Digital Content Gives PR ...


Digital content now claims victory in the ring

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.


  • Rick Christ


    What you say about pleasing “the wrong audience” is so true. I’ve sometimes referred to clients as “the copy emasculation committee” because some of them are uncomfortable with creating discomfort — contrast — with their audience.

    You’re also right that we can measure so much more now. So we need to measure the right numbers and consistently try to tie them to profits.

    Good story!

    • hoffman

      Good hearing from you brother.

      Given your predilection for doing the right thing over pleasing others as far back as college, I’m guessing you handle these people like a worn-down speed bump.

  • mike fomil

    I’ve been producing news for more than 25 years and have no idea how you can disucss consumers and journalists in the same breath. Are you saying you can produce something for journalist’s consumption, or for their regurgitation? Forbes, for instance, whores out their pages to “contributors” and the like. Is this what you mean? Or are you saying that news producers will take what you do and call it our own? We wont, unless we suck.

    When it comes to video, Sellers’ advice is nebulous at best.

    Here’s some simpler advice: make your opening shot interesting, don’t discount the power of audio, and keep it short.

    • hoffman

      Your 25 years of producing news trumps my experience in video.

      Appreciate the straight-forward guidance:

      1) Killer opening shot

      2) Audio matters

      3) Less is more


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