Telling interesting stories forms the core of public relations and is among the most valued skills of PR professionals. Better than any other communications technique, stories help listeners and viewers understand, remember and connect with an organization’s message. “In theater, we have a script, a director, actors, audience members, and location,” says Jo Trizila, CEO of TrizCom Public Relations. “In public relations, we have the story, the client, people who make up the story, audience members, and location.”
These four techniques can elevate PR storytelling to a new level.
Conflict and Change
Storytellers often recommend following a traditional plot with middle and end. Marketing consultant Heidi Cohen recommends the PAR structure that stands for:
- Problem: the core conflict that the hero must tackle.
- Action: the smaller steps that the hero takes to resolve the conflict.
- Result: the end accomplishment.
The structure clearly sets up the conflict and underscores the need for a change in your hero, says Cohen. Incorporate your brand’s five key attributes into the brand storytelling to maximize your marketing impact:
- Brand voice: the language the brand uses.
- Tone: emotions the brand portrays.
- Perspective: a formal third person, a less formal first person or a second person point of view.
- Language: Words do your readers and images the words evoke.
- Personality: How words and sentence construction convey your brand’s personality.
Cohen offers 30 ideas for storytelling. PR and marketing personnel can craft stories about their companies, products, employees and customers. “Don’t feel locked into a linear plot line. Instead, tap into interactive and multi-channel options to enhance your brand approach,” she advises. “The key to brand storytelling is to set your brand apart by infusing your story with brand elements that hook your reader into consuming it.”
Anchoring, the technique of linking your message to something the audience previously experienced or already knows, prompts people to remember your story, says Jessica Dubin, product manager at Magoosh. People more easily remember your point if they hear something that reminds them of a sensory experience they’ve experienced or other memory they have.
“It sticks with us because it has an existing anchor in our brain,” Dubin explains. “The more anchors a piece of information has, the more likely it is to be remembered.”
Pop-culture and current events can help your audience remember and understand otherwise dry data. Dubin once placed lyrics from Adele’s song “Hello” in a business presentation slide.
“Hello, can you hear me?
I’m in California ….
Hello from the other side
I must have called a thousand times…”
She had made more than 250 phone calls to high school students and their parents for a survey. In addition, the song was extremely popular at the time, making it especially appropriate.
In another presentation, a slide mimicked a Star Wars “crawl,” the yellow text that provides background information at the beginning of Star Wars movies. The slide explained her team’s hard work to meet its goals under an approaching deadline. “While our efforts may not have been on the same level as epic space battles, it certainly felt like it,” she said.
Anchoring calls for more than posting a funny gif. Dubin recommends:
- Evoke emotion and empathy.
- Strip out unnecessary details.
- Be relatable.
- Use characters.
- Have coherence between past, present and future.
“Even one anecdote can transform drab copy into something that resonates with the reader,” notes Lou Hoffman, CEO of the Hoffman Agency.
Hoffman recalls how a public affairs rep working for the Navy struggled to pitch a story about a Navy squadron who had rescued a family of five lost in the Pacific Ocean for seven days.
When he posted the story on Facebook, someone asked what kind of signal mirror the family had used to alert the Navy crew. After investigating, the PR rep learned that the signal mirror was the bottom of a soda can. Thanks to the anecdote, a local television station ran the story with the headline: “Local Navy Pilots Save Family Stranded at Sea with Help of a Cola Can.”
USA Today eventually published the story, again featuring the anecdote.
Show Your Humanity
Showing your humanity can raise storytelling to another level. But most business executives hide their humanity, often intentionally. Reveal something personal about yourself. Lines such as “That reminds me …” or “Let me share a quick story …” can serve as transitions.
Politicians typically know how to reveal their humanity. President Obama offers a prime example. For examples in the business world, consider Warren Buffett. Most business leaders, who lack Buffett’s fame, must find how to link personal experiences to their brands.
Trying to conjure up a personal story with a tie to “greater density in a solid state storage device” is likely to be a futile exercise,” Hoffman says. “Instead, it’s about finding an experience with common ground between the personal and the technical.”
In addition, look to your customers for potential ways to find humanity in a story. Customers – and employees – are often a rich resource of stories that can reflect positively on the brand.
Bottom Line: Storytelling is a one of the most valuable tools in public relations and marketing. Content creators who can craft compelling stories win attention and drive home their organization’s key messages. These recommendations provide a roadmap to create stories that educate audiences and keep them captivated.
This post was first published on May 18, 2017, and updated on Aug. 11, 2020.
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William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.