Mind-Blowing Public Relations Requires a Journey into the Brain

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending The Holmes Report’s first Global Public Relations Summit in Bal Harbour, FL, where some of the most influential people in communications opined about how to unlock creative thinking and spark game-changing ideas. Ketchum’s CEO, Rob Flaherty, led a fascinating dialogue with David Eagleman, neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine and author of the New York Times best-seller Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.

Eagleman presented a stunning trip inside the human mind, offering powerful takeaways for marketers. Here are just two interesting insights that will not only trigger tens of billions of neurons inside your brain to react, but will perhaps also change the way you think about the art of public relations.

Thinking Too Hard Can Sabotage the Creative Process.

You’ve got try this:  Put both hands in front of you and pretend you have a Sharpie in each hand. Imagine your pretend white board is in front of you. Now write your name forward with one hand while writing your name backward with the other hand. Feel a little flustered?  Chances are, you were thinking too hard. The task, according to Dr. Eagleman, is quite doable if you don’t focus too much.

The unconscious brain is ruthlessly efficient. There are countless things we do on autopilot every day. The brain is made up of sub-parts that disagree and compete as we arrive at decisions. That’s why it’s a good idea to assign roles in a brainstorm. Eagleman suggests that one person wear a “free-thinker” hat and throw out unfiltered ideas, while another person wears the “practical thinker” hat and prioritize factors like costs associated with executing a particular idea.

We are Not In Control of our Subconscious, but that’s OK.

Did you know that people named Denise and Denis are more likely to be dentists? Did you know that people whose names start with the same letter (e.g., Jen and Jack) are more likely to get married to each other? Eagleman notes that choosing a career path or a spouse based on your name is a seemingly terrible idea, but alas, it happens. Why? We find ourselves attracted to certain things – including companies and brands – for reasons we’d never consciously recognize. The takeaway? PR must be subtle. To the brain, companies are just like people. Companies need to do all the things one would need to do in order to keep friends. They must maintain trust and invest in the long term.

Eagleman notes that most people find it disturbing to think about the lack of control we have over our subconscious. But, he makes a great point. It’s ok that we are not the ones “driving our own boat.” The entire system is so much more wondrous and subtle as a result.

I agree whole-heartedly. Effective communication is a very complex craft. The path to winning the hearts and minds of consumers isn’t always obvious, but it is always fascinating.