I am thrilled to have on the podcast Shayoni Lynn, in a special double-bill all about behavioural science and its application in PR. Shayoni is founder and CEO of Lynn Group, a fast-growing communications consultancy powered by behavioural science.

Shayoni is a CIPR and PRCA Fellow, and Chair of PRCA Cymru. With over 15 years’ experience, Shayoni is an industry leader in data-driven strategic communications and applied behavioural science. She sits on the UK PR Council and is Vice-Chair of CIPR’s Behavioural Insights Interest Group. Shayoni sits on CIPR and GCS committees and is an Associate Lecturer at Cardiff University.

In this ‘Deep Dive’ double-bill we will cover:

– Behavioural Science and its application in PR campaigns
– Misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theory and how these relate to modern PR

This one is all about Behavioural Science – and how and why it’s important to apply it in PR Campaigns.

Let’s dive in!

Links mentioned in the episode:


Misinformation frameworks



Wall of Beliefs 


Lynn Group report:

BS Monitor


Website link:



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Full transcript (unedited)



Emma Drake, Shayoni Lynn


Emma Drake  00:06

Hello and welcome to this episode of communication strategy that works with me, Emma Drake. Hi everyone. How are we all doing today? I hope you’re doing okay. Well, I am absolutely thrilled to bring you this deep-dive double-bill podcast with the wonderful Shayoni Lynn of Lynn Group. We are going to be talking about behavioural science and PR and also over the next two episodes, misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theory and public relations; and how things have changed in terms of all of these things for us as a practice and what you can do to start thinking about these topics yourselves. If you don’t know Shayoni, she’s a CIPR  and PRCA fellow and also chair of PRCA Wales with more than 15 years of experience. She’s an industry leader in data-driven strategic communications and applied behavioural science. She sits on the UK PR Council and is Vice Chair of the CIPR’s Behavioural Insights interest group. She also sits on the CIPR and GCS committees and is associate lecturer at the Cardiff University. I’m absolutely thrilled she’s made the time to come on the show today. You’re in for a treat over the next two podcasts and make sure you’re taking notes. But let’s just crack on with the first part. Let’s dive in. 

Today. I’ve got with me Shayoni Lynn from the Lynn Group and we’re talking all about a fascinating topic; all about behavioural science, misinformation and disinformation, and all of those interesting topics. So welcome to the podcast, Shayoni.

Shayoni Lynn  01:53

Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Emma Drake  01:55

It’s really great to have you on I know how busy you are. So I’m really pleased that you have made the time to be with us today. So thank you. And I wonder if we should just start with you introducing yourself a bit to the listeners. I’ve introduced you a bit in the introduction, but it’d be really useful for people to hear from you how you got into behavioural science and why you started Lynn Group.

Shayoni Lynn  02:16

Yeah, sure. Thanks. So I’m Shayoni, CEO and founder of Lynn and we’re a behavioural science communications consultancy. We’re based in the UK, but we work globally. We’re a startup and we’ve been going for just over three years. And we’re very fortunate that our approach, which takes a very different lens to application, has been resonant with clients and peers in the industry. We are proud to be the world’s fastest-growing communications business. I suppose that sort of growth has stemmed from the fact that there was a gap in the market for a robust academic solution to applied behavioural science into communications and public relations. My background is in the public sector. Funnily enough, I’ve never worked on the agency side, so don’t really know what I was thinking. But I was in-house at Cardiff University, I was leading the Alumni Relations, fundraising and strategic partnerships, and communications programmes. Within that programme, I created quite a data-driven solution, I suppose. We were engaging with graduates of Cardiff University globally, and also donors to the university and strategic partners. And I’d created this very robust data-driven programme of activity and engagement. And I suppose the natural consequence of that sort of approach was dipping into behavioural science. And I often get asked, How did you get interested? And honestly, I don’t remember that exact moment in time, but I got exposed to behavioural science. And I started running some AB testing. And you can quickly see the results of that type of approach. And I’m quite an obsessive personality. So when I started seeing results, I wanted to get head in and really understand what was happening behind the scenes. So I got quite obsessed and started teaching myself and that’s not unusual. I mean, whilst behavioural science can be traced back to the 18th century and Adam Smith, what he was talking about then in terms of concepts of loss and confidence still hold true. However, the applied field, certainly in PR and communications, in the way that it currently exists is quite new. So a lot of practitioners are actually self-taught. So I sort of went head in and I started teaching myself, reading literature and scholarly papers and getting involved in the behavioural science community. Well, I’m very pleased to say I have great supporters and friends. And this is the tail end of 2018, 2019. As part of my collaboration with the PRC and CRPR where I’m a fellow on both and I sit on several executive committees, I do quite a lot of public speaking on data measurement and also behavioural science. I was getting quite a lot of queries from colleagues specifically in the public sector, specifically in health, who asked me how I had created such a programme; how could I support them in helping them create similar similar approaches? So, I was also at the time looking for my next role and I suppose you know, itmade sense to consider whether there was something commercial in this, and so I started doing it whilst at the university as a consultancy, and very quickly was very fortunate to get support from colleagues within the NHS and had to make a decision whether I stayed on in my very comfortable, secure public sector job or jump off the cliff, not knowing a pandemic was on the horizon, and try something new. And I thought, you know, what, you only live once, as they say so with a very solid backup plan of going back in-house if it absolutely tanked. And yeah, I started doing it, we started working with what was at that time, Bexley, Greenwich and Lewisham, clinical commissioning groups in London. And now they’re still a client of ours, one of our best clients, and still working with them as the southeast London ICS. So, then the pandemic arrived. And that was obviously a nerve-wracking moment for everybody in our industry, specifically those agency-side and consultants and independent practitioners. However, I think the pandemic in some ways has been kind because it demonstrated, of course, increased the salience of behavioural science from response through to recovery, and demonstrated an understanding of human behaviour and how to persuade ethically but effectively. And it also demonstrated, I suppose, the traditional methods of communications weren’t, perhaps as effective to motivate change. So all of a sudden, you know, there were a lot of organisations across the country and globally who wanted to be able behavioural science solutions to move their audiences to adopt positive behaviours that would help protect them through the pandemic. And in terms of commercial services, there weren’t many options. So Lynn was one of those few handfuls of firms out there that provided that research was that application into communication solution. And so we’ve grown in the pandemic, we’ve grown from just me, through to I think 30-plus now, and we’re still recruiting. It’s yeah, it’s quite a lot of growth. And as I say, we are the world’s fastest-growing communications business as well. It’s been really overwhelming, I’m not gonna lie. But it’s been really enjoyable to see so many clients, both in the public and private sector commit to working in a different way with Lynn, and adopt that scientific thinking into campaigns, and trust us with our methodology that we will provide them with the change that they need, but we may be approaching it with perhaps a counterintuitive lens and not the traditional lens of response. So yeah, that’s been a ride.

Emma Drake  08:20

Well, that’s fascinating. I mean, that’s, that is, yeah, firstly, that’s a huge amount of growth, isn’t it? But how? You must be still reeling from that. I mean, that’s fast-paced. But it’s really interesting that it became more needed, that sort of work, from the panic pandemic. And you know, that you’ve managed to attract quite a lot of work for one thing, which is great. But also, just picking up on something you said, that you approach things very differently to perhaps the traditional communications agencies that in the broadest sense, of course, but how do you find clients and customers respond to that duty? I think sometimes my experience has been, you know, the people really want to do things, they want to do things differently with a practical application, when you sort of present that as a different way of doing things. Sometimes there can be a bit of resistance. What’s been your experience in that, you know, there are some sectors that perhaps lend themselves better in that instance, initially?

Shayoni Lynn  09:30

I think that’s a really good question. And I think in order to answer that, it might be useful to provide some background to Lynn and how we set up. At Lynn we are all about changing behaviours, but through education and persuasion, never through manipulation. And I think this is really important that we communicate that because with behavioural science, often, there is a misperception of propaganda and manipulation associated with it. So I’m very clear when I do any public speaking, they reiterate that, you know, we’re all about preserving agency and helping people make the best decisions for themselves, which we hope will lead to lives improved and lives saved. Having said that, the business is set up in a different way, I suppose, in that, we have three key services, we have the BS Unit or the behavioural science unit, which does everything from research through to experiments and evaluation. We have integrated campaigns; and we’re the only UK firm that has embedded experimentation (field trials, randomised control trials) into all campaigns. So that’s a very different way of testing solutions compared to what is the norm in our industry, which is typically focus groups or pulse surveys. We also have the Misinformation Cell that we launched last year, which is the UK’s first dedicated anti-misdisinformation service for PR and communications. And I know we’re going to talk about that shortly. But to answer your question on how clients react to our approach, we are finding more and more organisations are open to investing in innovative solutions, such as using behavioural science to drive outcomes. In terms of the specific type of client: our clients are diverse, they include government, quasi-government and private sectors. So we haven’t really found that one particular sector tends to prefer a behavioural science approach. over another, however, we do find that it does take boldness as a player to embark on this kind of journey. So we are as you know, I say, we know everyone’s cup of tea, and my director of campaign says, you know, we’re Marmite, but we are not for everybody. And that’s okay, because we can’t be. So our approach is fundamentally rooted in primary research, we don’t take on any piece of work unless we can conduct some element of research within that project, ideally, mixed-method. And that’s because behavioural science and behaviour changes a lot, so it’s about context. So unless we know the local context of a certain audience, it’s very difficult to understand the barriers to then be able to predict those behaviours. And then also, experimentation, which I talked about earlier, is a very specific service that we have embedded in all our campaigns. And what that means is, unlike many organisations globally, our research will inform the development of the campaign, and that’s fine. But then we take that design, whether that’s creative content, or calls to action, and we run field trials. And that gives us a real sense of how the audience would react to specific creative content or call to action. And what this means is sometimes beautiful creative that we might absolutely be invested in, and we think looks gorgeous, absolutely does not work with our audience, and we bin it. So that’s a very different approach to take in terms of testing, which means that sometimes, and there have been occasions where we have had to go with the control. And the control may have been something that the client has designed, for example. It’s really taking that data-driven approach to communications and also a very audience-first approach. I mean, genuinely, we are all we are being led by what the audience tells us, which is the best way to be able to create the most responsive and intuitive content for them. Yeah, so I think it takes a bold client, but I think more clients are getting bolder.

Emma Drake  13:29

I’m not surprised you said that. I imagine it does take a fairly bold approach. And I wonder if maybe it’d be good for listeners to hear an example, if you’re happy to share. I get your newsletter and if and if you’re listening you should sign up for that. I’ll put the link in the show notes. It’s a really informative, regular newsletter.

Shayoni Lynn  13:57

Please pop in, cut to the BS link. And hopefully, it’s a helpful resource. Because one of our mission statements for the business is also to build capability in both behavioural science and misdisinformation within our practice. So we’re very much focused on also creating content and resources. As we know there is a gap in that content for our colleagues.

Emma Drake  14:24

Do you want to give us an example of maybe one of those campaigns might pan out?

Shayoni Lynn  14:29

I think one of the best examples I can reflect on specifically thinking about experimentation is one we ran in Wales for a housing association client. And this was in the winter of 2020, so as the second wave of infections was coming down in the country. Housing associations in Wales have an obligation to complete certain engagement with their tenants and one of these bits of engagement was around a survey that assessed whether tenants felt that their rent and their service charges by their housing association was fair. Now, this is a really hard question to ask at a time when we’re going into the second wave of infection. And, you know, people would have been furloughed, perhaps lost their jobs, perhaps bereaved. And we knew that audiences would be conflated essentially, in terms of what they were being asked, versus their local context. And they might use that survey to vent about their circumstances, and rightly so. But perhaps not really reflect back on the good work that our client was doing for them. So we use behavioural science to create content. So we used, for example, the availability bias to remind our audiences to have all the support that they’d had, from the Housing Association before the pandemic, and then through the pandemic. So we really create a context and framing for our audiences when they were served this survey. But most interestingly, from the creative perspective, we created two different concepts. One, which was very traditionally “housing association.” Emma, I think, you know what I mean by that? Picture-led beautiful imagery. And then, on the other hand, we wanted to do something different, because this was a digital campaign that would be delivered online. So we created more illustrative, more eye-popping graphics, which, collectively from Lynn and the client, we really preferred that route. But of course, we experiment. We sadly found that our audience much preferred the more traditional route. And it’s a good thing we did that experiment because that particular campaign in four weeks led to an 805% improvement in response. So that’s huge. If you put that into context: Typically, they would give 40 responses,. And we got in excess of 360 responses.

Emma Drake  17:14

Amazing, that’s fantastic, what a difference.

Shayoni Lynn  17:18

High quality responses, supportive, positive, answering the questions that they were being asked, so it was a really successful campaign. And again, an example of how experimentation is so critical, in really getting that sentiment of what works and what doesn’t from the audience.

Emma Drake  17:36

It’s really interesting. And I know you’ve, you’ve sort of said this in your, you know, in setting up Lynn and sort of, you didn’t invent behavioural science, it’s sort of been around for years. And marketers call it something else. And it’s there’s, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of similarities isn’t there is sort of, I’m thinking about before I worked in housing in the built environment, I spent a while in the technology sector and in the R&D sector, so new product development. And, you know, that’s the way of experimenting, although the application is probably a bit different, but that sort of test and learn the philosophy of trying to get things right in product development, I’m seeing sort of similarities speaking to you today about, you know, making sure that the route is right, and that actually, you’ve got lots and lots of potential audience feedback before you even launch something. We don’t do that enough in communications, generally. I mean, I, you know, lots of us are strong on it. And lots of people do fantastic work. But, you know, we know through sector surveys and things that we’re both members of CRPR, I’m actually a member of PRCA. We know that it’s not across the board. So it’s great to hear examples like this because I think it just really proves that doing any kind of research and any kind of audience insight and understanding can really change the outcomes dramatically.

Shayoni Lynn  19:09

It really can. And it does. Lynn is living proof of that in action.

Emma Drake  19:17

Absolutely. So, this might seem like a massive topic to people listening and it is a big topic, but, in terms of trying to help people understand where this is going and what they could potentially do… there are lots of challenges, I think, at the moment, lots of different societal, environmental, operational challenges. How is this going to help somebody – I’m thinking about the cost of living crisis, we’ve got different operational challenges, businesses that are looking at their global footprint and things like that. So, what sort of message is this to in-house people who are working under the cosh a little bit?

Shayoni Lynn  20:21

So I think that’s a good question. What I would say is not to view behavioural science through the lens of luxury, or to the lens of budget permits or resource permits. As PR and communications practitioners, our job is to understand, communicate and engage with humans. And to do this effectively, we must surely as a practice better our knowledge of human behaviour of judgement and decision making. So it’s a fundamental way of engaging on a conscious and then also on a sub and unconscious level with audiences. When you’re under the cosh and your to-do list is spilling over into next week or next month – it’s even more important then to ensure that the outputs that we put out as in as practitioners are as effective as possible and provide as much return on investment. I think behavioural science not only gives that rigour, in terms of real understanding of how audiences might receive a message, predict how they might behave to a message, and therefore ensure that the messages we put out, are as effective and geared to be as receptive as possible. It also provides practitioners with intelligence, data and the ability to communicate with senior stakeholders, the effectiveness of their programme and delivery. So moving away from a tactical solution. And we are in a marketplace – not just in-house, but in the worldwide industry globally – that’s quite tactical. It’s quite a responsive marketplace that we operate in. So moving away from that tactical of task and finish. Moving from press releases, social media, etc, to much more strategic-based, not just from GCS, Oasis perspective of objective setting, audience understanding and then measurement, but asking if this is the most effective solution that will bring the most return in terms of outcomes for my organisation. It gives that robustness, rigour and confidence in either senior stakeholders or external stakeholders, to say that the way you’re communicating, we know will work. And we know it will work because of that testing that research, and getting under the skin of why our audiences humans – you and I – behave the way we do.

Emma Drake  22:58

Yeah, so very strong message. I did a podcast sometime in the last few weeks, and something you’ve just said resonated with me. There was a piece of LinkedIn research about B2B marketers in particular, investing more, not less – even in the face of sort of all these things going on. And I think that it’s about the right things, like you say. It’s better to invest more, and almost do less.

Shayoni Lynn  23:28

Right. We’ve seen in the pandemic, and we will see again, in the cost of living crisis, that the brands or organisations that can think into the future will invest, because they know that that disconnect in engagement will have such a knock-on effect on reputation or revenue. So it’s critical, then, that investment, as you say, is as effective as intelligent, and gives us much return as possible.

Emma Drake  23:58

What sort of skills do you think people should be thinking about, to be able to think like this (if it’s not something they’re already doing)?

Shayoni Lynn  24:07

My background is strategic communications, you know, often people think I’m a scientist. I’m not, I’m an applied Behavioural Science practitioner. So, funnily enough, my entire family is science-driven. And I was the only one that dared step out from the sciences into the humanities. I think that it’s more about confidence rather than capability or interest to want to do something differently. So I would say absolutely embrace data. It’s going down in frequency, which is a great thing, but I do get sentiment for practitioners that “Oh, I’m creative. I’m not a data geek.” You don’t need to be a data geek. Understanding, interpreting and being able to inform strategies through data is quite a creative process. And it’s not just spreadsheets and crunching numbers. So I would absolutely say embracing data. Data will give you so much leverage within organisations, I certainly know, being in-house myself previously, that data was my route in, to be strategic to say no, to get that seat at the table, because I knew my audience like the back of my hand. So embrace data, I would absolutely encourage adopting or being interested in exploring and then perhaps adopting a scientific approach to communications and that is the whole “test, learn, adapt” philosophy and experimenting and making sure the quantitative data gives you the intelligence to your solutions. So it’s not based on likes, dislikes or anecdotal evidence, it’s based on quantitative numbers that give your stakeholders the confidence that your solutions are robust. And then the third thing is professional development, continuous professional development. We expose this in the world of strat/com, so it’s the same in the world of behavioural science. It’s about keeping on top of the literature, ensuring that we are reading about the latest experiments, seeing where the positives were, what the negatives were, where things didn’t work, getting involved in some of the bigger debates around the use of the behavioural sciences within different fields. So that professional development within the behavioural sciences, I appreciate it can seem a bit time-consuming. But there are podcasts available, and there are lots of snapshot bite-sized pieces of content that you could dip into, to ensure that you’re keeping abreast of movement.

Emma Drake  26:55

It might be good for us to share some of those in the show notes if people are interested. There might be some resources.

Shayoni Lynn  27:02

As you know, we run the BS Monitor, which will demonstrate the changes, and then the report itself will provide survey findings, but we also have a lot of really good content and resources, for the application of behavioural sciences into communications,

Emma Drake  27:25

Some great resources there. One of the things you said there around data: I think sometimes people think of data as just being spreadsheets and numbers, don’t they? But actually, it’s information and cross-examining information, and qualitative data as well is equally as important. What resonates with me is that you said you felt “armed” when you worked in-house. My background is in-house. I’m not an agency person, either (if there is such a thing, as an agency person.) And so, if wanting to have those strategic conversations, and, trying to get in front of people and making an argument for communications – if I went in without any data at all, there would be no point.  And that’s one of the reasons I started this podcast. It doesn’t have to be a lot of work, skilling up and understanding some of these big topics. It’s about expanding possibilities and having the confidence to do some of these things, which is equally as important as being trained to do them. 

So that was the first of this double-bill podcast series with Shayoni Lynn. And coming up in the next episode, we’ve got all about misinformation, disinformation, a little bit of conspiracy theory, and how these things play out if you’re a PR practitioner; and some of the things that you should be thinking about in terms of skills and ways to work with these topics. So I’ll just say bye for now and see you next time. So finally, thank you for listening to this episode of communication strategy that works. Don’t forget to check my show notes for those links that I mentioned. And I’d love it if you would subscribe to my podcast and leave me a review. And also if you think there’s someone that could benefit from listening to this podcast, please share this within your networks. So I’ll just say bye for now, and see you next time.