Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
April 9, 2008

Behavioral Public Relations: In the End, It’s All About Behavior & Relationships

Yearly planning sessions are a “triggering event” for public relations practitioners to step back and examine the impact of what has been done with various stakeholder groups and to ask, “What were our goals?” and “Have we been successful?”

Jackson Jackson & Wagner’s philosophy is that we should be asking ourselves these questions all year. The focus should be on getting behavioral results. We should be asking what behaviors we are seeking from stakeholders and what triggering events – we can create or piggyback on to jumpstart these behaviors. Knowing humans don’t always choose the ultimate desired behaviors, we should also ask what are some “intermediate behaviors” we can encourage that would pave the way for behavior change?
As we think about the process we all go through when making a decision to act, whether it’s to buy a product, support a political candidate or join an organization, one-way communication starts this process by getting our attention and providing information; and once our decision is made, it provides reinforcement. But then we must check it out with someone we trust and respect — opinion leaders, who will vary depending on the topic at hand. 

As practitioners, we need to be sure we’re doing a good job balancing the amount of energy we’re putting in to one-way and two-way communications while keeping our opinion leader relationships current. More questions we should ask are: Do I have an updated list of opinion leaders, by stakeholder group? Is it well rounded? (Does it contain more than just names of elected officials, or “power leaders?”) When’s the last time I got in touch with them?  Do I contact them regularly or just when I want something from them?  Am I keeping them informed as a member of my organization’s extended family?  Am I using social media tools to supplement personal relationships – or to replace them?

By Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA, senior counsel at Jackson Jackson & Wagner. Robin Schell  has 20 years of consulting experience and specializes in strategic planning, effective internal and external communication systems, constituency relations programs and behavioral research.

Join Schell for her two-day seminar, “PR Boot Camp: Key Concepts and Techniques of Effective Public Relations,” Tuesday, February 2–Wednesday, February 3 in San Fransisco, CA!

  • Adam Denison

    This is some great insight. It is easy to get so caught up in communicating with our publics, that we often forget that opinion leaders are also a public we should be engaging. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Public Relations Consultant


    The title of this article really does say it all – it’s all about relationships. Far too many business people focus on achieving ‘quick’ results – but long lasting success doesn’t come that way now does it?

    This was a good summary of the ideas behind behavior and public relations, but with 20 years consulting experience I’d have loved a few examples of how you’ve put this to practice or seen it done successfully.

    Just looked at the clock and have to run, but one last point that you really hit the mark with “Do I contact them regularly or just when I want something from them?” Most of us don’t. And yet when I’ve focused on maintaining client relationships good things always come from them. Even if they don’t come today, tomorrow or next month. Sometimes they’ve come a year or or in the future. But it’s a great investment.