It is without question that writing skills, social media expertise, and experience in public speaking are absolute musts for an individual to succeed in the field of public relations. However, there is another component that is just as important for public relations professionals: the art of storytelling.
Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to communicate and can be defined as “an interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination.”
The art of storytelling is present every day in commercials, PSAs, and presentations. This is because studies have shown that effective storytelling will actually affect a listener or reader’s brain—it activates more areas of the brain than purely factual content. Also, as an audience listens to or reads a story, they will put themselves in the protagonist’s shoes, and areas of the brain will light up as if they are experiencing the story themselves.
In other words, storytelling is important to public relations strategies because it allows companies to better connect with their audience and ultimately stimulate the audience’s feelings, ideas, and attitudes to align with their marketing goals.
How does one become an effective storyteller? Novelist Tony Spencer-Smith states the following about storytelling: “Stories need conflict, drama, setbacks. They need a protagonist who learns from the experience. And they need to be written in a clear, conversational style that makes it easy for the reader to be drawn into the narrative.”
Storytelling can’t be mastered overnight. It takes practice…but it is worth it as there is nothing more powerful than making your content and news relatable to your audience.
Let’s think about it: if you were shopping for a backpack, would you buy from a company that constantly tells you the number of bags they’ve sold in the past five years or would you buy from a brand that shows how your investment in its products helps those displaced by bandits? Most of us would go with the second option. But, why is this the case? Why is it that we prefer hearing a brand’s story to being hit by statistics? The reason is: stories deliver information effectively, and we often imagine ourselves in the narrative and relate to the content more than a hard sell.
So, what role does storytelling play in PR?
1. Drawing your audience into your brand narrative makes your news and content relatable.
2. Influencing changes in thought and behavior is a powerful way to convince and convert.
3. Getting the attention of your audience cuts through the noise and gets your message heard.
4. Helping communicate technical concepts makes content exciting and easily digestible.
5. Building your brand voice creates a positive perception–you can’t copy a great story.
Public relation’s core goal is to build mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its core audiences. Effective storytelling adds value to this process by enabling brands to communicate in a language of which their many viewers can relate. Remembering to evoke positive associations of your brand with your audience is the key to ultimate success.
In an industry often obsessed with the press release, here are my five lessons to introduce you to storytelling:
1. The story is your currency – not the tool you will use.
PR people often get fixated on how they should use the tools at their disposal. It’s natural to rush past the difficult fuzzy thing to the sharp edges of something specific. They ask will it be Facebook? Or maybe a Tweet or a snap? This is all immaterial if your story isn’t good enough. The first question you need to ask yourself is: “Is this a strong story?” You should have someone with good judgement who will tell you straight.
2. How is your story changing the world?
Great stories change the world. They create new opportunities, new technologies, new jobs. They save lives and create things that weren’t there before. Remember the change doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be a change, an improvement, something that will make the world better. So always ask yourself: “How is my story making the world better?”
3. Who is the hero of your story?
Every story needs a hero. It can be your product, your company or your CEO. If you know who the hero is then writing the story will be easier. For many years, Steve Jobs was the hero in the Apple story, not it’s the product. Richard Branson is the hero in Virgin’s story.
4. A well-structured story will carry mediocre content
All great stories have a structure. It’s in 3 acts, beginning, middle and end. Girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl reunites with boy. We watch all sorts of poor television and movies. Why? Because they are structured in a way that keeps us wanting a little more. Structure your story in three acts, learn the structure and you will improve your story.
5. It doesn’t always have to be a press release
There are many different ways to tell a story. It can be a blog post, a booklet, or a newsletter. It can be a podcast, short video, social media post, or animation. It can be a book or a photograph. The bottom line is that it doesn’t always, or even often have to be a press release. For instance, all our contents from Above Media are telling stories. We had redesigned our Entertainment Programme, ‘Entertainment Plus’ just this style and our news-oriented and current affairs programme, ‘Mandate’. Open your imagination and commission a story in a different format. Experiment and connect with your audience in a different way.
Here’s what I learned. If we want people to pay attention to our work, we need to tell more stories, and we need to tell them better. When you tell good stories, you help audiences bond with your brand.”
The human brain is hardwired to love stories. Stories convince and move people far better than statistics. Stories are the universal communications technique from myths to Facebook posts.
How to create first-class stories for business and non-profits
Understand what a story is. Stories are not product pitches or lists. Stories are narratives about something that happened to someone, stresses business storytelling expert Paul Smith, author of Sell with a Story, in Fast Company. Stories have a time, a place, a main character, and tell something interesting that happened.
Consider video. When we think of storytelling, we usually think of words. But videos may tell stories even better. Even a short video without a single spoken word can be powerful.
Make the stakes high enough. There’s an old Hollywood nostrum that, if a scene is dragging, you introduce a gun. That immediately raises the stakes, because someone could get killed. How can you make your story about life and death? To be effective, a story must be emotionally involving.
Tell your own story. Telling a story about someone else’s experience lowers the value of the story. Telling someone else’s story isn’t as powerful as telling your own.
Speak the truth. The truth is more effective than fiction. If people later learn that something isn’t true, you’ll lose credibility and authority.
Teach a lesson. What is your point? If you tell a story and your listeners wonder ‘what was the point?’ then you’ve lost a lot of credibility, Krasnow says. You’ve also lost the opportunity to drive home your message. Let your listeners know how you or your organization changed because of the experience. What did you learn?
Include data. Data-driven storytelling adds credibility, improves chances for media placements and reveals insights. It’s essential to use the right combination of data and storytelling. Data can overwhelm an audience (especially in video), and the data itself seldom is the story. Some data-based writers recommend focusing on one or two key statistics and one key chart or graph.
Solicit employee stories. Company employees likely have plenty of stories about company products and services. The challenge is to uncover those employee stories. Introducing yourself to different groups during lunch and explaining your quest can uncover marvelous product stories.
In one way or another, we’re all storytellers and willing consumers of stories. Don’t throw data and numbers in front of your target audience. Use your innate desire to tell stories and their desire for them to take your audience on an experience.
If you don’t, someone else will grab the attention of your audience.
•Yusuf, a pastor based in Lagos, is the lead consultant, Above Media