Storytelling Alone Won’t Advance ...


I conducted a storytelling workshop last week.

Yes, the objective for the session was to help this corporate PR team apply the concepts of storytelling in business communications.

But I’m hoping for something bigger.

I’m hoping for two interrelated actions:

  • They question the status quo.
  • They experiment in their day-to-day jobs.

The Holmes Report has devoted a fair amount of real estate to the issue of creativity in the PR profession. It published a study (in collaboration with NowGoCreate and Ketchum) on the topic last November with the punch line being that great storytelling underpins creativity in PR.

HolmesReport Creative PR Graph

As much as I evangelize storytelling, it’s not enough.

Consider how much the communications world has changed over the past 10 years thanks to globalization, the economics of publishing and the Internet, to name a few variables. You have journalists acting like PR people, tin-cupping for clicks on social media. And PR people behaving like journalists, developing owned media properties that could pass as independent publications. You can even hire a publication like Fortune that will take on that pesky task of creating content for a tidy fee.

“The rules have changed,” doesn’t quite capture it.

There are no rules.

Yet, so much of the tactical side of PR remains unchanged.

Which brings me back to questioning the status quo. Just because something has always been handled a certain way doesn’t automatically make it the best approach.

This questioning of the status quo can serve as a springboard into experimentation. Many tend to associate creativity with strategy, but I would argue the greatest opportunity for experimentation and creativity lies in the tactics.

One quick example –

When it comes to applying storytelling to media relations, journalists aren’t  looking for a narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end all underpinned with Hemingway-grade writing (“You’re not a moron. You’re only a case of arrested development.” – The Sun Also Rises).

With this mind, we’ve experimented with what we’ve come to call the “atomizing” of storytelling. By breaking up the narrative into tiny pieces, we best serve the journalist, which in turn can increase clients’ media coverage. This has proved particularly effective in thought leadership campaigns.

Our inspiration for this experiment – the information sheets from the PR departments of major league baseball teams distributed to journalists, bloggers, radio announcers and broadcasters before each game.

SF Giants Media Info

No question. It behooves PR practitioners to tackle storytelling with the intensity of a middle linebacker (to stay with a sports metaphor).

But the true foundation for creativity comes from bravery and a willingness to experiment.

It’s not easy to zig when everyone else zags.


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