeed, it is the “how” that is changing, but the fundamentals of what we do remain exactly the same.

For those of us in the communications industry, the past two years have been a valuable reminder that almost all problems, at their very simplest, are behavioral problems in disguise.

Building brands through reputations, setting agendas that motivate continual, progressive impact, encouraging love and trust, and driving positive sentiment are all derivatives of a behaviour set or a change that is required to it. As PR becomes more intentional in what the challenges are it needs to solve, the application of design thinking to drive behaviour change becomes increasingly meaningful, not just as a strategic tool but in implementing strategy more laterally.

At its core, design thinking is understanding problems first before looking for solutions. In strategic communications, its application is two-fold.

The first application is a deliberate reframing of the problem from a communications challenge to a business objective. In order for a business objective to be met, it relies on a certain set of behaviours from those (a predefined audience or group of stakeholders) who affect that objective. The communications challenge, then, can become a design-led problem statement derived from the behavioural change required. The result is a clearly defined communications job to be done, leading to tighter work that can deliver a greater impact.

The second application, which is perhaps more overt, is a call for empathy. Indeed, it’s a case for human-centricity. Over the years our industry has become fixated on categorising the kinds of communications work we do. We talk of B2B, B2S, B2B2C, corporate comms – the list is endless. But no matter what category the work happens to fall into, at its core we are still communicating with other human beings. Much of strategic communication revolves around persuasion – it is part art, part science.

Understanding how we make decisions and what the behaviours are that influence our decisions are therefore integral to the work we do. This area of practice is known as behavioural science, and when properly harnessed, can enable PR practitioners to structure communication strategies and creative implementation in a way that is much more effective, and certainly more measurable.

As strategic communications become an integral part of the marketing ecosystem, the benchmark for the work we deliver increases. In a world that is constantly changing, a return to simplicity is a necessity, both in remembering why we do what we do and in finding the simplest, most effective way to do it. Easier said than done.

Vikash Gajjar is a senior strategist at Razor PR, the most awarded agency at the 2022 PRovoke Sabre Awards.

The big take-out:

In a world that is constantly changing, a return to simplicity is a necessity, both in remembering why we do what we do and in finding the simplest, most effective way to do it.

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