Thanks to the Internet and the fact that virtually everyone conducts some form of online due diligence before making a purchase, the value of storytelling stands at an all-time high.
I think this point gets lost among many jumping on the storytelling bandwagon.
With content serving as the basis for online search, storytelling has gone from a “nice to have” to a differentiator and even a game changer. Beyond the sheer revenue opportunity, the ability to measure digital content also gives PR a way to declare victory for a given campaign, a far cry from the leap-of-faith dot-connecting that ties media coverage to business objectives.
Out of all of the communication disciplines, PR has always been the one steeped in content. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. In this world, long-form storytelling outperforms a clever tag line. It’s our time as long as we deliver on the promise of storytelling.
To borrow from Shakespeare, “Aye, there’s the rub.”
While PR talks a good game, the profession is still in the early days of coming up the storytelling curve.
Here’s what I mean, looking at two questions that cut to the core of the matter:
- Does the content deliver the “frame” that today’s journalists need to write a story?
- Does the content resonate with the target audience when reaching out to customers/prospects directly?
If you gathered all of the content generated by the PR function this year, I suspect not even 10 percent of the deliverables would earn a “yes” to one of these questions.
Too often, we’re still writing to please the wrong audience – the people who approve the information before it moves to the outside world. Many of these client contacts still judge the worthiness of content based on key messages. Yet, in today’s world, no journalist or prospect or customer is going to devote precious time to consuming a company’s pristine messages.
With that said, it’s equally true that PR needs to evolve its expertise in what constitutes storytelling in business communications.
It’s not easy.
Patricia Sellers, the journalist at Fortune who started the “Most Powerful Women in Business” franchise, discussed storytelling in an interview with the Stanford Business School earlier in the year.
She closes with the comment, “If failure isn’t part of the story, I’m not that interested.”
Given that companies hire PR firms to position them in a successful public light – and in some cases to spackle over failures – this would seem to make PR-driven communications the opposite of storytelling.
But here’s a different interpretation. It’s actually the contrast that underpins storytelling and resonates with people. In contrasting companies, people, products or even statistics, the greater the gap between the reference points, the greater the drama. That’s why Ms. Sellers loves failure. Few contrasting points generate more of a gap and ultimately drama than the difference between failure and success (life and death?).
In the spirit of simplifying, the differences between “what was” and “what is” can bring out storytelling fodder with the requisite texture, anecdotes, etc.
The point is, PR can still create storytelling that causes the target audience to stop without tapping the heartache of failure. And the digital dimension means we can measure the work at much greater depth than “gross impressions.”
I just can’t guarantee it will win Ms. Sellers over.2 comments
If Gordon Gekko were a PR pro, he would have said, “Change is good.”
And would relish today’s world where companies of all shapes and sizes jar the status quo on a daily basis.
Forget change. Industries are being blown up right before our eyes.
More than just driving demand for PR, this dynamic is redefining PR. As a result, there’s never been a better time to pursue a career in the profession.
That’s the backdrop for the Council of PR Firms to hold an event called “Take Flight in PR” open to all students in Northern California.
The more college students who understand the mix of creativity, intellect and problem-solving that goes into a PR career, the greater the pool of talent for the profession.
But like the old Rolling Stone Magazine campaign, there’s a gap between perception and reality.
Illustrating this point, I asked some of our professionals who are early in their careers to share how their work in PR today compares with their perceptions leading into and through college.
I also asked our illustrious panel to create some type of visual that depicted each of them. As you’ll see in the video below, they decided to poke a little fun at the profession.
Back to their perceptions of PR before and after college, I stressed unfiltered viewpoints. There would be no second drafts.
Each person has his or her own unique story.
And each story in some way brings out the aforementioned gap between perception and reality.
That’s what the Council of PR Firms wants to change through the “Take Flight in PR” series.
If you know a student who might be interested, please point him or her to this post and the event information.
Look forward to seeing you on November 5.5 comments
We are huge fans of the ProfNet service from PR Newswire. By sending daily alerts on media stories in motion, ProfNet eliminates much of the guesswork in pitching a client source to a journalist.
Two variables go a long way toward determining whether your ProfNet effort produces a thought leadership win.
The first can be characterized in one word –
The ability to respond with greyhound-like quickness takes on even more importance when the target happens to be a mainstream media property like the Associated Press:
I’m sure a good 20 or so pitches peppered the journalist within the first hour of the ProfNet landing on subscribers’ doorsteps. By the second hour, 50+ pitches likely crushed her inbox.
Keep in mind that Mendoza is on the hunt for third-party sources that will work with her story – not necessarily the best sources. Once she’s secured enough sources to complete her story, she stops reading.
To twist a Woody line, 50 percent of ProfNet success is simply being first in line (or close to it).
As for the other 50 percent, call it “compelling relevance.”
It’s not enough to just be relevant. Your pitch needs to lead the journalist to conclude that your spokesperson knows the topic, can offer fresh takes from an industry perspective and talks like a human being. If he/she can also offer a privileged window into the topic, all the better.
Mendoza’s AP story on cyberattacks hit the wire last Tuesday (June 4).
I’ve captured the names of the third parties who ended up offering commentary in the story:
- Paul Rosenzweig, former Department of Homeland Security and now with Red Branch Consulting
- Eric Schmidt from Google
- Richard Bejtlich from Mandiant
- Marc Maiffret from BeyondTrust
- Tim Junio from Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation
- James Barnett, former chief of public safety and homeland security for the FCC
The perspectives from Schmidt and Barnett came from previous stories, but there’s logic in assuming the other four sources came from the ProfNet inquiry.
The attribution for each of the four shows how credentials played into “compelling relevance.”
And I’ll bet that each of the four pitches got out the door within the 60-minute window discussed earlier.
We need a phrase that describes what’s between real time and an hour.
Any takers?No comments
Rem Rieder from American Journalism Review penned a viewpoint in USA Today last week that criticized President Obama for cutting down access to journalists.
The supporting proof points highlighted by Rieder:
- Short Q&A sessions have always served as a forum for the President to weigh in on timely issues. George W. Bush, who wasn’t exactly hitting the karaoke bars with journalists, had 354 of these sessions during his first term compared to President Obama at 107.
- President Obama “held fewer press conferences in his first term than his three immediate predecessors.”
- The President tends to dodge journalists with the chops to challenge him, preferring to “do business” with gentler TV media.
The punch line arrives at the mid-way point:
The Obama administration is deep-freezing the news media because it can. It’s nothing new for administrations to try to control the narrative. But Obama is the first president to serve in the Age of Twitter. With extensive use of its Whitehouse.gov website and its fluency on social media, the administration can get its message out on its own terms, bypassing the middlemen and women.
Is this a bad thing?
A few years ago I moderated a panel at the Stanford Innovation Journalism Conference with a mix of journalists, suits, techies and students in attendance. The overriding theme from the audience during the Q&A: If the information meets a need – informs, teaches, entertains, etc. – people don’t care about the source.
Is it possible that people view the White House communications as a counter balance to journalism? Now there’s a thought that must go down like cod liver oil with the Fourth Estate.
If the public shared Mr. Rieder’s outrage, they would express their displeasure through the very same digital channels leveraged by the White House. That’s not happening, which in turn empowers Team Obama to keep pushing the boundaries of owned and social media starting with WhiteHouse.gov.
Spend five minutes on the site and you find a blending of news, viewpoints and humanity, the latter often accentuated by visual storytelling. And the White House is on every social platform with a pulse, building out assets like interactive infographics that augment the President’s State of the Union addresses.
It comes back to the White House delivering information that people find useful; otherwise, it would go ignored. People won’t read drivel (you can quote me on this). No doubt, the White House with its army of analytic quants hired out of Google and the like know precisely who’s clicking on what.
And here’s a final sobering thought for Mr. Rieder. The White House is in the early days of honing its owned media game.
It’s only a matter of time before we read that the White House has poached a brainiac out of BuzzFeed.
Will the White House eventually push things too far?
And the public will call them on it with journalists piling on (likely in that order).No comments
In a time of gnat-like attention spans, few publications still practice long-form journalism.
Fortune is one exception, and Patricia Sellers is one exceptional storyteller.
If you recognize the name, it’s likely because Sellers took Fortune’s annual feature, “The Most Powerful Women in Business,” and transformed it into franchise with its own brand cachet.
The Stanford Business School recently interviewed Sellers starting with the question: Why is storytelling important for entrepreneurs?
Not exactly an alert-the-media moment as she highlights social media as the means for startups to tell their stories without depending on journalists.
But what she considers “the best stories” is worth highlighting. While she doesn’t call it a story arc, that’s what she lays out. Using her words, we’ve drawn it out below:
She closes with this punch line:
“If failure isn’t part of the story, I’m not that interested.”
Think about this for a moment.
If the story doesn’t show struggle, things going wrong and ultimately failure taking hold, she won’t pursue the story.
Because these elements generate the drama.
You can watch the interview with Sellers below1 comment