Can You Measure Storytelling ...


I attended the Communicator’s Conference in Portland last week where keynote speaker Jim Olson shared Starbucks’ commitment to storytelling in its communications.

When asked how Starbucks measures the impact of storytelling, he explained that it’s still early days.

I’d like to answer the question, but before doing so it’s useful to dust off the axiom, “Interesting trumps dull.”

The same qualities that shape our entertainment tastes – drama, failure, redemption and Breaking Bad-like bizarre – play a role in media relations. Storytelling techniques borrow from these concepts and have the potential to push a pitch into the interesting quadrant (as perceived by journalists).

Back to the question –

You can measure the storytelling lift in media relations activities.

As the Internet commoditizes news announcements, journalists increasingly look for fodder that allows them to write unique stories as opposed to those already in the public domain.

chart aligning corporate storytelling with what the media values

In addition, there’s a greater premium on fresh points of view to insert into their stories. Offering raw content – even pre-packaged executive quotes – based on the principles of storytelling allows journalists to do just that.

You can measure the spirit of this concept.

Reverse-engineer a company’s coverage over a given period of time, categorizing the stories based on the following:

  • News-driven
  • Competitor
  • Industry or trend
  • Feature or blog post on the company (not tied to news)

For old-school approaches to media relations, this type of benchmark will inevitably show that most of the media coverage comes from news. If the company is a top three player in its space, it might fall into some competitive coverage and industry/trend pieces.

But without a storytelling dimension, stand-alone pieces on the company, arguably the most valuable, will be scarce. Building out storytelling fodder will increase what we’ve come to call one-off stories as well as the company’s voice in industry pieces.

Simply breaking down your coverage by news-driven coverage vs. non-news coverage can be revealing.

Here’s another cue that storytelling in your media relations is working. Measure the amount of content emailed to journalists that finds its way into published stories. As workloads crush journalists, some will use slices of emailed content if it’s narrative grade, not corporate speak.

For example, The New York Times wrote a story on China last year that included us. The highlighted vignette was taken from an email.

The New York TImes article on selling to China - including Lou Hoffman quote

Definitely not corporate speak.

Drilling down to the next level, you can even measure what constitutes storytelling fodder. For example, we analyzed non-news stories in a mix of business publications. Anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of the content ended up being anecdotal.

Yet, the communications function (internal + outside resources) often creates content with few or no anecdotes. If the PR function were to capture its top anecdotes from 2013 and the percent of these anecdotes that appeared in the media, it would be a revealing benchmark. Because if your anecdotes are appearing in the media, deeper coverage often isn’t far behind.

Combined, these metrics offer a decent look at the impact of storytelling on your media relations effort, but they’re hardly a comprehensive list. If you have additional thoughts, by all means expand the list.



  • Michael

    Interesting blog post Lou.

    I especially like the reference to how the internet is commoditizing news. And yet its still remains a challenge to educate clients, and even internal client teams, to stay clear of boiler plate who, what, where, end-quote press releases.

    It remains a huge frustration, even though we know (and I am sure that clients know) that this is not the kind of content that people will read.

    Some of the reason for this, I think, is the way that PR has traditionally been measured (media impressions over reader engagement. But can that explain this persistence with outdated communications tactics?

    In your experience what is the tipping point for selling in a storytelling approach to clients? How do you convince them that corporate speak is not the right approach?

    • hoffman


      Great hearing your perspective.

      As for the question on the “tipping point,” that’s a tough one.

      We’ve been conducting a workshop on storytelling for roughly four years. Lately, we’ve been hearing from participants who share they “get it,” but their bosses or those with sign-off power are still stuck in the corporate-speak mud. These interactions inspired the post “Who Moved My Story” which partly answers your question. It’s a tough one and has us contemplating a methodology that cultivates a storytelling mentality across an entire organization.

      With that said, we find that making a logical (data) case for “storytelling” increasing the effectiveness of outbound communications is one way to convince the non-believers. Here, we’ll often reverse engineer feature stories from those master storytellers called journalists so the executive(s) can see the actual content types that go into a compelling narrative. You can an example of this Fast Company post.

      Good luck!

  • Can you measure storytelling in your media relations?Cloud0086 Latest Tech News | Cloud0086 Latest Tech News

    […] of the Hoffman Agency a global communications consultancy. He blogs on storytelling in business at Ishmael’s Corner, where a version of this article originally […]


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