Public Communication

What is public communication? 

Public communication is the process of sharing or presenting information in order to effectively message an idea to the masses.

The Basic Idea

Every day, somebody tries to change our minds. Whether it be the pop-up advertisement we see on our desktop, a local politician's speech on the news, or a direction sign at an airport, we are constantly bombarded by influence. We call this influence wielding public communication.

Public communication is a form of strategic communication where the goal is to effectively message an idea to the masses. Examples are practically limitless, but some common ones include political broadcasts, public statements, advertising, propaganda, and employee communications. 

Theory, meet practice

TDL is an applied research consultancy. In our work, we leverage the insights of diverse fields—from psychology and economics to machine learning and behavioral data science—to sculpt targeted solutions to nuanced problems.

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Contemporary Context

Effective public communication is more critical than ever. In the past twenty years, our ability to communicate has vastly broadened. The internet, social media, and other innovations have opened the door for highly scalable and personalizable mass communication.

Globalization has led to more diverse swaths of people that need to be communicated to – global cities, global companies, and global workforces are now the norm. This requires organizations to eloquently tailor their communications across cultures and languages to maximize their messages’ reach and effectiveness. 

And now, we live in an era of converging crises. COVID-19, the climate emergency, and social justice movements have all shaken trust in authorities’ abilities to communicate risk effectively and execute on it. Despite this mistrust, public communication is more important than ever– with many of these crises, the stakes of public communication are now life-or-death. 

So, the masses are getting easier to reach, but more diverse. More in touch, but more skeptical. Clearly, the stakes and effectiveness of public communications have never been higher. In such an environment we need to mitigate potential risks. What if there was a scientific way to maximize your message’s impact?

The Behavioral Science

Public communications have always been psychological in nature. After all, the founder of public relations, Edward Bernays, used his uncle Sigmund Freud’s teachings to influence the masses. To this day, the goal of public communication is behavior change, and thus we need behavioral science to do so most effectively. 

But how do we infuse behavioral science into public communications to effectively change behavior? Well, we first need a framework. 

To ensure your message is using behavioral science effectively, consider the EAST framework. Drawing on its principles, we can ask ourselves questions to stress-test our communications.1

  1. Easy: Is my message simple to understand, actionable, and low-effort to implement?  
  2. Attractive: Does my message well personalized and attract attention? 
  3. Social: Can you leverage the bandwagon effect, commitment, or social norms to ensure action on your communications? 
  4. Timely: Is my message going to be received at the right time or allow users to plan for the future when they see it?

Answering these four questions can give you a quick diagnostic of where your communications strategy is lacking. 

Obviously, there is so much more that behavioral science can do for your communications, but this is a quick tool that can help. If you’re interested in learning the rest of the techniques, check out our biases page.

Case Study

Cities can be dirty. Whether it be mountains of trash on the ground or toxic pollution in the sky, large cities are beginning to feel the bite of climate change.

In Europe, major cities have tried to mitigate this by eliminating public enemy #1: diesel cars. While those vehicles may seem like a distant memory to many in North America, the prevalence of diesel car exhaust is leading to severe health and climate risks in Europe. 

In 2018, the City of Rome decided enough was enough - they were going to phase out diesel cars by 2024. But they were still worried about one thing – people’s acceptance of the ban. Inertia is strong, and changing behavior can be a difficult task. To defeat inertia, the City of Rome enlisted The Decision Lab’s help. 

Using behavioral science, we designed several targeted interventions and public communications strategies, each designed to overcome demographic-specific aversions to changing behavior. As a result, over 3 million citizens were affected by our actions, with the City succeeding in banning diesel cars in 2020. 

The Decision Lab is a behavioral consultancy that uses science to advance social good. Our scientifically-backed, evidence-based public communication strategies have been used by local governments and Fortune 500 companies alike to enact behavioral change. If you’re interested in learning more about our work, or would like to collaborate with us, contact us.


1.  Aiken, A. (2021, July 7). Strategic communications: A behavioural approach. Government Communications Service. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from

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