For many of us in public relations, storytelling is a way of life. I started out young, dictating stories about random heroines to a patient mother. She helped me create homemade books that are at least amusing, but certainly not ground-breaking in any literary sense. While I never felt called to become a novelist, I certainly always felt the need to tell stories. As a journalist and later as a public relations specialist, this has always been a helpful passion.
But even those of us who think we know how to spin a good yarn could benefit from listening to an expert speak on the topic. This is especially true when the success of a media relations pitch often depends heavily on how well you lay out the potential story to an editor or reporter.
Recently, the American Marketing Association of Richmond hosted a speaker who shared her advice on “strategic storytelling”, which led to several insights and reminders that are helpful in pitching, presentations and maybe even explaining to your boss why you did such a good job this year.
Kindra Hall, a professional speak and “strategic storytelling advisor”, gave us insights into why—even as professional storytellers ourselves—we often miss the mark. Here are three takeaways from her talk, with points on how they relate to your next media pitch:
- Facts without stories are boring. Hall shared anecdotes on using a story to complete a high school paper on gravity, and shared that she felt like filling up pages with a story was cheating at the time. She later realized that she was using a relatable event (a ride on her favorite roller coaster) to help the reader understand a complex topic (such as gravity).
It’s easy for us to forget about the importance of storytelling when we try to cram every relevant piece of information into a pitch. Remember that at the end of the day, you are convincing someone to write a story about the topic or company you are pitching. That story has to be interesting enough for a wide range of readers to pick up a magazine, newspaper or tune into a TV show. It has to have a relatable, human element.
- The story you are focused on may not be the right one. Hall shared the story of a client who wanted to make a video about her company and product—but wasn’t telling a compelling story to make the brand stand out. Hall was able to convince this client that using a difficult story of personal tragedy that inspired the client to start her own business was actually the best route. It worked—and made media and customers alike became interested in learning more.
Sometimes, it’s not the grand opening, product launch or seasonal expert news tip that resonates with reporters. It might be the CEO’s personality, a single customer’s devotion or an expected use for a product that piques their interest. When you are thinking about your next pitch, think about all the lives touched by your brands, and which of those stories stand out.
- Tie that story back to the brand! Telling a compelling story is great, and as we all know it’s no easy task. But if you can’t connect that story back to your brand, and explain to customers (or in some cases, media) why it matters, you’re not helping the bottom line. As Hall explained in a blog post, you need to ask yourself a few questions before using a story. Ask what your goal is, what you want your story to do, what its purpose is and what you want your audience to think, feel, know or do before you continue.
When it comes to media relations, I want my audience (usually editors) to think I’m sharing relevant information for their readers. Our team recently faced this challenge when we needed to convince top-tier women’s magazine editors to write about Bridgestone tires. We knew it wasn’t a topic they frequently covered, but we also knew we had a good story. We told them about a woman who saves money at the pump with Ecopia tires, or a mom who doesn’t sweat when her teen gets a flat because of DriveGuard tires. Eventually, editors listened.
So next time you are cranking out a media pitch, take a moment to think about the story. Put aside your messaging and buzzwords and really ask yourself what would make you interested in a story about the product you’re promoting. What would make you stop to pick up the magazine, tune into the TV news broadcast or flip on the radio? Then put that story to paper, and grab some results.