Influential PR: Authority

Welcome to the second in a series of 6 pieces we’re going to do on the topic of influence and how public relations allows you to generate influence among your customers, your colleagues, and the world at large. We’re going to base this series off the work done by ASU Professor Emeritus of Psychology Robert Cialdini, whose book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, is required reading for many marketers. In his book, Cialdini posits that there are 6 methods or principles on which influence is based:

  1. Scarcity
  2. Authority
  3. Consistency
  4. Social Proof
  5. Liking
  6. Reciprocity

Today, we’ll look at authority, one of the mainstays of the public relations world. Authority is a powerful influence mechanic – the more authoritative you are, the more you can reduce doubt or uncertainty about doing business with you. Authority is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts; the more authoritative you are, the more earned media you get that confirms your authority, which in turn makes you appear more authoritative. Any time someone is endorsing you by publishing media about you, they are granting some of their reputation, some of their authority as a media outlet, to you.

The trick with authority lies within the concept of heuristics. People make very fast judgements about how authoritative you are (and thus, how much influence you have over them) based on heuristics, which are snap decisions. For example, if your company and a competitor are put side by side as brands, what things can you do to convince someone that you’re an authority in a very short period of time? News media coverage is one example, from simple article clippings posted on the walls of your lobby and website to consistent coverage in major outlets. That coverage conveys a sense of authority to the average consumer as experts, on the assumption that scarce time on the 6 PM news is awarded only to those who have authority.

Social media endorsement is another form of authority. As much as I personally don’t like the various influence scoring measures like Klout, Kred, PeerIndex, and the lot, there’s no question that to a lot of people, they convey authority, so working to make your social profiles improve your ranking conveys that external authority and endorsement.


Even things as basic as awards can take advantage of that snap decision about whether you are an authority or not. The shelf full of awards is rarely inspected in full, but conveys an impression that you’re really good at what you do, even if the awards are from relatively small or niche-specific organizations. Earning any award immediately allows you to legitimately use the phrase “award-winning” in your marketing.

All of these basic earned media tactics can help you create the perception of authority to drive your business. What things do companies do that convey a sense of authority to you?

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology


Posted on February 28, 2013 in Influence, Public Relations

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn has been featured as a recognized authority in many books, publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, BusinessWeek and US News & World Report, and television networks such as PBS, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and ABC News for his leadership in new media and marketing. In 2012 and again in 2013, Forbes Magazine recognized him as one of the top 50 most influential people in social media and digital marketing; Marketo Corporation named him a Marketing Illuminator, and PR News nominated him as Social Media Person of the Year. Mr. Penn is the Vice President of Marketing Technology at SHIFT Communications, a public relations firm, as well as co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp New Media Community Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. He is an adjunct professor of Internet marketing and the lead subject matter expert and professor of Advanced Social Media at the University of San Francisco. He’s the author of the best-selling book Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer.

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