Particularly in Silicon Valley where most executives started their careers on the engineering side. Coming from a technical orientation, they tend to think of anecdotes as inconsequential and yes, a bit fluffy.
Yet, the science suggests that PR should be sourcing anecdotal content as part of media outreach.
We leaned on a couple interns to analyze three months’ worth of tech stories in The Economist. The idea was to capture the different types of content that went into the stories. It turned out that 17% of the articles were anecdotal.
After breaking down stories in the business media over the years, we consistently find that the anecdotal content ranges from 15% to 25%.
Furthermore, journalists often kick off their stories with a killer anecdote like this one in a recent Wall Street Journal feature that took a contrarian approach to the news that Jony Ive was departing Apple.
As the deadline loomed for the 10th anniversary iPhone, Apple’s op software designers gathered in the penthouse of an exclusive San Francisco club called The Battery.
They had been summoned some 50 miles from the company’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters to demonstrate planned features of the product to Jony Ive, Apple’s design chief, who seldom came to the office anymore from his San Francisco home.
For nearly three hours on that afternoon in January 2017, the group of about 20 designers stood around waiting for Mr. Ive to show, according to people familiar with the episode. After he arrived and listened to the presentations, he left without ruling on their key questions, leaving attendees frustrated.
“Many of us were thinking: How did it come to this?” said a person at the meeting. There was a sense “Jony was gone but reluctant to hand over the reins.”
While other stories on the Ive announcement were singing Kumbaya and proclaiming a smooth transition — symbolized by Apple signing up as Jony’s first customer for his new design agency — the Journal story took the angle that all was not well with Apple design.
But rather than shout “turmoil,” the anecdote shows the reader the underlying turmoil.
Why does this anecdote ring true?
Look at the details, where the meeting was held (the penthouse of a club called The Battery) and when the meeting was held (afternoon in January 2017). Look at the words at the quote. Collectively, the anecdote brings a certain realness to the story. By the time readers move to the guts of the feature, they’re preconditioned for the premise.
Of course, Apple’s public relations department did not serve up this anecdote to the Journal reporter. He dug it out on his own.
The point is, PR should also be digging for anecdotes with a similar level of detail to support pitches to journalists. By aligning the content of the pitch with how journalists write, we increase the probability of success.
It turns out that anecdotes aren’t so fluffy after all.