Sunday, March 27, 2011

Soul Food: The Art of Storytelling

People want to feel personally connected to a brand and one of the most rewarding ways to build relationships with them is still through the art of storytelling. As much as I love social media, it is still just another vehicle for your message. It's the quality of your content that counts.

It may seem warm and gooey at times but telling the tale of those influencing or influenced by your brand humanizes you immensely. Storytelling is the soul food of public relations efforts when it comes to your target publics, brand and you the practitioner.

Telling these stories is an exceptional win-win-win situation because:

  1. It not only helps to strengthen the connection with your current audience, but it can also help create new, meaningful relationships you didn’t already have with potential audiences.

  2. Sometimes those narratives feature an individual (or more) that makes an incredible impact in the efforts of our brand who now gets to have her/his story immortalized.

  3. Getting to scribe those stories gives you, the author and practitioner, a deeper sense of personal accomplishment that most analytics can't “measure” up to. In fact, you'll see better analytics as a result of strong storytelling.

Every two months my organization publishes a national magazine known as Quill for which I write a membership profile column. With each story I write I have a chance to help our members and other journalists learn more about people like them who have invested themselves in SPJ and have made unique contributions to the profession.

In the latest member profile, I was able to highlight an incredible individual, Hank Klibanoff, whose efforts continue to shed great light on the struggles of the civil rights era. Upon reading the article, Hank wrote to me in an email saying “I caught up with the article you wrote about me for The Quill, and am impressed by it. You did a wonderful job, and you got it right. Thank you.”

As Charles Schulz might would have said, Happiness is a warm thank you letter. By the way, you should keep those letters and printed emails from the people who have told you how much your efforts mean to them. Put them in a scrapbook. On a rainy day, they’re worth so much more than a plaque on your office wall.

Another great way you can build relationships with your publics is by telling the story of how your brand relates to them on a cultural scale like PR colleague Melissa Bennett did. Last December I stumbled upon a guest post Melissa wrote for Peas for Prosperity titled “Peas on Earth - The Origin of the South's Famous Black-eyed Peas.” The post described the deep history behind the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day in Southern U.S culture. Guess what? I grew up in the South and have eaten black-eyed peas for New Year's since before I can remember. This well written back story just gained a new audience member interested in Peas for Prosperity.

To really dive into the craft and learn how to be a better storyteller for your brand, I highly suggest reading Ishmael’s Corner by PR consultant Lou Hoffman. Ishmael’s Corner is a blog devoted to giving great analysis, additional methods and insights into the art of storytelling from a business perspective.

Here are my 10 favorite reads from the Ishmael archives:

  1. Revisiting the All-important Anecdote

  2. Communications Versus Behavior During a Crisis

  3. Visual Storytelling via the InfoGraphic

  4. Top Five Elements That Have Shaped Quest for Creativity

  5. 10 Ways Communicators Must Evolve

  6. The Quickest Way to a Dull Story: Jargon

  7. Blast Magazine’s Media Kit Tells A Story

  8. Every Story Benefits From A Hero (Or Two Or Three): Business Storytelling

  9. Hard to Beat the Classic Immigrant-Makes-Good Story

  10. Storytelling in a News Release: Are You Fit for a Phone?

What amazing stories have your brand told lately?


Lou Hoffman said...


I appreciate your positive words.

The storytelling movement seems to have a higher profile these days.

With that said, I still see a gap between the content produced by PR and what the target audience (whether direct or through third-party media) wants to read.

Andrew M. Scott said...

Thanks Lou,

I agree. Hopefully as social media continues to rise, the need for more "talking with" engagement rather than "talked at" announcements from PR pros will help lend itself to more creative storytelling.

voxpopPRcareers said...

I also think storytelling is part of content marketing. Adding stories creates a sheen of credibility around your company or brand.

I think small businesses that work in competitive environments such as baked goods understand this well. Anyone who starts a cupcake business for example needs *stories* to convince a customer to buy their cupcakes over someone else's.

Andrew M. Scott said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Voxpop. On a side note, I'm now hungry for cupcakes! = P

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