What Behavioural Economics Taught Me

By Zein Sajdi

The average person makes around 35,000 decisions a day[1]. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But of those decisions, some of them can be more important than others – from choosing what to have for lunch to choices that will have far more lasting consequences. And some – like deciding how to launch a career post-graduation – will throw up even more questions with every turn. Where do I want to work? Which city do I live in? Do I work in my field of study or should I go for something completely new? These were all questions I faced, and had to answer, before I joined Newgate. But I only learned the fascinating detail about how I was able to make them recently.

One of the many perks of being at Newgate is attending lunch and learn sessions. Recently I attended a session on behavioral economics run by our Head of Research Dan Clay, a very interesting session that examined the factors which influence an individual into making the choices that they make, and how Comms professionals should be mindful of them. The session shed some light on the decision-making that both influences our daily lives and, for me, comes hand in hand with career uncertainty.

Rewind back to March of this year when I was applying to different internship and graduate programs, I hadn’t a single clue where I wanted to/could be in the next 6 months. However, after going through application processes, I was then presented with a set of options to choose from, which made the picture a bit clearer, but still very, very confusing. Where did I want to be in September? Was it in production? PR? Research? Radio? Advertising and marketing? Did I want to be in Jordan – back home? Dubai? London? Bahrain? One decision led to another and eventually got me to where I am today – a Research Analyst interning at Newgate Research (part of Newgate Communications) in London.

As I listened to the presentation, I became aware of three key influences that I recognised had unconsciously influenced my journey: the importance of the messenger; the salience of a matter and following the herd.

To begin with, the messenger; we are highly influenced by who communicates information to us. In my case, there were two messengers throughout my journey to Newgate; The Intern Group and my interviewer at Newgate, Dan himself. I came across The Intern Group through targeted ads on Facebook which, I’m pretty sure, most of us find extremely odd and accurate at times. After successfully completing their application process, I was interviewed for different posts based in London – production, PR and radio. My interview with Dan gave me some insight about the potential role I would be pursuing along with the responsibilities that come along with it. By the end of the interview, Dan was able to deliver the outcomes that come along with this internship. These included the ability to develop communication, organisational and analytical skills through exposure to diverse projects the research and PR world has to offer. This definitely spoke to me most in comparison to the other two interviews I did, whose messengers’ delivery was somewhat vague throughout.

Another way I was influenced in choosing to come here was by the salience of Newgate’s post. The salience of a matter is when we are often attentive to what is novel and seems relevant to us, in short, it means what attracts us the most. With my background in sociology, research and communications, Newgate’s role resonated more than any other role I had applied to. Additionally, with my previous radio and productions internships, working in research within the PR industry seemed more novel than the other posts. Intuition ultimately shaped my decision into coming here to Newgate, and this decision is paying off! Newgate is giving me the platform to learn and utilise my background in an array of multidisciplinary projects.

This leads me to the final factor; following the herd. Both my siblings had pursued their postgrad degrees in London. Although I was applying to different programs in different countries, I didn’t think of my decision being as much as ‘following the herd’. However, following my siblings’ footsteps was always subconsciously planted in my mind. Also, a logical decision throughout this process; as it was my fourth year in the UK, I preferred staying here rather than going anywhere else, where I would have to adapt to a different culture, lifestyle, etc.

So, that’s how I’ve got here. But what does behavioral economics mean for Newgate, for communications agencies, and for communications strategy and execution more broadly?  

As a communications agency, most of the communications we do with clients, workmates and all the people in between isn’t really based on logic. Through understanding a little more about behavioral economics, I’ve learnt that it has so much more to do with context and emotion.  If we take the time to understand audiences (those receiving the message) in detail through using research and insights, then our whole approach to Comms could deliver greater impact for our clients. For example, if communications are novel, generate affect and motivation but do not correctly direct the desired behavioral response, then everything else is purely academic. The world is a noisy place. Organisations need to determine whether they are just adding to the noise or looking to actually influence decisions. The latter is where Newgate position themselves and it’s a pleasure to be here.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/stretching-theory/201809/how-many-decisions-do-we-make-each-day

Photo by Adri Tormo on Unsplash