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Review: Robert Cialdini’s Pre-Suasion

Public relations should be grateful to Robert Cialdini for his latest book Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.

By Andy Green

Robert Cialdini the master of behavioural change psychology has greatly expanded the capability of influencers to transform their power to persuade in his news book Pre-Suasion.

He recognises what he calls social unity, or social capital, as his seventh key tool for influence.

It’s a previously overlooked dimension to add to the six identified in his seminal, multi-million selling book Influencereciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity.

But perhaps most profoundly, he has created a new word, a new name for what public relations does, and distinguishes it from other communication disciplines: we are in the business of pre-suading.

What is pre-suasion?

Advertising, sales, and marketing all seek to persuade to sell. Public relations is about earning trust so people are already sold, or want to engage with us, before we open our mouths.

Pre-suasion is the process of arranging for the recipients of a message to be receptive before they encounter it. If you want best results for your persuasion you need to presuade optimally.

Having a compelling case, Cialdini shows, is not the same as making a case compellingly. He demonstrates how influencers need to harness the power of the moment in order to create the right platform for our words, pictures, sounds, and actions to perform.

Pre-suasion in public relations

Cialdini’s work serves to further decouple public relations defined purely as a communications discipline, manoeuvring it more into the field of behaviour change and engagement.

Here we influence and create change our world not just by how we communicate, but also by how we build social capital, along with how we pre-suasion to provide the optimum context for any communication.

Earned trust is at the heart of public relations practice.

To generate trust you need to be creating opportunities to do things characteristic of trusted individuals.

Cialdini shares the story of Jim the insurance salesman who outsold all his colleagues.

Jim’s secret? He didn’t gush about how you could trust him. Instead, midway through his sales spiel at a prospective customer’s house he would create an excuse to pick up something from his car; by letting himself in and out of the house he acted like someone you could trust.

Actions versus words

For public relations campaigns, identifying actions of trustworthy bodies and demonstrating them through your actions is more effective and powerful than any skillful contrivance of the words trust me.

Thanks to Cialdini we are best served arming any requests for action with a double barrel: first, identify a question that people will inevitably agree with that complements the real question you want to ask.

Getting buy-in to the first question dramatically boosts the chances of agreement to the second question. This demonstrates the power of Cialdini’s law of compliance – we feel uncomfortable where we seem to contradict ourselves.

You might feel Cialdini is creating psychological tools to expose people to greater exploitation. Yet, that is why it is imperative for ethical public relations practitioners to quickly master the science and tools of Presuasion.

Practitioners need to be alert to these techniques and tools to spot their use.

Being expert pre-suaders, we can lead the way into educating the public to be better consumers of persuasive communications and minimise the risk of exploitation from pre-suasion.

About Andy Green

Andy is the founder of founder at StoryStartsHere. He’s developed a pre-suasion workshop that applies Robert Cialdini’s seven principles of influence to public relations.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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