Does PR Get Storytelling? As one way to answer the question, we randomly selected 50 news releases and applied three tests to them.
We analyzed the use of adjectives and adverbs, often a shortcut to genuine storytelling. If you say you’re great, no one believes you.
On the other hand, sharing a course of action that results in an amazing outcome leads the audience to conclude on their own that you’re “great.” Right. Show, don’t tell.
Adjectives and adverbs do have a place in business communications. You just don’t want to overdo it.
The use of anecdotes offers one of the best litmus tests for storytelling. They bring both realness and texture to the news.
With this in mind, we quantified the percent of anecdotal content in the news releases.
For context, communicators believe they’ve embraced anecdotes. When questioned, 76 percent thought that the amount of anecdotal content would come above 5 percent, and 42 percent thought that over 10 percent of their content was anecdotal.
What Percent of Your Content is Anecdotal?
Last, we isolated all of the executive quotes dropped into the news releases.
Do they sound like they come from an actual human being?
Do they bring a fresh wrinkle to the news?
Or do they come across stiff as plywood?
On average, 47 adjectives and adverbs made their way into each news release — or one adjective/adverb per 13.5 words.
That’s a lot.
As noted earlier, adjectives and adverbs are fine if they’re describing, not bragging. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the adjectives and adverbs in the news releases are boastful: i.e., “I’m great!”
Turning to anecdotes, there’s a gap between what communications perceive and reality. Only 3 percent of the news release content was anecdotal.
As for the quotes in the news releases, I’ve captured a cross section that reflects the norm.
- “We are very proud of the inauguration of our first 10 Czech stores. We are really confident that our customers will love our products and service.”
- “We are delighted to be able to offer our clients access to who we consider to be a leading clean energy infrastructure manager.”
- “We are very pleased to achieve this key milestone.”
- “I am proud to be part of organization with such a long and successful history.”
- “We are thrilled to support the new Catch marketplace.”
- “We are excited to introduce Agrian’s capabilities to the Australian market.”
- “Boeing is excited to have finished final assembly of the 887-10 Dreamline.”
- “It is a great honor to be appointed CEO for Hillebrand Group.”
- “I am proud to welcome Temasek and Arie Capital to our circle of investors.”
- “We are proud that the Aeroflot passenger experience has been awarded five star status by leading organisations.”
- “We are honored to receive this award.”
Everyone seems to be thrilled, delighted or proud. Like empty calories, these quotes have the nutritional value of soda pop.
Looking at the big picture, these tests start to reveal why news releases trigger scorn from journalists. When we asked 400+ communicators to choose up to three obstacles for creating high-quality content, here’s how they responded.
What are the Major Obstacles
to Creating High-quality Content?
(Choose up to Three)
Research is the No. 1 obstacle?
I don’t think so, with the humble news release serving as Exhibit A.
Instead, the data suggests there’s either an expertise issue, and/or internal stakeholders insist on boasting.
Either way, the outcome remains the same: dull content.