Book Review: Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion

Posted on: 2012-07-09 in Resources   |   Tagged: media relations persuasion

The ability to persuade will stand any comms professional in good stead, especially when pitching the media. By Heather Baker, @TopLineFounder

This entertaining book presents the scientific literature on persuasion. It makes for fascinating reading, and while it probably applies to every industry, it certainly offers invaluable practical tools for PR pros.

There are lots of people doing very interesting scientific research into behaviour - from the trading floor to the PR agency boardroom. Whether you’re trying the Sisyphusian (I made it up but it should be a word ) task of getting your team to pick up the phone and pitch, nudging a client away from that advertorial, or trying to sell your story to a journalist, the art (or should I say the science) of persuasion comes in handy in PR. 

This book provides 50 lessons on how to be more persuasive. The vast majority are easy to implement and require nothing more than subtle changes to the things you probably do anyway. I’d love to summarise them here on the blog in an easy list of 50 scientifically proven ways to be persuasive, but I think that might amount to plagiarism. So instead, I’ve provided the top five that I think are most relevant to PRs in the context of pitching journalists, and a link to buy the book on Amazon where you can get the rest!

Personalise your request

There’s a chapter in this book that truly cements why the mail merge deserves its position at the top of the list of ineffective PR tools. The authors cite a study in which researchers asked people to complete a survey. When the request was accompanied by a personalised message on a post-it, the compliance rate was 75%, compared to 36% when the note was not present. The conclusion was that people recognise extra effort and personal touch and feel the need to reciprocate by agreeing to the request. So…when pitching via email – demonstrate you’ve put in a bit of effort by creating a personalised covering email.

Do something for nothing

There’s been heaps of research conducted that demonstrates the true power of reciprocity, with one of the most powerful studies revealing that when people received even a small gift, such as a can of Coke from a stranger, they subsequently purchased twice as many raffle tickets from him. The lesson for PRs? Well, maybe I shouldn’t have cringed so much when a tech journalist I follow tweeted a picture of the bottle of champagne he’d been sent by a PR agency for his birthday.

Keep the options to a minimum

A number of studies have found that when people are faced with too much choice, they crumble, and choose nothing. For example, a display of 24 jam flavours led only 3 per cent of shoppers to purchase jam. When the number of flavours on display dropped to 6, 30 per cent of shoppers made purchases. So, when pitching your story, don’t give the raw data to a journalist and expect him to find his own story - choose just one angle and sell it!

Ask a question

In one study cited in the book, social scientist Anthony Greenwald contacted US voters on the eve of election day and asked them to predict whether they would vote. Those who were asked to make a prediction secured a turnout rate 25% higher than those who were not. Why? The authors attribute this result to two psychological mechanisms. Firstly, when people are asked to predict if they will conduct a socially desirable behaviour in the future, they agree in order to win social approval. Second, once they have made a public commitment, they are motivated to stick to it. How can we apply this to the media pitch? Well, why not try asking your journo a question before you pitch? Like ‘are you going to cover emerging technologies at the Infosecurity expo?’ Then once they’ve said yes, pitch your emerging technology story!

Get someone else to sing your client’s praises

Perhaps the most valuable lesson from the book comes from Chapter 22, which cites a study in which participants were asked to imagine they are book editors for a publisher. They were then asked to read excerpts from a petition for a book advance, either written by the author himself or by his agent. While the copy was identical participants in the second group rated the author more positively on almost every scale. The lesson for us – third party endorsement is everything, so get those case studies written up and start pitching!

Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion, By Noah J Goldstein, Steve J Martin and Robert B Cialdini can be bought on Amazon.


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About this blog


The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog is managed by b2b pr specialist Heather Baker, founder TopLine Comms, an inbound marketingB2B content marketing agency and proud HubSpot partner agency and takes contribution from anyone sensible in the industry with something intelligent to say.  Follow Heather on Twitter @TopLineFounder or contact her via email on [email protected].


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