Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Applying Freakonomics to PR

I just finished reading Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner and my head’s now jam packed with some fun facts. Apparently, Americans spend $1 billion per year on chewing gum, which is the same as is spent in a typical election period, including campaigns for the Presidency, the House and the Senate. Also, you have a greater chance of being killed while dealing crack in Chicago, than if you’re sitting on death row in Texas. Like I said, fun facts – not that I need to know them, but still interested regardless. Beyond the fun facts, the book was great in other ways. I learned that the world is a bit more corrupt than I had imagined, and the idea that incentives make the world go ‘round is forever engrained in me. How can this be applied to PR? I’ll tell you.

Using incentives isn’t rocket science. People like to get things and if it’s free – that’s even better. How can your company be using incentives more effectively? Let’s talk Foursquare, one of the newer social media platforms that’s still getting its feet wet in terms of getting value out of it for business. Some businesses are doing it right though. These are the coffee shops that will give you a free cup of Joe after so many check-ins, or the bar who gives a free drink to the mayor of the venue. These places are taking advantage of incentives and of social media.

Incentives can work internally as well. Sales departments creating contests for employees with a bonus for the winner. Or just general sales goals that aren’t contests. Offer a gas card to someone who’s been working really hard on a particular account. These are all simple things that can go a long way.

Another applicable point for PR in Freakonomics is the use of expertise and information hoarding. Considering all the power that experts are given, the best thing to do is to be really good at something. Be an expert. Become the go-to person about a specific topic in the office, and people will begin trusting you more and more as you build a reputation and credibility. For public relations, it’s important that you try to establish your company or client as experts in their field. This way, people trust them. Journalists need experts just as experts need journalists. If you’re an expert and a journalist needs a quote about your field of expertise, you can earn more media exposure.

Lastly, the book offers advice on questioning the conventional wisdom, which can go far in a professional setting. Just because a company has always done things a certain way, does not mean that this is the best way to be doing it. In questioning the conventional wisdom, a manager may find a much more efficient way to inspire employees or way of getting work done faster. Change is good. Wisdom is great. But conventional wisdom can lead to mediocrity. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Change things up and it might improve business.

Freakonomics is a great book, applicable to all businesses and just generally interesting to read. If you’re looking to gain new perspective on the way the world works, read this book. That’s my PR thought for the day.

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