Patrick Jackson and The Start of Modern Behavioral Public Relations

Pat Jackson, JJ&W’s founder, was a behaviorist. Plain and simple. He taught those of us fortunate enough to work with him over the years to learn to be behaviorists, too.

Behavior change is hard – ask anyone who has tried to go on a diet, stop smoking or change a dominant personality trait – so Pat taught us to look for triggering events that could be a hook into behavior change, and to engineer behavior reinforcement into existing behavior patterns. Most of us, for example, go to the dentist twice a year – and for those who aren’t good about flossing as a regular part of their oral hygiene, those dentist visits become “triggering events” to “cram floss” – usually the 2 weeks prior to the visit, and definitely the two weeks after the visit, when the dentist’s lectures and scary-looking gingivitis posters are top of mind. But it is what happens in between those visits to reinforce flossing behavior that is the key to going from “cram flossing” to flossing that is part of your regular oral hygiene routine.

We’re about to embark on a campaign to educate and change behaviors around an important health problem — Lyme disease. There is a need to educate both children and parent, about Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses so they can take steps to prevent it … and when prevention isn’t possible, to identify and treat it early to minimize long-term effects.
Data is leading us to target kids between the ages of 5 and 15 – particularly those with greater exposure to ticks, such as those kids in outdoor camp programs. This is a fantastic opportunity to partner with local not-for-profits who serve children and their families organizations for the one-two punch of effectiveness, to reach the parents so they can reinforce the behaviors we are teaching. These behaviors include, on the simplest of levels, how to conduct a check for ticks – and if a tick is found, how to remove it and what to do with it afterwards. If we think like strategic communicators about the best time to check for ticks, it’s when you’re naked – so tips that can be posted in the bathroom – and even more specifically, the shower stall — make sense.
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In fact, Pat was a big proponent of using the bathrooms to communicate messages, and I had to laugh when I went out to eat one of my favorite restaurants in Amesbury, Mass and saw the poster advertising the fact that the restaurant is now open for lunch, right on the bathroom door. Educating those most apt to come to lunch — a current customer. Very effective!
Whether you are spreading news about new restaurant hours or how to prevent Lyme disease, two cardinal rules prevail:

1. Learn about your target audience and the best place to reach them with your message
2. Think about the natural ways to reinforce behavior change until it becomes a force of habit … kind of like recycling is with many today.

Yes, Pat was a behaviorist, whether he was in a boardroom or a bathroom. He often closed his speeches by talking about how the directions posted near the hand dryers in the bathrooms should have read: 1. Push button to turn on dryer. 2. Place hands under dryer. 3. Rub hands vigorously under dryer. 4. Wipe hands on pants! Because 9 times out of 10, that’s what we all do.

(Want to learn more about Pat Jackson and his approach to behavior change? Check him out at www.patrickjacksonpr.com.)

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is senior counsel and partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm. For more information about JJ&W, visit their website at www.jjwpr.com or email Robin at rschell@jjwpr.com.

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