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Does PR Walk the Storytelling Talk?

Public Relations

PR professionals are quick to sing the virtues of storytelling, but their actions tell a different story.

That’s how I kicked off my talk on visual storytelling at a PR Newswire event, scrutinizing the content generated by PR with two questions:

  • Does the content deliver the “frame” that today’s journalists need to write a story?
  • Does the content resonate with the target audience when reaching out to customers/prospects directly?

If you gathered all the information developed by PR professionals (agency + in-house), I would argue that only a sliver of this information, say less than 10 percent, delivers a “yes” to one of these questions.

It really is a major disconnect, reminding me of the line by the warden in the movie “Cool Hand Luke.”

Does PR Walk the Storytelling Talk? image Cool Hand Luke

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As students of communication, we know that stiff language and bragging turn people off. We also know a compelling narrative requires more than facts and figures. Yet, we continue to crank out information that makes CSPAN look like reality TV ready for prime time.

What’s causing the disconnect?

In short, we’re writing to please the wrong audience – the people who approve the information before it moves to the outside world. The typical executive with sign-off power operates under the faulty premise that three company messages must underpin each deliverable from PR. Yet, no journalist or prospect or customer will devote precious time to “consuming” a company’s pristine messages.

That’s the rub.

And why aligning what we say with the content we generate depends on educating those who approve the content. They need to buy into the concept that storytelling trumps corporate drivel. We can’t be afraid of being thrown into solitary confinement (to return to “Cool Hand Luke” scene) to press our case.

There are lessons we can borrow from our paid-media brethren. How are they selling sponsored posts, storytelling dressed up as paid media?

The answer lies in the analytics that prove the genre works.

That’s where we need to take storytelling in PR.

In the coming months, I plan to talk with people involved in campaigns that incorporate sponsored posts. I’m sure their approaches can serve as a catalyst for fresh thinking.

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