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4 min read

Our Guide to Media Outreach: Leveraging Rhetoric in Public Relations

Our Guide to Media Outreach: Leveraging Rhetoric in Public Relations

Public relations, at its heart, is about persuasion. How do we convince journalists that a story is worth covering? What’s the best way to build trust and authenticity in a brand? And why are facts and data so important in structuring our pitches?

These questions have troubled PR practitioners for decades. The art of storytelling, and especially the practice of data storytelling, can easily be forgotten in the bustle of an office. You might be sending pitch after pitch, pulling your hair out and wondering why even the strongest stories aren’t attracting any interest.

 However, if we look closely, we can find the answer to these problems in a surprising place: the ancient art of rhetoric.



What is rhetoric?

Persuasive communication is as old as human speech. Ever since the first cavemen convinced each other to trade berries for furs, persuasion has been a vital part of how we interact with one another. In Ancient Greece in the 5th century BC, we gave this practice a name: rhetoric.

Rhetoric was developed as an art form, using persuasion to build democracies and solve legal disputes. Famous names like Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian refined the art, enabling its spread from Greece to Ancient Egypt and Rome, where it flourished.

Every famous speech contains elements of rhetoric: principles of persuasion that have stood the test of time, developing over millennia all the way from Athens to London.

Tony Blair’s famous tricolon, “Education, education, education,” is a descendent of the tradition that produced “Veni, Vidi, Vici” and “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.”


Why should PRs learn about rhetoric?

The point of rhetoric is to study the techniques people use to inform, persuade, or motivate audiences in specific situations. What could be more useful for professionals in public relations?

We spend our day pitching journalists, building relationships, and targeting particular audiences to persuade the public, and media, that our clients are trustworthy and should be taken seriously. Persuasive writing has many of the same features as persuasive speech. That’s why learning rhetoric is a good way to systematise and develop your persuasive abilities, and deliver your arguments in the best-structured way you can.

Aristotle broke rhetoric down into three parts: each of them a way to persuasively appeal to your audience. These parts were ethos, pathos, and logos, and each of them plays a key role in the success, or failure, of your persuasive communications.

How rhetoric can improve your public relations


Build credibility with your audience

Ethos was the term Aristotle used to represent a speaker’s credibility with their audience. If you want to convince a contact at your target media outlet that your client has a story they’ll want to hear about, one of the quickest ways to do this is by building credibility.

If you consistently bring good stories to a journalist, it doesn’t just increase the chances of them opening your next email or reading your DMs; it can also be a great shorthand for future pitches.

Say you worked with a reporter on some research that your client did into phishing scams. A few months later, you might have a new study you think they’ll be interested in. By referring back to that previous work you’ve done together, it can be a great reminder of why they should take this story seriously – because you’re referring back to the credibility that you’ve already built.

Ethos isn’t just useful for pitching – it can also be the key to great content writing. The key is to show why your reader should listen to this advice or opinion. If your client has some big industry logos to hand, this is always a good proof point!


Appeal to the reader’s emotion

In rhetoric, pathos is the part that deals with emotion: specifically, your audience’s emotions. While ethos might be necessary to make your stories trustworthy, it doesn’t necessarily make them interesting.

Public relations, particularly for small to mid-sized firms, cannot rely on a captive audience. Unless you’re Google, Microsoft, IBM, or one of the other planet-sized corporations, you need an interesting story that captures a reader’s attention. We need our readers to care about what we’re saying.

Focusing on the human impact of a story — the people affected, the differences made, and the lives lived differently as a result — is fundamental. Pathos is how you persuade journalists that a tale is worth telling. It’s also how you transform a collection of facts into something that’s worth reading, sharing, and talking about.


Structure your arguments with facts and logic

Reasoning. Facts. Logic. These are the types of persuasive techniques that make up logos.

You can’t make an argument based on personal reputation and emotion alone – you need to prove your point. In B2B tech, data is king. If you want to persuade readers that your client has the most powerful semiconductor chips out there, why not cite independent test results, customer reviews, and industry-standard benchmarks that put it beyond a shadow of a doubt? If you want to stand out, you can even do your own data analysis.

But Logos brings your argument beyond a robotic list of numbers and statements – it’s also about how you structure it. By taking the time to outline your argument, you can make sure that it’s both easy to read and convincing, all at the same time.

Every time you make a point, think about how you can support that opinion with data: survey results, industry rankings, funding data, and so on. You need your readers to have confidence that what they’re reading is accurate and trustworthy so that they can get into the flow of your argument, rather than picking away at each point. That’s why it’s so important to always double-check your facts!




How ethos, pathos, and logos can help PRs build their arguments

By learning about the basic principles of rhetoric, PR professionals can ensure that their pitches and content are as persuasive and effective as possible. Each part of this ancient art plays a vital role in your day-to-day media relations, whether you know it or not.

When you appeal to the credibility that you’ve built up with a reader (i.e. when you use ethos), that’s what gives you a foot in the door. It’s your use of pathos that determines how relatable and interesting an audience will find your story. Finally, by careful use of logos, you can determine which facts best support your argument and the ideal place to put them.

Used together, these three tools can help you craft compelling messages that resonate with your audience and help you reach the right media contacts – giving your PR campaigns the edge they need to succeed.

We might not be strutting around in togas any longer, but the power of rhetoric is still evident today. The modern arena for persuasive communication is no longer the Athenian Agora or the Roman Forum; it’s the digital publications and websites that hundreds of millions of us read every day.

In the 21st century, the art of persuasion may have found new players, but the rules of the game haven’t changed.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can improve your media relations skills, check out our 4 top tips for acing media outreach. Alternatively, get in touch with us today if you’d like to have a consultation about how we can help your business tell its story to the public, media, and investors.