Thursday, August 25, 2005

Memories for great PR

In my post about A romantic moment and great public relations, I talked about how the brain works for public relations.

The brain is influenced by events that affect the nervous system and prompt it to bring information together to remember stuff and to do things. The clever people who know about all this call it cognitive psychology. This area of knowledge with some interesting people involved is concerned with memory, attention, perception, knowledge, reasoning, creativity and problem solving.

Over a period of time we will cover all these aspects but I want to explore how PR practitioners use the senses to influence memory.

There is quite a lot to know about memory. Some things can be passed over (unless you are a real PR research geek) because they are (almost) self explanatory. These include:

  • Encoding (processing and combining of received information)

  • Storage (creation of a permanent record of the encoded information

  • Retrieval/Recall (calling back the stored information in response to some cue for use in some process or activity)

In essence we are concerned with sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory which is needed in PR as part of a relationship building process. The instant information for the brain comes because of stimulous to the nervous system from senses such as hearing, touch, smell and taste (not forgetting heat, pain, balance and body awareness), there is a form of short term memory event. This is about sensations in passing (such as the fleeting sight of a leaf) which may, or may not prompt recall in longer term memory that stores facts, events, and knowledge (called declarative memory).

In PR, we use stimulus of the senses to add new information in the declarative memory and then keep re-enforcing recognition of the new information so that the synapses make the brain associate our knowledge with what the brain already knows.

Lets go back to the leaf mentioned above and let's suppose it is the leaf of a rose (a token) and my girlfriend sees me pick it up and wrap it round the rose bud. And then I pick up another one, and look into her eyes, and do the same and then I do it again until the rose is arranged in the leaves as a pretty arrangement and I then I give her the posy. The whole process re-enforces the image of a rose leaf, associates it with the rose (and her understanding of what a rose represents).

I have now associated a rose leaf and a look with a rose and with me. The leaf of a rose will forever be associated with the romantic moment and me. It is an event in time, in a place and when we can interact and share common interest (in other words it is a social frame).

Its a great form of PR because in reflective mood, I shall be remembered for no particular reason (called semantic memory which allows the encoding of abstract knowledge about the world) or, when passing a flower shop, the context will bring me to mind (episodic memory) used for more personal memories, such as the sensations, emotions, and personal associations of a particular place or time. Autobiographical memory - memory for particular events within one's own life - is generally viewed as either equivalent to, or a subset of, episodic memory and will bring me to mind from time to time. I will have created a visual memory, the part of memory preserving some characteristics of our senses pertaining to visual experience. What it all adds up to is great public relations and over 30 years ago she became my wife.

These associations in the mind are the stuff of PR and as Andrew Lark put it yesterday "reputation - like brand - sits sqaurely in the minds of constituents."

Of course, most practitioners are much more mundane in the practice of PR. For many, it is a management function. Their tokens might not be a rose, it may be an annual report, brand, product service, personality or even the good works of a charity. Tokens (the rose leaf or the look into her eyes) can be both tangible and intangible.

Public relations is a management discipline that is effective because it is highly developed using multiple touchpoints to stimulate corporate, brand, product and event awareness in the minds of target publics.

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