Telling and Selling the PR Story

Once upon a time: a phrase that is known to all — and for good reason. We live in a world full of narratives, or stories. Our lives are stories containing reveals, plot twists, climaxes, disappointments and heroics. Public relations practitioners pride themselves on telling the story of the organization, yet they don’t always tell the story.

Groepper (left) and List (right) field questions from students at PRSSA National Conference. Their training on storytelling in PR prompts students to think of ways to better tell a story, and not just the news. (Source: Travis Mortenson)

Groepper (left) and List (right) field questions from students at PRSSA National Conference. Their training on storytelling in PR prompts students to think of ways to better tell a story, and not just the news.
(Source: Travis Mortenson)

PR practitioners can be fooled into believing that “press release” means the story of the organization is told using very straight forward, news oriented language and in the inverted pyramid style. Sometimes press releases are used even when a company doesn’t really have newsworthy information to share.

Lindsey Groepper, president of BLASTmedia, and Sabrina List, vice president of marketing and communication at 500 Festival, Inc., presented at the PRSSA National Conference on the art of storytelling and how to get past the traditional news release.

The Nitty-Gritty of Storytelling

Groepper juxtaposed getting past the traditional press release with trying to get a stranger to date you. One option is to just go up to the stranger and candidly explain every great quality you have and every reason to date you. The other is to have a friend go up to the stranger and sell him or her on your great qualities.

Having this third-party endorsement is critical because then you don’t seem so crazy or like you’re flaunting your skills. A press release is close to telling someone why your company is great. Having a media outlet pick up the press release is like giving you an outside endorsement. However, earned media only happens when your story reaches a deeper level and connects with the writer or editor reading your release.

“[Getting stories to a deeper level] makes someone feel emotional. That’s when you’ll get them to bite on the story,” Groepper said. “So if you don’t tap into an editor’s emotions, or tell him or her how we’re going to dig into the reader’s emotions, then you have a much less chance of the story getting picked up.”

As in the friend example, your friend is willing to endorse you because he or she knows you at a deeper level and has a strong connection to you. Likewise, the editor is willing to run the release because it features a human interest angle — a compelling reason to connect on a deeper level.

“Think about any major decision or minor decision you have ever made,” Groepper said. “It’s because you were emotional in some way — you were pissed, you were happy, you were excited, you were sad.”

Getting stories to connect with emotions is a two-fold process.

Find the right human angle. Groepper and List said you need to have buy in from management, and when that happens, you need to keep asking until you find stories or angles that will sell the pitch.

Perfect the pitch. Groepper and List emphasized the need to do the research and to make sure it’s timely, unique and simple. They also suggest to customize each pitch and to be creative in the subject lines of emails.

The bottom line is that reaching a deeper level in stories makes connections that engage readers because they know why to care and what it means to them. That knowledge goes a long ways into improving message retention and customer loyalty.

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