Skip links


Even the Brain Needs a Little PR

Posted At: February 15, 2013 5:05 P.M.
by Kaitlyn Honnold

Since the 1850s and the Barnum and Bailey Circus, public relations has become an increasingly important tool for businesses around the world. Dr. Shannon Bowen, associate professor of public relations at the University of South Carolina, said this can be attributed to the diverse skill set necessary to be a successful PR professional.

Dr. Bowen explained, “[…]You need to be able to write free of grammatical errors, conduct research, interpret research into strategy and creatively design a PR campaign based on that strategy.”

“We are humans, hear us calculate.”— Daniel Pink

These skills, according to Daniel Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind,” would fall under the definition of “whole-minded aptitudes” — using both sides of the brain. The left brain, Pink says, is in charge of analytical, linear and sequential thinking; while the right brain looks at the “big picture” and is in charge of empathy and creativity.

“This century,” Pink wrote, “new technologies are proving they can replace human left brains.” Yet, in public relations, new technologies have helped grow left-brained thinking instead of replacing it.

“When I was an undergrad, PR always sounded vague and like a lot of party planning,” said Bowen, a journalism and sociology undergraduate. “I wanted something more strategic.”

After Bowen completed her undergraduate program, she realized there was more to public relations than she first thought. She later went back to school to get a Master of Arts degree, specializing in corporate crisis management.

“I wanted a way to engage in corporate reputation building,” Bowen said, “as opposed to being a traditional journalist.”

Dr. Bowen noted that while she was in school, there wasn’t much left-brain engagement in public relations.

“I was one of the few doing research at the time.” But recently, Bowen said, “Technology has changed the way we can evaluate and conduct research; it’s growing the field of public relations.”

Now, Pink argues, the days of left-brain-only thinking are over.

“I see us being in the art business. Art, entertainment and mobile sculpture, which, coincidentally, also happens to provide transportation.”—Robert Lutz of General Motors from Pink’s book A Whole New Mind

Pink notes that we live in an age of choices. “Abundance,” as he calls it, makes it more important than ever to engage your creative side and set yourself apart. Yet, even through this technological surge of research, Dr. Bowen said the public relations field attracts a lot of people from more humanitarian backgrounds.

“People from English and psychology often find their way to PR,” Bowen said, “usually because they enjoy the study of attitude changes and social movements.”

Bowen said, at a basic level, the core concepts of public relations include strategic management, relationship building, good communication skills and the ability to think through the principles of ethics. It’s no coincidence that all of the above fit into the creative, big picture and empathetic side of the brain, the right side.

In a sense, PR is a quintessential whole-minded job. Left brain engagement is necessary for client research and campaign evaluation, but the right brain is equally employed for relationship building and the development of creative campaign strategies.

“What we need is a whole new mind.”—Daniel Pink

What about the typical right-brained thinkers? They will soon beat out the drab left-brainers and be the next rulers of the world, right?


Pink may say that left-brained thinking is no longer sufficient, but he also argues that wholly right-brained thinking isn’t enough either.

Emma Fick, University of Alabama senior majoring in English and art history, along with the help from UA’s arts advocacy program Creative Campus, is trying to help right-brained thinkers develop their underused counterparts. As a Creative Campus intern, Fick said she’s working with the campus’ Career Center to teach creative students how to prepare for a professional future.

“Creative students often feel as though they are exempt from the more common professional standards,” Fick said. “It’s important now more than ever to develop these professional tools.”

Fick said these skills include composing a specialized résumé, having an effective “elevator speech,” self-promotion and all-around professionalism.

Fick’s efforts will culminate in a Creative Careers Series where professionals will lead workshops in giving an “elevator speech,” budgeting for a sustainable arts lifestyle and more. Fick said she hopes to eventually compile a database at the Career Center for networking within the arts community.

“There are plenty of programs like this that exist at liberal arts schools,” Fick said, “but they’re hard to come by at public universities.”

Fick may not have realized it, but she dipped into some core public relations skills to assist in this whole-minded endeavor.

The truth is, you can’t produce a campaign, an event or a strategy based on creativity or research alone. Like Fick did, a PR practitioner not only needs to use her research to add credibility to her strategy, but she also needs to produce an idea that stands out among the abundant choices already in the market. It’s a proper balance. Whether you’re preparing for the job hunt or representing a company, a whole-minded approach is paramount.

“This new age fairly glitters with opportunity,” Pink noted in his book’s afterword, “but it is as unkind to the slow of foot as it is to the rigid of mind.”

Designers and researchers alike, it’s not too late. Start developing these “whole-minded aptitudes” now and you’ll be ahead of the curve. Below, Pink offers a six-part solution for those looking to develop their “whole mind.”

1. Design. “Utility enhanced by significance.”
2. Story. “‘Organizational storytelling,’ which aims to make organizations aware of the stories that exist within their walls—and then to use those stories in pursuit of organizational goals.”
3. Symphony. “It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields […]”
4. Empathy. “Those who can empathize with their clients and understand their true needs. Those who can sit in a negotiation and figure out the discussion that’s coursing beneath the explicit words. [Empathy] allows us to see the other side of an argument, comfort someone in distress, and bite our lip instead of muttering something snide.”
5. Play. “…[A] move away from sober seriousness as a measure of ability…”
6. Meaning. “Logos.” “According to one recent survey, 58 percent of Americans say they think often about the meaning and purpose of life.”

Return to top of page