On the Power of Optimism in PR Communications

Earlier this week I noticed this tweet from Business Insider’s Henry Blodget:

“RT ‪@SullyCNBC: I’ve interviewed many successful people over the years. Many began with nothing. ALL shared one trait—optimism.”

Blodget, of course, was retweeting a comment by CNBC’s Brian Sullivan, whose tweet sparked a conversation among his followers and was retweeted more than 30 times.

Later that day I saw this report on Gawker, a video called “This is Water,” tied to the audio of a 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College by the late novelist David Foster Wallace. The speech is about empathy, and perseverance, and outlook on life and career. It’s inspiring and well worth listening to.

Both the tweet from Blodget and the Gawker story got me thinking about the notion of optimism in marketing and communications. That simple concept—a worldview, a sense of the glass being half full—is a powerful tool, and one that people tend to underestimate. People respond to optimism in very real ways. Of course, when you talk about optimism, you can also get very new age-y, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about how an intangible thing—an attitude or approach—can be converted to very real, tangible results, in both careers and communications.

Consider this report on the declining deficit, and how all the U.S. economy needs to take off is a sense of optimism.

Or this one, where a sense of optimism among global business executives led to their believing that their marketing efforts and sales would improve.

So why is it, then, that the pessimists and the cynics often have the aura of credibility? Even in Blodget’s Twitter conversation, someone said that on Wall Street, the bears are viewed as the smart ones. But data, and plenty of examples in the field of communications suggest that optimism is a legitimate PR strategy. Take this study by Margaret Greenberg, president of a Connecticut consulting firm, and Dana Arakawa, who, with Greenberg, is a graduate of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania.

The report showed that optimistic managers are more likely to be engaged managers, who are more likely to engage employees; engaged employees, in turn, are more optimistic and productive than disengaged employees, and their increased productivity increases profitability.

A report in PR News illustrates the point: Maytag, in the middle of a product recall, launched a Facebook page with the explicit objective of turning negative feedback into positive dialogue. The result? The Maytag Facebook page went from 400 disenchanted fans to 42,000 fans (at of the time of our report).

What’s more:

• Throughout the period analyzed, engagement spiked by 4,000%.

• Maytag’s “Big Game” sweepstakes increased likes by 5,000 and ultimately began the wave of engagement.

• The “Faces” gallery received more than 12,000 submissions.

• Money wrote an article that mentioned a positive customer service interaction on Maytag’s Facebook page.

The takeaway for PR pros? It’s simple: build a campaign (and a career) through a positive outlook, an empathetic approach and an optimistic demeanor, and watch as markets and stakeholders respond with increased engagement. Everyone wants to associate with a contented person and a positive vibe.

—Tony Silber

  • http://www.theinhousewriter.com Andrew Hindes

    Thank you for the interesting and thoughtful piece. I agree that optimism, or more generally, communication that evokes positive emotions in the audience, can be an extremely powerful marketing tool in certain situations. I find it a bit ironic, however, that the video based on the David Foster Wallace address is cited as an example of optimism. Aside from the fact that Wallace killed himself only a few years after giving the speech, I wouldn’t describe its message as one of optimism, which implies a tendency to believe in positive outcomes. Foster’s message, which I found extremely insightful and moving, is that even though adult life can be dreary, boring and frustrating, we still have a choice about how we look at the world. We can be miserable, self-centered victims, or, with conscious effort, we can get outside of ourselves and be empathetic and compassionate to those around us.

  • http://www.newsmakergroup.com Suzanne Mannion

    Great piece. Can apply to all of life, really. Agree that those who take an optimistic approach are often frowned up – called Pollyanna – but I choose to see that this attitude is contagious. It is certainly the way our team approaches relationships with out clients and, in turn, the programs we develop and execute. http://www.newsmakergroup.com/blog/how-to-be-a-good-pr-agency/