Influential PR: Scarcity

Welcome to the first of 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 tackle the first of these, scarcity. Creating a perception of scarcity is a time-honored tactic, from sales professionals offering “limited time offers” to news about shortages of supplies, products, or services. Scarcity also makes for a reasonably fool-proof story in the news: when something is suddenly scarce, it’s news, and usually of great interest to various media outlets.


For example, any time there’s an impending major storm, the bread and milk aisles empty out at local stores.

Scarcity can be created. There are companies who make limited time products as an integral part of their marketing mix, such as SHIFT client McDonald’s, with their McRib sandwich, which has such a loyal following that there are McDonald’s customers who will map out which franchise locations are currently offering the McRib and then drive exorbitant distances to get one.

Ask yourself this question as you put together your public relations pitches: is there a scarcity angle? Remember, too, that you can make an effective story going against scarcity. For example, if you were a bread manufacturer with great agility in your manufacturing process, you could make a story out of the fact that in advance of a storm, your bread would be guaranteed to be on shelves.

Next time, we’ll tackle authority.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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Posted on February 27, 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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