Can Storytelling Differentiate a PR Agency?

Storytelling becomes the new black

Every PR agency touts its storytelling prowess.

When everyone gravitates toward the same shiny objective, it tends to lose meaning. You can start to get a feel for how this plays out through a simple Factiva (massive database of publications) search on the number of stories that contain the word “storytelling” going back 10 years.

Ten Years Storytelling

I question whether the growing usage of the word makes for a happy ending because it causes the marketplace, specifically those who buy communication services, to perceive storytelling expertise as a commodity; i.e., all PR firms do this.

Yet, I view us as one of the few PR agencies that walks the storytelling talk, evolving the theory into practical techniques that get applied to client campaigns.

But have we baked this attribute into our brand?

The honest answer is there’s work to be done.

Years ago in a Q&A on storytelling, Kathy Hanson asked me, “While your blog focuses significantly on storytelling in business, your company’s website, www.hoffman.com, does not seem to play up storytelling. Is that a fair observation and if so, is there a reason behind not emphasizing storytelling on your agency’s site?”

At the time, I responded:

  • That’s a fair statement. We’ve debated how much to emphasize our storytelling expertise on the Agency website. The challenge relates to economics. The amount of money that companies allocate to outside storytelling services is a tiny fraction of what’s earmarked for public relations services. In a world where labels often point the way, it’s important that people searching for PR services find their way to our doorstep.

OK, so I made a “slight” miscalculation, losing sight of this concept called marketing.

We’re now making a conscious effort to accentuate our storytelling expertise as a brand attribute.

If you search on “PR storytelling,” you’ll find that we show up on page 1 and usually in the top-three results (the intersection of SEO and PR).

We’ve also recently created an ad that delivers this message.

We Get Storytelling - Holmes Report

Looking to the future, we’ll be bulldozing our company website with hopes of going live with the new site in the April timeframe. We believe the new site affords the best opportunity yet to differentiate our brand, including our storytelling expertise.

It’s all part of our quest to be the cobbler’s kids who have shoes.

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5 comments

5 Comments so far

  1. Sheila Arnold November 8th, 2013 9:25 am

    Lou, just curious, how many Professional Storytellers work with your company? As a Professional Storyteller, I have to do all my own public relations, as well as keep an audience wanting more and pitching what I believe are great things for people to remember. Five to 10 years later, I have students (some now adults) who remember my message, my stories and my business. Who do you have on board at your company that does this professionally, storytelling, and where are you employing them rather than trying to “train” someone to be a storyteller? Or are you bringing in Professional Storytellers to train and retrain and stay involved with your employees? Just thoughts and I would love to hear from you, so I can share this with other Professional Storytellers, many who are a part of National Storytelling Network. Thanks for reading and responding. Peace and belief, Sheila.

  2. hoffman November 8th, 2013 10:02 am

    Hi Sheila. Thanks for taking the time to share your perspective.

    To answer you questions, I think it’s useful to say upfront that I am not a professional storyteller. I wrote a post last year that touched on this topic at http://www.ishmaelscorner.com/2012/10/15/storytelling-techniques-are-not-quite-the-same-thing-as-storytelling/.

    Instead, we’re applying storytelling techniques (anecdotes, contrast, word choice, etc.) to business communications. As far as how do we keep advancing our “storytelling” expertise, we strive to hire people, sometimes journalists, who already have this foundation in place. Plus, we have a workshop on storytelling techniques that doubles as an internal training tool. And the learning never stops.

    Here’s one quick example of how this plays out in the real world. We announced on Monday the hiring of a new managing director for our Asia Pacific operation. Most quotes in news releases are stiffer than plywood. We took a more conversational approach:

    “Given the crush of change in the communications industry, the status quo doesn’t cut it. That’s why we hired Natalie. We needed someone with the smarts and guts to build upon our APAC foundation, retooling the operation with the needs of tomorrow’s clients in mind”

    The end result is the quote actually showed up in stories.

  3. Domini cosborne November 14th, 2013 1:38 am

    After reading your post, I think that its a fresh news for everyone. Really it’s an interesting post. I am also interested in latest news. keep it up…

  4. hoffman November 18th, 2013 9:14 am

    I appreciate the positive words.

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