The ability to craft compelling stories from any subject matter is what sets apart the expert PR professionals from the novices.
Whether it is a byline on the lifesaving impact a technology has on a remote community, or what some may consider as mundane as a new software product release, good PR professionals understand the value of storytelling. Every client has an amazing story to tell, and it’s up to us to find it and bring it out. And if we can identify the audience that will resonate with that message and the outlet that’s going to reach them (be it traditional, social, or digital), then as PR agencies, we have the obligation to make that happen.
PR pros should consider the following aspects of storytelling to bring their client’s news to life.
- Don’t bury the lead: Some may associate this mantra just with press releases or pitches, but this can apply to all forms of writing. What is the hook you are trying to communicate? What answers the question, “so what”? You need to quickly engage the reader with the unique story you’re about to tell. Consumers of today’s digitally connected, 24-hour news cycle world don’t have the patience to read through an entire story trying to figure what it’s all about. If not in the title, then you must include the lead at the beginning of your article, blog, or release.
- More than words: 65% percent of people are visual learners. Traditional, digital, and social media are all converging, and designers are getting very good at catching people’s attention while still incorporating fundamental design aspects. PR needs to take advantage of these trends and add visuals as a key ingredient to tell the story.
- Structure: Good storytelling needs a framework that will walk the reader from beginning to end, introduction to conclusion. A story that rambles on without clear direction will quickly lose the interest of the reader. A good rule of thumb is to begin with an outline to structure the general story you want to tell. From there you can begin to fill in the pertinent details and then finally add your style and voice to weave it all together.
- Style: It seems obvious, but PR professionals must make sure their writing is error free. That means proper grammar, sentence structure, and spelling. Even the best writers make mistakes, so be sure you get at least one extra pair of eyes to help proof. In crafting your writing, there is sometimes a tendency to go AP-style overboard, sacrificing the style and the voice that would best tell your story. You need to find the balance of well-written prose that also engages the reader.
- Just the facts? No: PR professionals are not product salespersons. Talking about a client’s solution or service is not sufficient and adds little value; we have to be able to tell a story that connects with the audience on a human level. The best PR professionals can do this naturally. They can find the human impact in a press release about a new technology or identify a compelling business trend story in a customer announcement. PR professionals must of course be fact-driven, but also creative and bold.
- Emotion! The most compelling stories should capture the imagination, generate excitement, and illicit emotion from the audience. The stories you are mostly likely to remember are ones that make you relate personally and experience strong (positive or negative) emotions. Weaving in emotion can be a tricky balancing act between sensationalism and insensitivity. But if done correctly, this can leave a lasting impact on the reader.
- Target to audience: One way that PR professionals differ from other types of storytellers is that they have greater independence to craft their story in a way that is more palatable to their audience. Book authors or script writers are often at the mercy of their publishing house or movie studio to pick up their work before it is distributed the public. But as PR professionals, we have an opportunity to identity new outlets and audiences, and tailor our work in a way that is relevant and interesting to them. So once you’ve identified the audience you want to reach, find the top media outlets, blogs, or channels that they care about. Then, shape your message in a way that’s relevant to them. You will have more success placing your stories that way, and your audience will find what you’re saying to be more interesting.
The manner in which people get their news will continue to change as technology evolves and behaviors shift. But what will remain is the powerful effect that storytelling can have on an audience to ignore their distractions and pay attention to what you’re saying.
What’s a great example of PR storytelling that you’ve recently seen? Leave a comment below, or tweet us at @RHStrategic with the hashtag #RHetoricBlog.
RH Strategic is the PR firm for a hyper-connected world, delivering integrated media, social & digital strategies for technology, healthcare, and public sector markets.