Are You Telling Stories in Your PR Campaigns? You Should Be.
Abigail Darlington • May 17, 2023
I recently finished reading the novel “Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver, which tells the coming-of-age story of a boy growing up in rural Appalachia at the height of the opioid epidemic. In one interview with the author, she explained the importance of creating a likable main character who, in narrating his own story, walks readers through societal challenges of addiction and structural poverty that they might not otherwise confront.
“It took me several years to find a way into the story that would really get people to look, rather than look away. It’s hard. I had to find a voice and a story that would really give my readers a reason to turn every page,” she said.
Public relations pros should employ the same idea when crafting strategies for their campaigns.
At its core, storytelling is about creating a memorable and engaging narrative that captures the attention of an audience. This is particularly important in PR, where the goal is to communicate a message or brand story to a specific audience. By telling a story that connects with audience values, beliefs, and experiences, you build a deeper emotional connection with them. When done well, storytelling in your campaign can reframe a brand’s reputation, humanize a taboo issue, or demystify a complex topic.
To be effective, a PR story needs to be authentic, engaging, and relevant to the target audience. There are several key elements that go into crafting that story:
Every good story needs relatable and memorable characters. In PR, the characters may be real people, such as the founders or employees of a company, or they may be fictional, representing the target audience or customer base.
McDonald’s “We Hire People” campaign in 2022 is a good example of using real people from varying backgrounds, ages, and interests to convey the company’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion as an employer.
A good story needs conflict, whether it’s a problem to be solved, a challenge to be overcome, or an obstacle to be faced. In PR, this conflict might be a challenge that the company or brand is working to address, such as a social issue or a business challenge.
The key for brands or public figures using a story campaign to change a negative narrative is to address the conflict in an authentic way – not shy away or downplay it, which can often make matters worse. A recent survey found that 86% of consumers say authenticity is important when choosing which products to buy or support.
This element is crucial in today’s climate when consumers place so much importance on a brand’s alignment with their values and interests. Your story should tap into the latest issues that people are already talking about to win fans and followers. A great example is Dove’s campaigns in recent years that have discouraged unrealistic beauty standards, like #TheSelfieTalk campaign. But if nothing else, make sure to check your blind spots before going to market with outdated messaging that could be deemed problematic. The old adage that “any press is good press” doesn’t hold up anymore – bad attention can quickly go viral and become incredibly destructive to your brand.
Lastly, your story should evoke genuine emotion in the audience, whether it’s laughter, sadness, or empathy. Have you ever noticed how particularly tear-prone people will joke that they cry at Hallmark commercials, but rarely say the same about a generic greeting card commercial? This illustrates how effective storytelling can create a powerful emotional connection with a brand.
So the next time you’re storyboarding your next PR campaign, ask yourself: Are we being effective storytellers?
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