After being chastised by the National Storytelling Network – “You, Mr. Hoffman, are no storyteller” – I’d like to start with a ground rule on nomenclature.
When it comes to business communications, I consider storytelling to be shorthand for “storytelling techniques.” In other words, PR practitioners don’t have the luxury of 200 pages or 90 minutes on the silver screen to tease out a classic story arc. But we can apply similar techniques in creating content that outperforms the programming on CSPAN.
With that housekeeping out of the way, let’s rewind the tape to 1983 when I landed my first job at a PR agency. Even writing a press release on disk drive with 20 megabytes of storage (please hold the gasp) seemed exciting at the time.
I remember my initial experience observing the senior guys conducting media training for a client. It was all about pummeling the executives into submission to stay on message. While the trainers were having fun – kind of a PR version of a torture chamber –it occurred to me that such a process might generate robotic responses.
But what did I know at 25 years of age with zero experience?
So I followed the lead of my role models and the mantra “stay on message” … for a while. I can’t give you the exact time and date I went rogue. I just remember a few years into my career coming to the realization that prospective customers – much less journalists – never uttered the words, “Wow, that’s a great message.”
Think about this for a moment. Aside from the chatter after watching a focus group, no one brags about a message.
But people do acknowledge good stories. Better yet, they talk about those stories and share them with colleagues and friends.
Stories trump messages every single time.