Category Archives: Behavior Change Theory & Tactics

Strategic PR Planning Is Critical To An Organization’s Success

If your first thought when presented with a public relations problem or opportunity is to brainstorm tactics – e.g. “let’s do a newsletter” “send a tweet”, “post on Facebook”, “hold a meeting” — then you are planning, but not strategically.

If your first thoughts are: “how does this opportunity fit with our overall goals?”, “what behaviors do we need from our priority stakeholders?”, “what are the underlying psychological or structural barriers in the way of achieving those behaviors?” , “what communication/behavioral theories or case studies could support or guide our decisions?” … then you are being strategic.

I explain to PRSA Strategic Planning workshop attendees that they probably are strategic thinkers already. However, it’s often easier to default to tactics that are in our comfort zone and can be quickly implemented. The problem is that just executing tactics without strategic direction could end up being a waste of our time and our organization’s resources. In today’s environment, public relations practitioners are being held accountable to the bottom line … we need to be able to justify our actions to senior management and provide measurable results, just as legal, finance and other departments do..

The strategic planning process consists of five distinct areas of work: 1) Establishing Direction, 2) Gathering/Conducting Research, 3) Objective Setting by Priority Publics, 4) Determining Strategy, Tactics, Evaluation, 5) Setting Timeline, Budget and Staffing. Once the plan has been determined, we need to stay flexible, knowing the environment we are operating in could change; a “triggering event” could impact the effectiveness of our strategy; or research could show that our priority audiences are not responding to our key messages.

Before we even begin the implementation of our plan, we must have a clear idea of what success will look like …for example: our internal audience will buy-in to and support our process; senior management will lead by example; our budgets and person power will increase; we will achieve the behaviors we set out to change or reinforce; and we will become an integral part of the leadership team charged with achieving the organization’s overall goals.

I’ll be presenting a half-day version of the day-long workshop at PRSA’s International Conference in Austin, TX on October 7. Join me!
For more information about Jackson Jackson & Wagner, visit our website at www.jjwpr.com

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.

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.

Designing Recognition Programs That Motivate Behavior

Whether you’re in charge of designing a rewards and recognition for your organization, or putting an awards program together for your industry, the question to ask yourself is: what behaviors are we trying to motivate? Teamwork? Employee retention? An above-and-beyond work ethic? Awareness? And the million dollar question: Is our current recognition program doing the job?

A few years back, JJ&W was conducting an internal communication study for an airline client. One of the objectives was to get feedback from employees on how they felt about the client’s recognition program. Amazingly, one anecdote came up consistently in the 25 focus groups we conducted. It concerned one of the airline’s toughest financial years. At the holidays, the CEO sent a letter recognizing everyone’s hard work, along with two cookies, to each employee. Here’s what we heard from employees: “If you want to motivate us, don’t give us two $3 cookies in a $6 box…bring in lunch for our crew when we’ve been working 24/7 during a tough weather stretch!” If you don’t know how employees want to be recognized and rewarded …ask! A little research can go a long way in helping you to design an effective recognition program. Note: as a result of the research JJ&W conducted, the recognition program was revamped to include both individual and team awards, given that teamwork at an airline is a must-have behavioral goal. After all, we all want those pilots, gate agents and baggage handlers working together to deliver customer delight!

A few tips on designing a strategic rewards and recognition program:

1. Evaluate your program…is it driving your behavioral goals? The Yankee Chapter of PRSA gives an award, originally known as the Yankee Award, but renamed for JJ&W’s founder and now called the Patrick Jackson Award. The Chapter asks its members to nominate professionals who are not in the public relations field but who successfully use public relations principles to benefit their organization and society, while demonstrating a track record of building public relationships that earn trust. Last year, Van Mcleod, former NH Commissioner of the Arts, won the award posthumously and joined a list of NH heavy hitters including Governor Walter Peterson, Bishop Gene Robinson and former NH Charitable Foundation president Lew Feldstein. The whole idea behind the award is to educate those outside our profession about what PR is and what it looks like when it is done well. The award has been in place since the 90’s, and rather than just keep giving the award, there is a committee in place to evaluate its effectiveness – are we getting the behavioral outcomes we want? Are we educating NH’s senior leaders about the value of PR by giving this award?

2. Consider filling a niche that doesn’t exist. Think about scholarships – there are many schools with awards for financial need and sky-high GPAs. When my high school scholarship committee got together to design the criteria for our class scholarship, we decided to go for a new niche and reward the “slow starter that finished strong”. When we are screening applications, we’re looking for the person who turned the corner in the latter half of their high school career, balancing GPA with work, outside interests and public service.

3. Design an industry award that gives back to the profession in some way. At our 35th anniversary (over 30 years ago!), Jackson Jackson & Wagner established the JJ&W Behavioral Science prize with a donation of $35,000 to the PRSA Foundation. The intent was to honor an individual behavioral science researcher whose scholarly work enhances the understanding of the concepts and theories that contribute to the effectiveness of the public relations practitioner. Since JJ&W’s focus is behavior change, this research is an important foundation to the work we do for clients. Pat Jackson coined this type of giving “enlightened self-interest” — you do good for others but it reflects positively on your organization as well. The winner is honored at PRSA International Conference, with the idea they will conduct a professional development session based on their work, so conference attendees can all benefit. Note: the award is not given every year; just when the awards committee finds a deserving candidate.

Similarly, PRSA established the Silver Anvil awards back in 1945 to recognize the best public relations campaigns in our industry – these are all catalogued on PRSA’s website, www.prsa.org, for the benefit of all members. Last year, NASA was recognized with the Best of Silver Anvil awards for their “Year in Space: Communicating NASA’s Historic One-Year Mission from Space to Ground” program. Click here to view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iTaEyl1Mcg

A final thought: if you’re on the receiving end of a prestigious award or recognition, don’t stop at issuing a press release to announce it – go direct to the audiences that matter most. When I earned my APR back in 1991, JJ&W notified our clients directly, and I got some wonderful hand-written notes of congratulations from fellow PR practitioners and friends acknowledging this accomplishment. As a measure of how much those meant to me … I still have them in my possession today, all these years later.

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is senior counsel and partner for Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm. For more information about Jackson Jackson & Wagner, visit our website at www.jjwpr.com.

Helmetless Practices: How Behavior Change Strategy Is Paying Off For The UNH Football Team

Because JJ&W has counseled the Brain Injury Association of NH for a number of years, we’ve gotten very familiar with the concussion issue – it has certainly been in the spotlight with triggering events like the death of Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers and more recently, the movie “Concussion”.

Of course, any social problem involving behavior change is of interest to us…but I was particularly fascinated by the approach UNH Kinesiology Professor Erik Swartz took with “Helmetless Tackling Training” or HUTT, pilot-tested on the UNH football team.  Swartz, using the “Head Health Challenge II” research grant funded by the NFL, Under Armour and General Electric, worked with the UNH football coaching staff to incorporate a tackling drill, with half of the players wearing helmet… the other half, not.

Head impact sensors worn by all the players collected data on the impacts.  The question:  would removing helmets cause players to adjust their tackling technique and build muscle memory that would result in a safer tackling technique and fewer head injuries going forward?

The results from the 2014 football season:  a decrease in head impacts of almost 30% among those who participated in the helmetless drills – in practices and games where helmets are worn. In the words of Schwartz:  “this is the first study out there to really focus on changing behavior to mitigate risk rather than finding ways to accommodate it.”

Breakthrough thinking, and the next steps will be developing appropriate training for players at the high school level and below – those audiences, and their behaviors, need to be studied and carefully considered first.

Many lessons to be learned for public relations practitioners as they design behavior-change programs for their clients!

Robin Schell/rschell@jjwpr.com