Understanding storytelling in PR

By Jillian Mikolaizyk / February 24, 2023 / , ,

There many ideas to consider when using public relations (PR) to showcase your brand or company’s services and products. We have talked before about the various tools available to business owners who seek help with PR, as well as explained the nature of PR itself.

In this blog, we’re going to focus on a key aspect of any good PR or marketing effort: storytelling.

It’s a word we use all the time at Logos Communications. In fact, our approach for our clients is focused on telling their stories in compelling ways, using words, images, and design.

Storytelling, especially good storytelling, is essential when talking about what you do. In PR, it’s a powerful tool in effectively sharing information and “humanizing” a brand. It builds authenticity, encourages trust, and develops a compelling way to get and stay noticed.

Storytelling goes beyond just facts and figures, turning the message into a fresh way of reaching clients or stakeholders in your organization and community.

So what is at the heart of PR storytelling?

Learn the basics

Generally, PR is focused on the simple formula of who, what, when, where, why and how. With storytelling, the focus shifts a bit, although it still uses these critical elements. Some people talk about things like “plot”  or “purpose,” and others in the PR industry talk about “place” and being “personal.”

If you noticed, one of the key words here is “personal.”

Making things personal should be at the heart of your storytelling effort. This means not only making it personal for the reader, but also the media. That means being honest and authentic, as well as staying simple.

Another way to look at storytelling is as a tool to connect with someone. Readers like it when they can connect things to their own lives and relate to what you might be trying to explain.

Remember that PR is not just a system of press releases to the media, but includes many platforms to share your brand. It is after all “public” relations. So when you are writing, put the reader’s perspective front and center to find and develop connections.

For example, we all have experienced challenges and hardships during the last several years, especially due to the pandemic. Everyone can relate a story or experience they had. If your PR, say about the launch of a new service, talks about how it will impact, help or transform people or places during tough challenges, it can make a deep connection.

Writing for and about people can also build the storytelling approach. People relate to other people more than inanimate ideas or products. We love to say you should make a new product about yourself and others.

Just consider automobiles. Besides mobility, car companies often seek to connect with the idea that the car you own is a reflection of who you are, your status, your ideals and how you view the world. PR for cars is often about the story of drivers who love their vehicles, who almost consider them extensions of who they are and their family.

Why do you think drug commercials are all about people versus telling you the chemical nuances of how it will help? Every one of those commercials, those marketing PRs, focus on people being better able to enjoy their lives or do the things they want by using the products.

It may be harder for small business owners to build that idea, but there are ways. For example, besides what you do, your company is really a reflection of the people who work for you and what they do for clients. Build around their stories, if you can.

Like everyone else, your staff struggled through the pandemic hardships. Sharing how your new service or product might alleviate some challenge in people’s lives, or how it has helped your company focus on people’s needs, can be compelling, far more than just a wordy explanation of what the service is.

In fact, the “why” of what your new service or product can often directly speak to people more than what it is. In other words, what you offer is something more than an idea, you are finding ways to help people or even fulfill a need. Again, think of the drug company commercials you see all the time.

Focus on place, purpose and plot

These three Ps are essential.

A plot tells the arc of the story, what’s happening, to whom and when and where. Purpose goes directly to the idea that your PR is showing clients and media that you think bigger than just the bottom line, that you are engaged in community concerns, that you have values you want to share and that you care about more than just your company.

Like plot, place is simple to understand – frame the storytelling around where things are happening, in your company shop, your community or even your industry. Don’t forget that what you are sharing can be impactful, not just for your clients but those other higher level connections – the community and the industry you are a part of.

Having said all that, it is important to stay focused.

The attention span of readers, of media editors or social media influencers is very short. Everyone is bombarded by information all of the time, and cutting through the chaff to find the kernels of a good story takes effort and time. Often both of these things – effort and time – are a challenge. So get to the point, be clear, keep your reader (or audience) in mind and do not try to say too much.

We can’t tell you how many times clients what to put way too much information into a press release or media alert. The idea is to connect quickly by telling your story in a easy to follow way. There will be time to share more information through press kits, expanded information on a website or through a blog that takes the basics and develops them in detail.

However, storytelling by its nature requires a thoughtful, sometimes slow unfolding. You can manage this in a number of ways.

We would suggest you start by laying out all of the information first, then zeroing in on the “lead,” what’s most important. Next, develop ideas on how to personalize the story and condense the plot. Consider the significance of it, the novelty even and how it relates to the people you are communicating with.

It can be a daunting, but your effort will make it more effortless for your audience or that media editor who might find your message worth pursuing.

There is so much more that could be said about this topic, but we’ll leave you with a short story. When our company was founded in 2000, our president used a physical rolodex to keep and maintain contacts. In that rolodex were business cards of hundreds and hundreds of people. This was long before LinkedIn or Facebook, digital address books, and when business networking groups were just starting to gain traction and cell phones were taking off.

Her task was to be personal, to connect with those she had already kind of connected with – by the giving and sharing of business cards. Now 23 years into her story, the changes she has seen have turned the rolodex into a dinosaur. But as a constant reminder of where she has been, she keeps the rolodex in her office. More importantly, she shares her story on how it all began 23 years ago.