I’ve been around PR a bit. Saw how to use focus groups and surveys to come up with messages, and ways to frame/talk about them.  Learned how direct mail could drive results depending on presentation, and how advertising, especially political, could set an agenda.  I marvelled at the intuition of the best PR pros.  And they used to lament that there was no real science behind all of this, but there is.  It’s relatively new, it’s called behavioral economics, a hybrid of psychology and economics.  Here’s a story about it in The Harvard Magazine, called “The Marketplace of Perceptions,” by Craig Lambert.

Money quotes:

Good — “. . . that the ways in which alternatives are framed—not simply their relative value—heavily influence the decisions people make.”

Better — “The difference in impact between two broad policies may not be as great as differences in how each policy is framed—its deadlines, implementation, and the design of its physical appearance.”

Bingo — “Economists and others who engage in policy debates like to wrangle about big issues on the macroscopic level. The nitty-gritty details of execution—what do the forms look like? what is in the brochures? how is it communicated?—are left to the support staff. ‘But that work is central,’ Mullainathan explains. ‘There should be as much intellectual energy devoted to these design choices as to the choice of a policy in the first place. Behavioral economics can help us design these choices in sensible ways.’

I cherry picked some quotes, the article is a great read overall.  So PR and communications follks, you’ve been vindicated.  What you do does really matter and Harvard can prove it.