Public relations is a fast-paced, ever-evolving industry. It’s essential that professionals in the field are up to the challenge of learning new ideas. Kirk Eklund and Brandy Arnold from Public Agency, a social impact design initiative of WMCAT, asked members of WMPRSA to open their minds to a different way of problem solving. They specialize in design thinking, a popular way for communicators to empathize with their audiences while thinking creatively.
Kirk and Brandy started us off with an activity to warm us up to the idea of design thinking. We partnered with someone sitting at our table and drew a vase based only on our first impression of them. As you can imagine, it was hard to know what they would like when we didn’t know anything about them. Our next step was to have a conversation about what a day in our life is like, allowing us to gain deeper insight about one another and build a better connection. After having these conversations, we drew a new vase. It was a simple activity but it showed us how important it is to ask questions in order to empathize, allowing us to experience the process first-hand.
You have to keep an open mind when you’re making a new connection, particularly in the public relations profession. It’s easy to make assumptions based on information you’ve already collected. However, we must be ready to challenge our original thoughts and expectations, especially when working with an audience that we might be unfamiliar with. Instead of using implicit bias, find the story within your conversation by asking open-ended questions and tune into emotion. Segmenting publics is part of our job. We often create “personas” about our target markets and put our theories to the test with research. Implementing design thinking into this process can help us gain more insight and create new ideas.
Married to an Idea?
Public relations professionals can sometimes get wrapped up in one idea, especially when they’ve worked on a project for an extensive period of time. We can quickly get caught up in the research we’ve done about a segmented public in particular. Coming up with the perfect campaign to relay a message to our target market can be tough. Sometimes we need to take a break and use the design thinking process to change the pace so we don’t hit any dead ends in our research.
Real Life Implications
So how does design thinking work in real life? Many members asked how they could bring this practice into their PR work. Kirk and Brandy suggested prototyping what we discover through our research, like in a focus group, and testing it at a smaller scale in order to determine if an idea will work. They suggested measuring depth vs. quantity. A member of the audience brought up the controversial Gillette commercial, and it’s interesting to think about how design thinking could help big brands connect with their audience. Kirk and Brandy discussed how knowing a brand’s objective is key when judging the success of their campaign. Was it Gillette's goal to raise brand awareness? Did they want to create controversy? It’s important to take the intentions of the brand into consideration when evaluating their process.
Kirk & Brandy’s Design Thinking Tips
● Be open to change
● Challenge assumptions
● Tune into emotion
● Be curious
Recap by Courtney Fogle: Courtney Fogle is a senior studying Advertising and Public Relations at Grand Valley State University. She’s an active member of GV PRSSA and hosts their podcast, PR Hangover. In her spare time you can find her prepping for her future career in entertainment PR as the Public Relations Intern at River City Studios.