Pat Jackson's Public Relations Model

Instructor: Lisa Kuchta

Lisa has a master's degree in communication, has taught college communication and writing courses, and has authored a textbook on presentation skills.

Learn about Pat Jackson's five-step behavioral process of public relations. Learn about Jackson's ultimate emphasis on behavioral changes, not just the communicative flow of ideas.

A Public Relations Model Focused on Behavioral Change

What is the goal of public relations? You might say that it is to disseminate information to the masses, to spread ideas, or even to change people's minds, emotions, or opinions. If you gave any of those answers, you wouldn't be wholly wrong. However, public relations maven Patrick Jackson would have argued that you wouldn't be wholly right either.

Jackson emphasized in his work that the ultimate goal of public relations needs to be to change behavior, not just to spread information. Campaign managers don't just want potential voters to like their candidate; they need the public to vote for the candidate. Companies in crisis don't just need the public to believe that the company is still trustworthy; they need the public to continue to buy its products and invest in its stocks.

The Five Steps toward Behavioral Change

A focus on behavioral change is at the core of Pat Jackson's model of public relations. According to Jackson, the process of changing the public's behavior happens in five steps: (1) building awareness, (2) developing a latent readiness, (3) a triggering event, (4) engaging in intermediate behavior, and (5) making behavioral change. Let us look at each of these five steps:

1. Building awareness -- This first step is perhaps the most obvious. For ideas to spread, you have to share them with others. This is exactly what Jackson's first step entails. Whether information about an issue or idea is spread through the mass media or by word of mouth, the information needs to be available for public consumption.

2. Developing a latent readiness -- Once the information has reached the public, people begin to form opinions on the issue. Different people may reach different opinions of differing strengths, based on their personalities, values, and prior beliefs. Those with stronger opinions in favor of the idea fully reach the stage of latent readiness, meaning that they are potentially ready to act on their opinion.

3. Triggering event -- This is an event or occurrence that is likely to move those with a latent readiness to action. The event could be something natural and/or unplanned by the public relations team (e.g., a hurricane, a virus outbreak, a terrorist attack, etc.), or it could be something created by PR representatives specifically to encourage those people predisposed to action to finally take steps toward the desired behavior (e.g., weight-loss challenge, fundraising drive, contest, sales event, etc.).

4. Intermediate behaviors -- These are the 'little steps' that people take when they are considering the larger behavioral change. These steps could include inquiry calls, taking brochures, signing up for free trial periods, etc. Although these little steps are not the ultimate behavioral goal PR executives hope the public will reach, they are important to note. Keeping track of these intermediate behaviors will help to determine how well a message has been received by the public and how many people are on the cusp of taking the ultimately desired action.

5. Behavior change -- After demonstrating the intermediate behaviors, hopefully some (if not many) will be persuaded to make the ultimate behavior change. As mentioned earlier, this is the real goal of the public relations message. Whether it is buying a product, investing money, changing health-related behaviors, or taking some other specific action, behavior changes are measurable outputs of public relations and the ultimate success of the process.

A Simplified Example of Jackson's Model at Work

Let's look at how behavioral change can follow Pat Jackson's model. Although Jackson's model is generic enough to cover a variety of public relations scenarios, let's look at a specific example regarding sales. Bob is considering upgrading his old clunker of a car, and, in the process of reaching a decision to buy a new car, he goes through Jackson's five-step process:

Step 1: Awareness -- Bob sees a commercial on television for a new car model.

Step 2: Developing a latent readiness -- Bob thinks the car looks nice, and he is impressed with the car's specifications.

Step 3: Triggering event -- A local car dealership is having a large sales event that includes the model Bob likes.

Step 4: Intermediate behaviors -- Bob goes to the sales event, talks to a salesperson, and takes a test drive.

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