Printer Friendly

Enhancing Motivation, Ability, and Opportunity to Process Public Relations Messages.

ABSTRACT: Drawing on the motivation, ability, and opportunity (M-A-O) model in the consumer psychology literature, this article suggests that motivation, ability, and opportunity provide theoretically rich frameworks to address strategies for effective communication with publics in general and inactive publics in particular. Examples of specific techniques frequently used in the construction of public relations messages are related to each of these three concepts. Implications for public relations practice and research are discussed.

Kirk Hallhan is assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication at Colorado State University.

Creating effective messages to reach strategically important audiences is a critical function in public relations. Elsewhere, I have addressed the importance of inactive publics in public relations and suggested a typology in which organizations might find themselves dealing with four principal types of publics: active, aroused, aware, and inactive. Depending on the circumstances, and considering the different levels of knowledge and involvement that these publics exhibit, organizations might need to respond differently to publics in each category. [1]

For example, in dealing with active publics, that is, groups with high involvement in and knowledge about a topic, it is rarely difficult to locate a group or capture its attention. Instead, the challenge for communicators is to find a common ground for understanding when viewpoints and goals differ sharply. By contrast, organizations face a quite different set of challenges when dealing with inactive publics, that is, groups with low levels of involvement in or knowledge about a topic of interest to the organization. Members of inactive publics tend to ignore messages not perceived as relevant to them. The problem is further compounded by the clutter of messages and the competition for attention in today's world.

In general, public relations theorists have failed to address strategies for communicating with inactive publics. In large measure, such concerns are summarily dismissed as mere persuasion attempts. This is ironic inasmuch as many public relations efforts are directed to inactive (vs. active) publics. Grunig and Hunt, for example, suggested that as much as one third of the population might be described as latent or inactive on any particular topic. Wilcox, Ault, and Agee similarly observed that most campaigns are designed to reach passive audiences. [2]

This inattention to the question is readily evident when examining the public relations literature. With the exception of limited-purpose situational theory, the public relations literature contains no systematic model that addresses how to segment publics or how different patterns of information processing by publics might impact message strategy. At best, introductory public relations texts provide generalized reviews of communication theory. Meanwhile, writing textbooks offer few insights to beginning writers about how to write effectively for different publics. Only the public relations methods texts by Hunt and Grunig and by Thompson addressed situational theory directly, although Wilcox and Nolte drew on Grunig to suggest that alternative strategies should be pursued when communicating with active versus passive audiences. [3] Newsom and Carrell noted that the stronger a public's identity with an organization, the stronger will be its reaction to what the organizations says and does. But the authors do not elaborate on the implications for message strategy. [4] Tucker, Derelian, and Rouner outlined a generalized "behavioral framework" that begins by focusing on audience needs, concerns, and interests, but does not differentiate between passive and active publics. [5]

Inactive publics, which can also be described as those groups that are least attentive to an organization's public relations messages, are important for a variety of practical and theoretical reasons. One reason is size. Efforts to reach these kinds of publics represent the most costly and intensive part of many contemporary public relations programs. Inactive publics are also the segments that many clients want to reach because these groups represent large numbers of potential purchasers, investors, workers, donors, or voters.

From a theoretical perspective, inactive publics are the groups from which aroused, aware, and active publics spring. Grunig and Repper suggested issues managers should be especially concerned with inactive audiences if the intent is to contain issues. [6] In their model of the role of the public opinion formation process, Van Leuven and Slater argued that voters are inactive publics who become pivotal as political issues become fully developed and enter the attitude crystallization and public action stages. [7]

Inactive publics are also interesting theoretically because they are the foundation upon which virtually all influence theories are based. Hierarchy of effects models suggest that the processes of selling a product, diffusing an innovation, and changing attitudes begin with first creating awareness and interest among otherwise disinterested audiences. Similarly, creating awareness is a prerequisite for enhancing the availability of information in memory, for agenda setting, for interpersonal influence, for advocacy, and for effecting change in health behaviors. [8]


Absent its own theoretical framework, public relations must look outside the field for a cogent and parsimonious framework in which to think about the creation of effective communications to publics who are inactive or inattentive. For many people in the field, persuasion falls short of being any kind of coherent theory. Furthermore, persuasion is an anathema to public relations theorists because of its connotations of manipulation and coercion. Alternatively, it is useful to consider the problem from an audience-centered perspective that focuses on how people process information.

During the past 15 years, social psychologists and consumer researchers have devoted considerable attention to identifying factors that impact message elaboration and message-evoked thinking. Out of this research agenda has emerged a consensus that three broad factors moderate or serve as antecedents to information processing by individuals: motivation, ability, and opportunity (M-A-O). [9]

This M-A-O model is predicated on findings that suggest people engage in progressive levels of processing, ranging from superficial to deep processing. [10] Greenwald and Leavitt outlined four such levels of processing: preattention, focal attention, comprehension, and elaboration. The final step, elaboration, occurs when individuals restate messages and summarize their reactions to them. [11] These cognitive responses then serve as the basis for the information people store in memory. [12] Elaboration likelihood, thus, represents the probability that the highest-order form of information processing is achieved. Within an advertising context, MacInnis and Jaworski offered a similar six-stage model that begins with the analysis of message features, followed by categorization of the message and topic, meaning analysis, integration with personal experience, mental rehearsal (including role-taking and vicarious trial), and mental construction of product attributes and benefits, that is, elaboration. [13]

The conceptual origin of emphasizing motivation, ability, and opportunity can be traced to the development of dual processing models in the social psychology literature. The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) and the lesser-known Heuristic-Systematic Model (HSM) both posit that topic-relevant involvement can play a pivotal role in the strategies people use to process information. Given adequate ability, highly motivated individuals process information effortfully (ELM) or systematically (HSM), whereas individuals with low motivation rely on cognitive shortcuts referred to as peripheral cues (ELM) or heuristics (HSM). Both models posit that behavior can be influenced by using either approach. However, central route (ELM) or systematic (HSM) processing is more enduring than persuasion that relies on peripheral route (ELM) or heuristic (HSM) processing. [14]

The M-A-O model suggests communicators have two key challenges when constructing effective messages. The first is to match message content to an audience's level of processing. Petty and Cacioppo suggested that when consumers are unlikely to process information, it is important to sprinkle messages with affect-laden executional cues that will attract audiences and cause them to like a message. However, once individuals engage in deep processing, message affect is not as important as the strength or quality of arguments. The second role of message cues is to encourage deeper message processing, that is, to move individuals along the continuum of depth processing toward elaboration. MacInnis, Moorman, and Jaworski suggested in-depth processing is desirable for two reasons: first, attention is likely to be modest as a result of clutter and distractions in the typical public communication setting. Second, enhancing levels of processing evokes more enduring memory and attitude change. [15]

Deep processing often accompanies communication exchanges in which the parties are fully engaged, such as dialogue, negotiation, or bargaining. However, inactive publics, because of their low knowledge about and low involvement in a topic, are unlikely to engage in any more than superficial processing. Their processing of messages is likely to be limited to feature analysis, categorization, and elementary meaning analysis. Thus it becomes imperative to counter such processing inertia by enhancing the motivation, ability, and opportunities for publics to process public relations messages.

Components of the Model


Motivation, the first antecedent in the model, refers to heightening arousal so that inactive audiences are ready, willing, interested, or desire to process a message. Functionally, heightened motivation represents a predisposition or preparedness to allocate precious cognitive resources to processing information. Motivation, represented in topic involvement, moderates the linkage between exposure, cognitive processing, and attitude formation. Individuals with low motivation pose particular challenges in terms of gaining attention without the inclusion of other compensating cues in the message.


Ability, the second antecedent, refers to the need to maximize an individual's skills or proficiencies in interpreting a message. Ability is a distinct concept from motivation. High-ability individuals are proficient at message processing because they are experts, that is, they are knowledgeable about a topic. In general, high ability or knowledgeable individuals can process information more efficiently and schematically than can novices, that is, low-ability individuals. Members of inactive publics, who possess relatively lower levels of topic knowledge, are at a disadvantage compared to active or aware publics because members of inactive publics can access less extant knowledge available in memory about a topic or organization. Moreover, they are less likely to be able to access that information easily because they have not used it frequently. Tversky and Kahneman suggested that ready availability of and easy accessibility to information stored in memory operate heuristically to bias recall and related thou ght processes. [16] The challenge for the communicator thus is to overcome this disadvantage and to assure that whatever knowledge a low-ability individual possesses can be effectively retrieved by the audience. The communicator thus must relate new information to other experiences that might be relevant to an individual.


Opportunity relates to the characteristics of the message that favor information processing. Whereas ability relates to information processing operations within the individual, opportunity focuses on attentional and capacity issues created by a communicator. In their original conceptualization of ability, Petty and Cacioppo combined elements of ability and opportunity. However, other researchers distinguish between the two. Batra and Ray limited ability to response-enabling variables within the respondent's control, for example, product knowledge, expertise, and self-schema. According to these researchers, opportunity refers to executional factors of a message that are beyond the control of the individual, such as exposure time, message length, the number of arguments, and the absence of distractions that detract from message processing. [17]

Implications of the Model

As a prerequisite for communicating with any public, public relations practitioners must be concerned with assuring that audiences possess sufficient motivation, ability, and opportunity to engage in the communication process. This is generally not a problem in the case of active publics, which are comparatively high in both knowledge and involvement and who create their own opportunities to communicate. For aroused publics, the challenge might be ability-based, that is, a lack of knowledge might make it difficult to communicate effectively even though these groups might be highly motivated or involved in an issue. For aware publics, the challenge might involve getting audiences to pay attention, even though members of aware publics might be perfectly competent to process communications once they do so. In all three cases, the creation of appropriate opportunities to communicate is a necessary condition for any form of advocacy or accommodation in public relations.

The need to focus on all three of these concepts converges with inactive publics, who come into an organizational relationship with low involvement (motivation) and low topic knowledge (ability). This problem is made particularly acute because most communications with inactive publics, because of time and cost constraints, are conducted through mediated communications. Compared with person-to-person interaction, or even interactive information seeking by using a communications tool such as the Internet, media use is a comparatively routine, low-involvement experience based on incidental exposure. Uses and gratifications research suggests that people use mass media to fulfill a wide variety of needs and obtain gratifications quite separate from utilitarian topic-related information seeking. For example, media offer entertainment or diversion from the doldrums of everyday life and facilitate socially expressive needs. Thus, unlike the communication patterns found in situations such as collaboration, conflict r esolution, or negotiation, audiences are unfocused and might have no specific communication or organization-related goals when they encounter public relations-generated mediated communications.

In addressing communications to inactive publics, public relations communications strategists must be keenly aware of the special problems of enhancing motivation, ability, and opportunity. The M-A-O model is useful because it provides a theoretical umbrella for integrating a variety of otherwise disjointed communications tactics.

The remainder of this article illustrates how the M-A-O model might be applied to develop a more systematic and theoretically rich understanding of public relations communications, particularly with inactive audiences, and outlines examples of specific techniques of message construction that fall within each category. Figure 1 also suggests that many "tricks of the trade" found in public relations practice today are actually well grounded theoretically. The discussion is not intended to be a comprehensive catalogue of all executional cues that are important to include in public relations messages. Instead, its purpose is to suggest the potential importance of motivation, ability, and opportunity as organizing principles for constructing effective messages.


Consumer research suggests that a variety of techniques can be used to enhance motivation. One of the most important involves the creation of an attractive and interesting message that will create positive affect. Consumer research has shown that attitudes toward communications messages (most commonly referred to as attitude toward the ad, or []) moderate attitudes about the products, services, candidates, or causes featured in promotional messages. The extensive [] literature suggests that messages that strike affective responses generate more attention, greater interest, more cognitive responses, higher message recognition, and greater topic recall. [18]

Among the techniques that have been proven to stimulate greater message affect are appeals to hedonistic needs, such as sex and appetite, [19] and the use of visuals. [20] Greater message affect also is created by use of novel stimuli: unusual photography, typography and layouts, oversized and unusual formats, sound effects, movement and changes of scenes in films, and sudden changes in voice and sound levels. [21] Prominent use of a message's figural or formal features also has been shown to be effective. Examples include large pictures, large formats, loud volume and music, color (vs. black-and-white), and placement of attribute information in headlines (vs. body copy alone). [22]

Message source is one of the most important factors that motivate processing. Sources perceived as attractive, trustworthy, expert, dynamic, and powerful are more engaging and effective than those that do not feature these characteristics. As conceptualized by dual processing researchers, source credibility operates as a peripheral cue or heuristic when individuals are unmotivated to process message arguments effortfully or systematically. Other research suggests source effects actually can serve as arguments when an individual considers a proposition or can heighten levels of affect that predispose audiences to respond favorably. Likewise, using spokespersons with characteristics similar to members of a target public can be effective because audiences identify a goal congruity between themselves and the source. Celebrity endorsers help inactive publics make vital linkages between topics already of interest to them and topics that might be of interest to an organization that employs a particular celebrity. T he attention-getting power of celebrities has been recognized for a long time. Indeed, journalists cite prominence, that is, participation in news events by prominent people, as a basic news value that attracts audiences. [23]

Other techniques to increase motivation evolve around enhancing the relevance of the message to individuals, a technique that has been shown to increase attention and message elaboration. Examples include appeals to fear and guilt, to self-interest, and to socially important interests [24] and the use of value-expressive appeals (vs. utilitarian appeals). [25]

Beyond motivating individuals to attend to messages, researchers have suggested message creators can motivate processing other ways. The inclusion of familiar and easily processed figures of speech can make copy more accessible and inviting. Simply asking people to "Think for a moment..." about a particular question can serve as a rhetorical device to prompt processing. Using stories and anecdotes can also increase motivation to process by humanizing the topic and luring viewers into the action. Finally, drama has been demonstrated to evoke empathetic identification and to prompt people to draw their own conclusions as outside observers of the action (instead of being lectured to). [26]

Message creators can increase curiosity about a topic by presenting information in ways that are slightly incongruent with expectations and thus encourage audiences to reconcile differences between the messages and their expectations. Examples include humor and metaphors that promote thinking. Still another potential motivation is to increase the amount of information to a moderate level. [27] Moderate complexity, that is, making a message not too simple but not too burdensome to process, stimulates attention to a message. [28] Similarly, correspondence theory suggests the value of including both positive and negative information about an organization or its products or services in certain messages because the discrepancies encourage greater message evaluation. [29]

Varying the way that information is presented also can help motivation. Mere repetition, generally considered an opportunity factor (see below), can facilitate learning and can contribute to lilting a message. This phenomenon is known as the mere exposure effect. [30] However, presenting information in slightly varied language and formats or from different or varied sources stimulates thinking as people attempt to reconcile differences. [31] Simply hearing about a subject from two or more independent sources, or hearing slightly inconsistent messages (such as different executions of the same message with the same theme or story line) can result in greater cognitive effort, more elaboration, and learning. [32]


Closely aligned to the stimulation of thinking is the incorporation of executional cues that make it easier for inactive publics to access available knowledge and experience stored in memory. Such cues can be relevant to the topic of the message or more generally to the culture shared by the target public. Cultural cues are particularly important when communicating to subgroups (such as ethnic minorities) or to populations across cultural or national boundaries.

Executional cues facilitate retrieval of extant knowledge so information can be understandable and relevant and can be placed in context. The low expertise commonly found among inactive publics underscores the value of including an array of cues that will facilitate processing, such as background information, definitions, and explanations. Message simplicity and clarity enhance ability by helping audiences quickly and efficiently identify what a communication is about, and which memory traces should be accessed. The results are to minimize confusion or ambiguity and to enhance confidence in decision making.

When presenting new ideas or new information communicators must provide executional cues that allow people to tap their memory and locate relevant information and then to process new information correctly. Research suggests that memory is organized categorically in cognitive structures known as schemas. In describing products, services, candidates, or causes, it is valuable to classify them as being of a particular type or category, while still positioning them as being distinctive from others in the same category. [33]

Various techniques of message construction enhance ability as well. For example, headlines can operate as advanced organizers to tell what a message is about, whereas synopses can provide summaries that reassure audiences about their ability to process a more complex message. Using multiple modalities (for example, narration, graphics, and text in combination) allows the use of multiple cognitive resources. The resulting dual-coding of information allows people to tap different sorts of memory traces (e.g., sight vs. sound) that might be stored or associated with a particular modal form. Research suggests that the congruity between the form and context of information at the time that it is encoded and the form and context of information at the time it is retrieved will enhance recall. In the same way, congruity in the mood of the individual at the time of information encoding and retrieval from memory also can have a facilitating effect. [34] Finally, simple labeling of graphical elements (photos, illustrati ons, charts and graphs, etc.) enhances ability by drawing attention to the particular attributes depicted. Labels result in greater recognition, less response time, more consistent attitudes, and higher behavioral intent because of the presence of the cue. [35]

Using specific words and images also influences ability. A sizable literature suggests the use of concrete (vs. abstract) words greatly improves understanding, that is, the ability to identify familiar topics, analyze their meaning, and integrate them with extant knowledge. Concrete word choice has been demonstrated to lead to higher recognition and recall, as well as attention to particular attributes--although some researchers question the value of vividness. [36] Other research has suggested that ability can be enhanced through the use of exemplars to typify an idea; demonstrations to illustrate how things work; and analogies to link new ideas with older, familiar concepts. Finally, the use of symbols, slogans, and marks (logos, logotypes, service marks, and trademarks) provide valuable markers or continuity devices that can help access extant memory structures. Such memory retrieval cues are the foundation for branding and for integrated marketing campaigns. [37]

Another way communicators can enhance audience ability is to tap into individuals' self schemas, that is, their self-perceptions about their identities--who they are, what they aspire to be, and roles that are appropriate or important for them. Self-perceptions about one's identity or defining traits (vs. all self-related knowledge) are thought be organized schematically in memory and are chronically accessible, and readily activated. Examples include self-perceptions related to one's gender, family role, or occupation. Other examples include personal characteristics considered to be important, such as self-sufficiency or independence. People are able to make self-referent judgments rapidly and accurately, to remember information related to their perceptions of themselves, and to make trait-consistent inferences and judgments quite easily. Information congruent with one's self-concept is processed more easily and confidently than is incongruent or irrelevant information. [38] Advertising copywriters have und erstood this principle for years, focusing on the benefits (vs. mere features) of products and linking benefits to personal characteristics that individuals consider important. Similarly, information campaigns have emphasized the importance of enhancing perceptions of one's self-efficacy, that is, a person's self-perception that he or she can achieve a desired outcome, and the importance of enabling people to mentally rehearse the performance of desired actions. [39]

The information environment in which communication occurs similarly impacts the ability to process information. Contextual effects can operate through a process of priming wherein the information environment surrounding a message provides cues for its interpretation. Priming is particularly important when the meaning of information is ambiguous. In the mass media, for example, adjacent editorial or advertising content can provide cues that suggest audiences examine Messages in particular ways. [40] Recent research also suggests that individuals might process information differentially, based on the content class of the message, that is, whether it appears as news, advertising, or entertainment. News might provide certain advantages over advertising because news provides different cues about the intent of a message (to tell, not sell) and thus invokes different schema-based rules for processing. Moreover, evidence suggests that people might be less favorably predisposed to process advertising versus news. [41 ]

Another technique that enhances ability involves framing. Framing devices are executional cues that focus attention on particular attributes of a topic while excluding others, in much the same way a frame provides focus for a picture. At least seven forms of framing relevant to public relations can be identified. These include the framing of situations, attributes, risky choices, actions, issues, responsibility, and news. The effect of framing is to shape the meaning that might be derived from any particular message. In the case of news stories, executional cues take the form of culturally resonating symbols presented in the form of depictive terms, catch phrases, metaphors, exemplars, and reinforcing visual images. [42] To the extent that a message focuses attention and strikes a responsive chord within the individual, framing enhances ability by tapping culturally ingrained knowledge and can be especially effective in conditions of low motivation.


In addition to motivating and enabling less attentive publics, public relations communicators must create sufficient opportunity for audiences to process messages. In large measure, this can be achieved only if sufficient effort is exerted to reach audiences. A public relations program or campaign must have sufficient programmatic power to gain exposure and to capture the attention of target publics. An effective program cannot be a casual, haphazard undertaking. Opportunity in public relations is created through concerted and coordinated efforts that involve creating multiple message exposures and structuring messages so people can process them easily.

Repetition is a classic opportunity enhancement strategy used by advertisers. Audiences with low interest in a product are exposed to messages an optimal number of times to assure they process the message. Krugman contended that at least three exposures are required (but also might be sufficient to attain optimal effects). [43] In advertising, the creation of repetition is comparatively straightforward and involves purchasing blocks of time or space within media to which audiences are likely to be exposed. In publicity, a mainstay of many public relations programs, repetition is more difficult to achieve because reputable news organizations will run a story only once--while it is news. Repetitive exposure requires obtaining coverage in multiple news outlets, creating still other "news angles" that will garner additional coverage, or combining publicity with other forms of media (public media, interactive media, controlled media, events, and one-on-one communications) to reinforce key messages as part of an i ntegrated campaign. [44]

Message characteristics that can enhance message opportunity include the use of longer messages (e.g., longer articles, 60-s vs. 30-s public service announcements, etc.). Thus more time is created for audiences to be exposed to or to attend to the message. Opportunities to process also can be enhanced by stating key themes in multiple ways, such as repetition of key copy points in headlines, summaries, text, captions, illustrations, and so forth. Inclusion of one over-all theme or proposition, accompanied by multiple supporting arguments, also provides more opportunity for communicating an organization's story. Evidence suggests that the mere number of arguments can operate as an impressive and persuasive heuristic in persuasion, whereas different arguments might appeal to and sway different individuals. [45]

Graphical messages that accompany textual or oral communications are particularly effective in conditions of low interest or opportunity because they create additional ways for people to access information. Graphics can be processed immediately and holistically by using multiple cognitive resources, thus reducing required processing time and effort. Among the most efficient are "interactive" pictures that present a single picture that visually illustrates a concept and a key attribute. [46]

Enhancing opportunity also entails adroit avoidance of problems that might unintentionally limit opportunities to process. Distractions can disrupt or discourage the orderly processing of information. Examples include annoying music or excessively attractive (i.e., overly arousing) spokespersons, inflammatory or insulting language, or derogatory or stereotyped imagery. Disorganized, confused, or overly complex arguments or graphic presentations can lead audiences to become frustrated and stop processing a message. Evidence suggests that optimal processing occurs when audiences can control the pace of message consumption--an argument that favors print (vs. broadcast) for all but the simplest propositions. Time-compressed presentations have been shown to be detrimental to effective processing. [47] However, presentations that move too slowly can be equally deadly because audiences become bored and cease processing.


This article has suggested that public relations communicators must endeavor to enhance the motivation and ability of inactive publics to engage in communications important to an organization. Public relations communicators also must create opportunities to communicate because inattentive publics are not likely to initiate them, unless they need to do so to solve a problem or as a result of some other self-interest.

Motivation, ability and opportunity operate independently. Thus, a message strategist needs to consider each of these factors and to select strategies that are appropriate for each of them in a given situation. When critiquing their work, message strategists must ask themselves whether a message or message strategy provided sufficient motivation, ability, and opportunity for audiences to attend to, comprehend, and process their message.

The heuristic value of this model lies in that it provides a checklist for evaluating messages. A message creator can examine the various options represented in Figure 1 to make sure that a given message or message strategies makes optimal use of a combination of the techniques listed in each column. In the case of a message that might be of little interest to the audience, it will be especially important to infuse the message with elements that promote motivation to process. If a message is believed to be potentially difficult for an audience, message creators must maximize their use of devices to make a message easy for audiences to process. Likewise, increasing opportunities to process will be important in situations of either low motivation or low ability.

Theoretical Value of the Model

Public relations theorists need to broaden their attention beyond the groups that are actively engaged in challenging the agenda of an organization (active publics) to thoughtfully consider other key types of publics: inactive publics, merely aroused publics, and uninvolved but aware publics. Each of these types of publics represents important groups that organizations should take into account when planning public relations efforts. More needs to be known about how to communicate with publics low in motivation and/or ability.

Toward this end, the M-A-O model offers a potentially useful framework for conceptualizing and unifying otherwise seemingly disjointed message tactics that can be undertaken to communicate better with publics. Normative theorizing that suggests organizations ought to engage in two-way, symmetrical communication is useful to the extent it argues that organizations should deliberately create opportunities for dialogue, negotiation, and other exchanges with key publics. However, normative theory largely ignores the wide differences that can exist in levels of involvement (motivation) and knowledge (ability) among groups that constitute publics. The idea that effective communication involves enhancing the motivation and ability of the parties to communicate, as well as the creation of opportunities to communicate, moves the question into the realm of actionable strategies that organizations can pursue.

Researchers in public relations also need to devote more attention to the underlying processes that make public relations strategies work. Overall, public relations message strategists have had to rely on the conclusions of researchers working in fields such as social psychology and consumer research for their theoretical understanding of influence processes. Public relations researchers need to devote more attention to the effect of factors such as those listed in Figure 1 and engage in more basic research about influence processes that provide the foundation for public relations work. In particular, it would be valuable to determine how the general conclusions reviewed here from previous research might differ when applied in a public relations context.

Public relations is conspicuously void in the development of theories related to communication process. The M-A-O model is not a formula for persuasion, but rather focuses on the antecedents of information processing more generally. Thus it has broad implications that can be applied across different theoretical approaches to public relations. It could be argued that enhancing motivation, ability, and opportunity is fundamental to communications with any of the principal types of publics that might be the targets of public relations efforts. Yet, the value of the M-A-O model is particularly important in dealing with inactive publics, where motivation, ability, and opportunity are all low.


(1.) Kirk Hallahan, "Inactive Publics: The Forgotten Publics In Public Relations," Public Relations Review 26 (Winter 2000), pp. 499-515.

(2.) James E. Grunig and Todd Hunt, Managing Public Relations (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1984), p. 148. Dennis Wilcox, Philip Ault, and Warren K. Agee, Public Relations Strategies & Tactics, 5th ed., (New York, NY: Longman, 1997), p. 167.

(3.) Todd Hunt and James E. Grunig, Public Relations Techniques (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1994); William Thompson, Targeting the Message: A Receiver-Centered Process for Public Relations Writing (New York, NY: Longman, 1996), p. 154; Dennis Wilcox and Lawrence W. Nolte, Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques, 3rd ed., (New York, NY: Longman, 1997).

(4.) Doug Newsom and Bob Carrell, Public Relations Writing. Form & Style, 3rd ed., (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1990), p. 32.

(5.) Kerry Tucker, Doris Dorelian, and Donna R. Rouner, Public Relations Writing, A Behavioral Issues-Driven Approach (Upper Saddleback River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1996), p. 42.

(6.) James E. Grunig and Fred C. Repper, "Strategic Management, Publics and Issues," in James E. Grunig (ed.), Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992), pp. 117-158.

(7.) James K, Van Leuven, and Michael D. Slater, "How Publics, Public Relations and the Media Shape the Public Opinion Process," in Larissa A. Grunig and James G. Grunig (eds.), Public Relations Research Annual, Vol. 3, (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991), pp. 165-178.

(8.) E. K. Strong, The Psychology of Selling (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1925); Robert J. Lavidge and Gary A. Steiner, "A Mode of Predictive Measures of Advertising Effectiveness," Journal of Marketing 25 (1961), pp. 55-62; Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, 4th ed., (New York, NY: Free Press, 1995); William J. McGuire, "Persuasion, Resistance and Attitude Change," in Ithiel de sola Pool, Frederick F. Frey, Wilbur Schramm, Nathan Maccobby, and Edwin P. Parker (eds.) Handbook of Communication (Chicago, IL: Rand McNally College, 1973), pp. 216-253. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, "Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases," Science 185 (1974), pp. 1124-1131; Maxwell E. McCombs and Donald L. Shaw, "The Agenda-Setting Function of the Mass Media," Public Opinion Quarterly 36 (1972), pp. 176-204; Elihu Katz and Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communication (New York, NY: Free Press, 1955); Lawrence Wallack, Lori Dorfman, David Jernigan, and M akani Thema, Media Advocacy and Public Health (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1993); James O. Proschaska, Carlo C. DiClemente, and John C. Norcross, "In Search of How People Change: Applications to Addictive Behaviors," American Psychologist 47 (1992), pp. 1102-1114.

(9.) J. Craig Andrews, "Motivation, Ability and Opportunity to Process Information: Conceptual and Experimental Manipulation Issues," in Michael J. Houston (ed.), Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 15 (Provo, UH: Association for Consumer Research, 1988), pp. 219-225; Rajeev Batra and Michael L. Ray, "Situational Effects of Advertising Repetition: The Moderating Influence of Motivation, Ability and Opportunity to Respond," Journal of Consumer Research 12 (1986), pp. 432-445.

(10.) Fergus I. M. Craik and Robert S. Lockhart, "Levels of Processing: A Framework for Memory Research," Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 11 (1972), pp. 671-684.

(11.) Anthony G. Greenwald and Clark Leavitt, "Audience Involvement in Advertising: Four Levels," Journal of Consumer Research 11 (1984), pp. 25-42.

(12.) Richard M. Petty, Timothy M. Ostrom, and Timothy C. Brock, Cognitive Responses in Persuasion (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1981).

(13.) Deborah J. MacInnis and Bernard J. Jaworski, "Information Processing from Advertisements: Toward an Integrative Framework," Journal of Marketing 53 (October 1989), pp. 1-23.

(14.) Richard E. Petty and John T. Cacioppo, Communication and Persuasion. Central and Peripheral Routes to Persuasion. (New York, NY: Springer-Verlag, 1986); Shelley Chaiken, "The Heuristic Model of Persuasion," in Mark P. Zanna, James M. Olson, and C. Peter Herman (eds.), Social Influence: The Ontario Symposium, Vol. 5, (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1987), pp. 3-39.

(15.) Richard E. Petty and John T. Cacioppo, ibid.; Deborah J. MacInnis, Christine M. Moorman, and Bernard J. Jaworski, "Enhancing and Measuring Consumers' Motivation, Opportunity and Ability to Process Brand Information from Ads," Journal of Marketing 55 (October 1991), pp. 32-53.

(16.) Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, "Availability: A Heuristic for Judging Frequency and Probability," Cognitive Psychology 5 (1973), pp. 207-232;

(17.) Richard E. Petty and John T. Cacioppo, op. cit.; Rajeev Batra and Michael L. Ray, op. cit.

(18.) Darrel D. Muehling and Michael McCann, "Attitude Toward the Ad: A Review," Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising 15 (Fall 1993), pp. 25-58.

(19.) Morris B. Holbrook and Elizabeth C. Hirschman, "The Experiential Aspects of Consumption: Consumer Fantasies, Feelings and Fun," Journal of Consumer Research 9 (1982), pp. 132-140.

(20.) Edward F. MacQuarrie and David Glen Mick, "Visual Rhetoric in Advertising Language," Journal of Consumer Research 22 (1996), pp. 424-438.

(21.) Wendy Bryce and Thomas J. Olney, "Modality Effects in Television Advertising: A Methodology for Isolating Message Structure from Message Content Effects," in Michael J. Houston (ed.), Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 15, (Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 1988), pp. 174-177; Laura A. Peracchio and Joan Meyers-Levy, "How Ambiguous Cropped Objects in Ad Photos Can Affect Product Evaluations," Journal of Consumer Research 21 (1994), pp. 190-204; Darryl W. Miller and Lawrence J. Marks, "Mental Imagery and Sound Effects in Radio Commercials," Journal of Advertising 21 (December 1992), pp. 83-94; Paula Fitzgerald Bone and Pam Scholder Ellen, "The General and Consequences of Communication-Evoked Imagery," Journal of Consumer Research 19 (1992), pp. 93-104.

(22.) Pamela M. Homer, "Ad Size as an Indicator of Perceived Advertising Costs and Effort: The Effects on Memory and Perceptions," Journal of Advertising 24 (Winter 1995), pp. 1-12; Dominique Hanssens and Barton A. Weitz, "The Effectiveness of Industrial Print Advertisements Across Product Categories," Journal of Marketing Research 17 (1980), pp. 294-306; C. Douglas Olsen, "Creating the Contrast: The Influence of Silence and Background Music on Recall and Attribute Importance," Journal of Advertising 24 (Winter 1995), pp.29-44; Joan Meyers-Levy and Laura A. Peracchio, "Understanding the Effects of Color: How the Correspondence Between Available and Required Resources Affects Attitudes," Journal of Consumer Research 22 (1995), pp. 121-138; Meryl P. Gardner, "Advertising Effects on Attributes Recalled and Criteria Used for Brand Evaluation," Journal of Consumer Research 10 (1983), pp. 310-318; D. P. Ansubel, "The Use of Advanced Organizers in the Learning and Retention of Meaningful Verbal Behavior," Journal of Educational Psychology 51 (1960), pp. 267-272.

(23.) Richard E. Petty, John T. Cacioppo, and David W. Schumann, "Central and Peripheral Routes to Advertising Effectiveness: The Moderating Role of Involvement," Journal of Consumer Research 10 (1983), pp. 135-146; Shelley Chaiken and Durairaj Maheswaran, "Heuristic Processing Can Bias Systematic Processing: Effects of Source Credibility, Argument Ambiguity and Task Importance on Attitude Judgment," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 66 (1994), pp. 460-473. Carolynn Tripp, Thomas D. Jensen, and Les Carlson, "The Effects of Multiple Product Endorsements by Celebrities on Consumers' Attitudes and Intentions, Journal of Consumer Research 20 (1994), pp. 535-547.

(24.) James R. Bettman, An Information Processing Theory of Consumer Choice (Reading, MA.: Addison-Wesley, 1979); Robin Higie Coulter, June Cotte, and Melissa Lunt Moore, "Believe It or Not: Persuasion, Manipulation and Credibility of Guilt Appeals," in Eric J. Arnold and Linda M. Scott (eds.), Advances in Consumer Research 26 (Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 1999), pp. 288-294; Michael Strahilevitz and John G. Meyers, "Donations to Charity as Purchase Incentives: How Well They Work May Depend on What You're Trying to Sell," Journal of Consumer Research 24 (1998), pp. 434-44.

(25.) J. S. Johar and M. Joseph Sirgy, "Value Expressive Versus Utilitarian Advertising Appeals: When and Why to Use Which Appeal," Journal of Advertising 20 (September 1991), pp. 23-34.

(26.) Edward F. McQuarrie and David Glen Mick, "Figures of Rhetoric in Advertising Language," Journal of Consumer Research 22 (1996), pp. 424-438; Laurie A. Babin and Alvin C. Burns, "Effects of Print Ad Pictures and Copy Containing Instructions to Imagine on Mental Imagery that Mediates Attitudes," Journal of Advertising 26 (Fall 1997), pp. 33-44; John K Rossiter and Larry Percy, "Visual Communication in Advertising," in Richard J. Harris (ed.), Information Processing Research in Advertising (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1983), pp. 83-126; E. James Baesler and Judee K. Burgoon, "The Temporal Effects of Story and Statistical Evidence on Belief Change," Communication Research 2l (1994), pp. 582-602; Henry P. Cole, "Stories to Live By: A Narrative Approach to Human Behavior Research and Injury Prevention," in David S. Gochman (ed.), Handbook of Health Behavior Research IV(New York, NY: Plenum Press, 1997), pp. 325-349; Michael D. Slater and Donna R. Rouner, "Value Affirmative and Value Protective Processing of Alcohol Education Messages that Include Statistics or Anecdotes," Communication Research 23 (1996), pp. 210-235; John Deighton, Daniel Romer, and Josh McQueen, "Using Drama to Persuade," Journal of Consumer Research 16 (1989), pp. 335-343.

(27.) Harlan E. Spotts, Marc C. Weinberger. and Amy L. Parsons, "Assessing the Use and Impact of Humor on Advertising Effectiveness: A Contingency Approach," Journal of Advertising 26 (Fall 1997), pp. 17-31; Diane M. Badzinski and Nancy Mitchell, "Effects of Metaphors on Children's Comprehension and Perceptions of Print Advertisements," Journal of Advertising 27 (Summer 1998), pp. 83-98.

(28.) Dena S. Cox and Anthony D. Cox, "What Does Familiarity Breed? Complexity as a Moderator of Repetition Effects in Advertisement Evaluation," Journal of Consumer Research 15(1988), pp. 111-116; Annie Lang and Patrick Lanfear, "The Information Processing of Televised Political Advertising. Using Theory to Maximize Recall," in Marvin E. Goldberg, Gerald Gorn, and Richard W. Pollay (eds.), Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 17, (Provo, UTh: Association for Consumer Research, 1990), pp. 149-158.

(29.) Bodo Lang, Christina Kwai-Choi Lee, and Rami Zwick, "Message Sidedness at the Brand and Product Form Levels: Overcoming the Shortcomings of Two-Sided Messages," in Eric J. Arnold and Linda M. Scott (eds.), Advances in Consumer Research 26 (1999), pp. 485-490.

(30.) Robert B. Zajonc, "Feeling and Thinking. Preferences Need No Inferences," American Psychologist 35 (1980), pp. 151-175.

(31.) Punam Anand [aka Keller] and Brian Sternthal, "Ease of Message Processing as a Moderator of Repetition Effects in Advertising," Journal of Marketing Research 27 (1990), pp. 345-353.

(32.) Steven Harkin and Richard E. Petty, "Information Utility and the Multiple Source Effect," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 52 (1987), pp. 260-268; David J. Moore, Richard Reardon, and John C. Mowen, "Source Independence in Multiple Source Advertising Appeals: The Confederate Effect," in Thomas Srull (ed.), Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 16, (Provo, UT Association for Consumer Research, 1989), pp. 719-722.

(33.) Larissa A. Schneider [aka Grunig], "Implications of the Concept of Schema for Public Relations," Public Relations Research and Education 2(1985), pp. 36-47; Ravi Dahr and Stephen J. Sherman, "The Effect of Common and Unique Features in Consumer Choice," Journal of Consumer Research 23 (1996), pp. 193-203.

(34.) Kathryn Lutz Alesandrini, "Strategies that Influence Memory for Advertising Communications," in Richard J. Harris (ed.), Information Processing Research in Advertising (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1983), pp. 65-82; Chris Janiszewski, "The Influence of Display Characteristics on Visual Exploratory Research Behaviors," Journal of Consumer Research 25 (1988), pp. 290-301; Wendy J. Bryce and Richard F. Yalch, "Hearing Versus Seeing: A Comparison of Learning of Spoken and Pictorial Information in Television Advertising," Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising 15 (Spring 1993), pp. 1-20.

(35.) Julie A. Edell and Richard Staelin, "The Information Processing of Pictures in Print Advertisements," Journal of Consumer Research 10 (1983), pp. 45-61.

(36.) Punam Anand Keller and Lauren Goldberg Block, "Vividness Effects: A Resource-Matching Perspective," Journal of Consumer Research 24 (1997), pp. 295-304.

(37.) Hans-Bernd Brosius and Anke Bathelt, "The Utility of Exemplars in Persuasive Communication," Communication Research 21 (1994), pp. 48-78; David W. Stewart and David H. Furse, "Analysis of the Impact of Executional Factors in Advertising Performance," Journal of Advertising Research 24:6 (1984), pp. 23-26; Jenifer Gregan-Paxton and Deborah Roedder John, "Consumer Learning by Analogy: A Model of Internal Knowledge Transfer," Journal of Consumer Research 24 (1997), pp. 266-284; Deborah J. MacInnis, Stewart Shapiro, and Gayathri Mani, "Enhancing Brand Awareness Through Brand Symbols," in Eric J. Arnold and Linda M. Scott (eds.), Advances in Consumer Research 26 (1999), pp. 601-608; Julie A. Edell and Kevin Lane Keller, "The Information Processing of Coordinated Media Campaigns," Journal of Marketing Research 26 (1989), pp. 149-163.

(38.) Helen Markus, "Self-Schemata and Processing Information About The Seif," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 35 (1977), pp. 63-78; Joan Meyers-Levy and Laura A. Peracchio, "Moderators of the Impact of Self-Reference on Persuasion," Journal of Consumer Research 22 (1996), pp. 408-423.

(39.) Ronald B. Anderson, "Cognitive Appraisal of Performance Capability in the Prevention of Drunken Driving: A Test of Self-Efficacy Theory," Journal of Public Relations Research 7 (1995), pp. 205-229; Edward W. Maibach and David Cotton, op. cit.; Edward W. Maibach and June A. Flora, "Symbolic Modeling and Cognitive Rehearsal: Using Video to Promote AIDS Prevention Self-Efficacy," Communication Research 20 (1993), pp. 517-545.

(40.) Joan Meyers-Levy and Alice M. Tybout, "Context Effects at Encoding and Judgment in Consumption Settings: The Role of Cognitive Resources," Journal of Consumer Research 24 (1997), pp. 1-14.

(41.) Kirk Hallahan, "Content Class as a Contextual Cue in the Processing of Publicity Versus Advertising," Journal of Public Relations Research 11 (1999), pp. 293-320.

(42.) Kirk Hallahan, "Seven Models of Framing: Implications for Public Relations," Journal of Public Relations Research 11 (1999), pp. 205-242.

(43.) Herbert Krugman, "Why Three Exposures May be Enough," Journal of Advertising Research 12:6 (1973), pp. 11-14.

(44.) Kirk Hallahan, "Strategic Media Planning: Toward an Integrated Public Relations Media Model," in Robert L. Heath (ed.), Handbook of Public Relations (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2001), pp. 461-470; Kirk Hallahan, "Product Publicity: An Orphan of Marketing Research," in Esther Thorson and Jeri Moore (eds.), Integrated Communication: Synergy of Persuasive Voices (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlibaum Associates, 1996), pp. 305-330.

(45.) Rajeev Batra and Michael L. Ray, op. cit.; Cornelia Pechman and David W. Stewart, "Advertising Repetition: A Critical Review of Wearin and Wearout," in James H. Leigh and Claude R. Martin (eds.), Current Issues and Research in Advertising, Vol. 11, (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Graduate School of Business, 1989), pp. 285-329; Kirk Hallahan, "Product Publicity: An Orphan of Marketing Research," in Esther Thorson and Jeri Moore (eds.), Integrated Communication: Synergy of Persuasive Voices (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996), p. 308; Shelley Chaiken, op. cit.

(46.) Scott S. Liu, "Picture-Image Memory of TV Advertising in Low-Involvement Situations: A Psychophysiological Analysis," in James H. Leigh and Claude R. Martin (eds.), Current Issues and Research in Advertising, Vol. 8, (Ann Arbor, MI.: University of Michigan Graduate School of Business, 1986), pp. 27-59; Stuart J. MacKelvie, Diana Cooper, and Patricia Monfette, "To What Extent Do Interactive Pictures Promote Recall?" Perceptual and Motor Skills 75 (1992), pp. 627-638.

(47.) Danny L. Moore, Douglas Hausknect, and Kanchana Thamodran, "Time Compression, Response Opportunity and Persuasion," Journal of Consumer Research 13 (1986), pp. 85-99.
                   Motivation-Ability-Opportunity Model
                     for enhancing message processing.
Enhance Motivation         Enhance Ability
Attract and encourage      Make it easier to process
audiences to commence,     the message by tapping
continue processing        cognitive resources
Create attractive, likable Include background,
 messages (create affect)   definitions, explanations
Appeal to hedonistic needs Be simple, clear
(sex, appetite, safety)    Use advance organizers,
Use novel stimuli           e.g. headlines
[] Photos                  Include synopses
[] Typography              Combine graphics, text and
[] Oversized formats        narration (dual coding of
[] Large number of         memory traces)
   scenes, elements        Use congruent memory cues
[] Changes in voice,        (same format as original)
   silence, movement       Label graphics (helps
Make the most of formal     identify which attributes to
features                   focus on)
[] Format size             Use specific, concrete
[] Music                   (versus abstract) words
[] Color                    and images
[] Include key points in   Include exemplars, models
   headlines               Make comparison with
Use moderately complex      analogies
 messages                  Show actions, train audience
Use sources who are         skills through
 credible, attractive or    demonstrations
 similar to audience       Include marks (logos,
Involve celebrities         logotypes, trade marks),
Enhance relevance to        slogans and symbols as
 audience--Ask them to      continuity devices
 think about a question    Appeal to self-schemas
Use stories, anecdotes or   (roles, what's important to
 drama to draw into action  audience's identity)
Stimulate curiosity: use   Enhance perceptions of self-
 humor, metaphors,          efficacy to perform tasks
 questions                 Place messages in
Vary language, format,      conducive environment
 source                     (priming effects)
Use multiple, ostensibly   Frame stories using
 independent sources        culturally resonating
                            themes, catchphrases
Enhance Motivation         Enhance Opportunity
Attract and encourage      Structure messages to optimize
audiences to commence,     processing
continue processing
Create attractive, likable Expend sufficient effort to
 messages (create affect)   provide information
Appeal to hedonistic needs Repeat messages frequently
(sex, appetite, safety)    Repeat key points within
Use novel stimuli           text--in headlines, text,
[] Photos                   captions, illustrations, etc.
[] Typography              Use longer messages
[] Oversized formats       Include multiple arguments
[] Large number of         Feature "interactive"
   scenes, elements         illustrations, photos
[] Changes in voice,       Avoid distractions
   silence, movement       [] Annoying music
Make the most of formal    [] Excessively attractive
features                    spokespersons
[] Format size             [] Complex arguments
[] Music                   [] Disorganized layouts
[] Color                   Allow audiences to control
[] Include key points in    pace of processing
   headlines               Provide sufficient time
Use moderately complex     Keep pace lively and avoid
 messages                   audience boredom
Use sources who are
 credible, attractive or
 similar to audience
Involve celebrities
Enhance relevance to
 audience--Ask them to
 think about a question
Use stories, anecdotes or
 drama to draw into action
Stimulate curiosity: use
 humor, metaphors,
Vary language, format,
Use multiple, ostensibly
 independent sources
See Debonh J. MacInnis, Christine
Moorman, and Bernard J. Jaworski,
"Enhancing and Measuring Consumers'
Motivation, Opportunity and Ability
to Process Brand Information from
Ads," Journal of Marketing, 55
(October 1991), 23-53.
COPYRIGHT 2000 JAI Press, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Comment:Enhancing Motivation, Ability, and Opportunity to Process Public Relations Messages.
Author:Hallahan, Kirk
Publication:Public Relations Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2000
Previous Article:Symmetry, Contingency, Complexity: Accommodating Uncertainty in Public Relations Theory.
Next Article:Public Relations Strategies for Creating Mass Media Content: A Case Study of the National Basketball Association.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters