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Every PR agency with a pulse touts its storytelling chops. You half expect carnival barkers shouting, “Step into our tent, and we’ll show you how to tap the magic powers of storytelling to connect with the outside world, eat canapes at Davos and pal around with Anderson Cooper.”

Yet, the vast majority of content developed by the PR function continues to be dull, sometimes dreadfully dull. Put the premise of storytelling to the side for a moment. At a time when people have the attention span of a gnat and increasingly consume information on mobile phones, simply creating content that’s better than a dull is a win.

But the techniques of storytelling elude PR.

Take the storytelling technique, contrast, explaining the different between “what was” and what is.”
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what was and what is graphic

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The bigger the gulf between these two points, the greater the drama. But communications often scoffs at such context because they don’t want to address the “what was” — what they perceive as a negative event.

As a second example, consider how little effort goes into humanizing the leaders of a company.

I’ve always loved story tip No. 6 from Kurt Vonnegut:

“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

I recognize that “awful” is a potent adjective. As a general rule of thumb, senior executives do not like recounting the awful things that happened to them, sometimes by their own doing. Still, to share events or decisions that didn’t go according to plan and how the executive steered things back on course — with the requisite pain — generates a net positive gain with dramatic effect.

I’ll be speaking on this very topic at the Mumbrella360 Asia conference in Singapore in November.

Here’s the description of the talk.
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Global PR expert and brand safety guru Mumbrella360 Asia

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PR Claims to Get Storytelling. I Don’t Think So.

As digital increasingly dominates our world, PR rejoices. Social media. Corporate blogging. Online discovery. Thought leadership. Sponsored posts. All depend on content. We’re the content guys (and gals). We’re the ones who supposedly communicate with substance, not clever slogans. PR more than any other Marcom discipline should be in the perfect position to capitalize.

Not so fast.

We say we get storytelling, but the output suggests otherwise. Too much “me, me, and here’s a little more on me.” Too many news releases crafted to suit the egos of internal stakeholders and not aligned with how journalists write stories. Consider one element that lifts any narrative, the anecdote. If someone were to audit the PR-generated content across the world, what percent of that content would fall under the anecdotal umbrella? If you said 3 percent, I applaud your optimism.

This session will explore the state of storytelling in PR, the opportunity in front of us and how the professional needs to change lest the spoils go — heaven forbid — to our advertising brethren and the like.

I’m looking forward to the soapbox (and not just because I’m five foot four on a good day).

If you’re in the neighborhood stop by.


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  • Daily PR Brief - Mon 08/07/17 - ITK Blog

    […] 2017) 5 Reasons Why You Need an Internal PR Newsletter (Meltwater Blog – August 6, 2017) Do PR People Get Storytelling? (Ishmael’s Corner – The Hoffman Agency – August … Why execution eats strategy for breakfast (Communications Conversations – August 7, 2017) […]

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