What Mel Gibson can teach you about empathy in PR (and 4 techniques to try it yourself)

What Mel Gibson can teach you about empathy in PR

This weekend What women want was on TV and yes: it is a cheesy rom-com blockbuster, but also the perfect illustration of why empathy matters. Mel Gibson is a male sexist adds guy that by accident gets electrocuted. From then on, he can hear what women think.


The movie teaches us that when you really want to get your message in the heads and hearts of your audience, you’ve got to speak their language and deeply understand the world they’re living in. But how?


Now for Mel Gibson empathy is made easy: he literally hears what women think. Please don’t start electrocuting yourself to get that talent, there are other techniques that will increase your empathy and improve your PR.

1 - Develop personas

Personas are fictional characters created to deeply understand the different typologies of consumers, mainly in a marketing context. The process can be of much use in public relations as well. Creating personas is often expensive, but I believe there are accessible techniques too. Start a workshop defining key characteristics of your target audience. What are their values? Where do they go to? What media are they consulting? It’s a matter of asking the right questions before you regroup the answers into typologies. These personas constructed can be used to ‘test’ PR-actions.

2 - PR people should take public transport (and talk to random people)

If you want to know what people think about a product, personality, vision… then just ask them. Anywhere. Okay, it might be awkward to just start talking to people, but try places where you can easily start conversations with people. Use the subway or the bus. It’ll take some practice to direct the conversation to the topics you want to learn more about, but face-to-face talking to people will increase your empathy and you will help you in finding the right wording and arguments to position your product/idea to the target audience.

3 - Assemble a focus group

Few companies in the Benelux are using focus groups to get to know their audience and that’s a pity. A focus group should be composed by 6 to 10 participants, led by an experienced moderator. Select participants so they’ll get along, but make sure they don’t each other. It’s important that a focus group feels natural and comfortable, so participants can thoughtfully express their opinions, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes and ideas. The most valuable ideas are the new and unexpected ones, so the moderator should be open. Focus groups can be used to launch new products, test brand appreciation, reposition existing products… In America, focus groups are even used to test slogans and ideas for presidential candidates.

4 - Leave your (media) comfort zone

In order to ‘feel’ your target audience, you can start living their life. If this is too drastic or impossible for you, then start following your audience’s media. A good PR professional follows all sorts of media and breaks out of her or his media comfort zone. Considering other opinions helps you to open up to your audience and will help you to adapt your media strategy. Social media has made it easy for you: tools like Tweetdeck allow you to list influencers so you can have a strait overview of opinions of all kinds.

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