Storytelling Is At the Heart of Effective PR

Red book, close-upI have been reading a lot lately. Really, way more reading than I was doing in previous months. From the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times on the weekend, to amNY and Metro weekdays, and a slew of business and advertising trades in between, I have been trying to immerse myself in two of the professional areas I have the most passion in: small business and media.

Despite the fact that many of the publications that I have been reading have their own unique audience (For anyone who hasn’t done it yet, check out FT Weekend. Honestly, one of the best papers you will read.), the underlying fact of the matter is that each and every one of them tries to do the same thing at the end of the day: tell its readers great stories in a compelling medium that they enjoy. Even if those are stories about the rise and fall of the stock markets (WSJ and FT), or about a local subway stop flooded for the 26th time this year (amNY) or an article about how DDB continues to struggle to adapt to the digital age of advertising (Ad Age), they are still stories with facts, figures, info and surprises.

Why do I bring this all up now? Because we are communicators. Even if you don’t work in PR, you are a communicator in some way, shape or form. We all are. It’s human nature to want to tell, hear, read, view, etc. great stories. And being the excellent communications professionals that we are—trained and highly experienced—we need to keep storytelling in mind throughout any communications strategy development and in any outreach work we do.

The fact of the matter is that reporters/bloggers/producers have to tell great stories. That’s what their editors and their audiences demand. And the easier we make it on them to tell great stories by communicating to them the interesting value points of our client’s and organization’s stories in a compelling nature that actually grabs their attention (think of how the great stories you read as a child really kept your attention for hours on end), the far more likely they are to want to tell those stories.

There has been a ton of talk recently about developing vibrant online communities, or creating content that really drives the story of a company and empowers the public to become involved with a brand. That’s all well and great, but really what this talk involves is a sophisticated way of explaining what people have been doing for decades: finding ways to tell and experience great stories.

So, the movement we are seeing now to empower our audiences with great stories isn’t anything new. What it is, though, is a movement to go back more to our roots; a movement to help all of us have deeper connections with what we were all born to do: tell great stories.

What thrilling story are you going to tell today?

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  • As an English major, I salute you, sir. I'd also like to throw out the This American Life podcast from Chicago Public Radio as a great example of modern storytelling. They can cover any story, from a century-old kidnapping to the current financial crisis, and make it as exciting and (more) poignant as any celebrity gossip.

  • Fantastic piece! It's easy to lose sight of the basics, and good to be reminded of what we PR folks really are: storytellers. Thanks!

  • keithtrivitt

    TJ – Thanks for the kind words! This American Life and really all of NPR are unbelievably fantastic in terms of storytelling. And you're right, they really do find a way to take even what would seem like the most mundane topics (financial news) and turn it into a fascinating story that you are riveted to hear.

    Again, all goes back to how effective PR involves great storytelling: We all complain from time to time about something our clients or organizations are doing/trying to push not being a really good story, but when you look at what NPR and others are able to do, it really makes you realize that we just need to work harder and more creatively to find a way to turn that idea into a tremendously compelling story that makes the reporters, bloggers and influencers we are trying to reach stand up and say, “YES! I absolutely want to write, tweet, blog, Buzz about that!”

    Now, that's some damn good PR!!

  • Eventually it`s all about content. Doesn`t matter if it`s your blog, your facebook page, your twitter feed, it`s all based on the content you provide.
    However, good journalism, the kind of story-telling where you suck in every word because it`s so well written (the stuff our children stories were made of), can barely be found online. Online content seems to follow different rules. How can you tell a great story with 140 characters while considering your relevant keywords?
    Thank you for reminding us what PR is really about: a good story.

  • Stories stick. IOW, people remember them. And they're easy to share. Which is huge in a social media world.

    Take a presidential debate for example. What do people always come away talking about? The stories each candidate told. Remember “Joe the Plumber?”

    This is why key messages have always made me scratch my head. Do you really want an executive or company rep spouting off memorized key messages? People do not talk in key messages. Never have, never will.

    I think the intent is usually for spokespeople to weave key messages into the stories they tell. But those dots don't always get connected, especially with execs.


  • keithtrivitt

    Hey follks – Sorry it took me so long to respond to all of these great comments. Really, thank you all SO much for taking the time to read the post and write such thoughtful and inspiring comments. Great stuff!

    Andrea – You're right: The basics of being able to tell a great story about what your client or organization is doing that is worthwhile for others to know about and become an advocate for should always remain a major part of working in PR. We are storytellers at heart.

    Marlena – The type of stories you are talking about from children's books are exactly what is lacking right now with online content. It's the kind of inspiring, gripping, incredibly passionate and enthusiastic stories that seem to have been replaced online (and in some ways, in print, as that medium struggles to keep up with and emulate its cool younger brother in digital media) by snarkiness and very short bits of information that leave little to the imagination.

    J – Stories stick is exactly right. People remember stories far more than they do facts, figures, your CEOs quote that has been rehashed about 20 times in 26 different pubs and other random bits of info. Will your brand advocates remember that “product-leading development” quote 10 years from now? Probably not. But they will most likely remember a great story that was told from a truly inspired advocate (be that a reporter, blogger, fan, etc.) that truly tells how your company went from a small player in a big market to having that one great innovation or big market moment that propelled it to stardom. THAT, people will remember!

    And you're right, too, that those types of memorable stories won't require key messages. Just great content and compelling angles that draw the reader/viewer/user in for a very long time.

  • Amen! Therein lies PRs power, basis and foundation – and our value. The ability to tell the story in many fashions, and facilitate that story to come to light in many different mediums.

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