PR is Storytelling

For thousands of years, a myriad of cultures have passed on their most important traditions through storytelling. Whether they did this through the written word or by oral tradition, important historical information was passed on from generation to generation.

Storytelling continues to play a huge role in how we both learn as children and how we conduct business as adults. When potential clients of iMedia Public Relations ask me if we’ve handled a program in their industry I’m always honest. If we have not had experience I explain that a public relation’s pro is a storyteller and that as long as we understand their goals and objectives, we could find the right media to tell their story to.

The other night I had the privilege of participating in a “Meet the Communications Pros” event at Rider University.  I was the public relations professional that played host to a group of students around a table. All of them were either committed to or considering a career in public relations.  To get things started I briefly outlined my career and the positions I’ve held. However, instead of taking them on a step-by-step run through of the past 25 years, I told them a few stories to get the conversation going.

The stories I told focused on creative platforms I had developed during my career.  In explaining how a publicist had to always search for a story, I relayed the story of finding a Gatorade-drinking racehorse. While an assistant publicity director of Yonkers Raceway in 1986 I decided to write a story for the track program on a trotter named Manfred Hanover, who had shipped in from Ohio and set a track record. Looking at his program lines from his previous year, which did not show much success, I figured I’d ask his trainer just what had turned the horse around. During my phone conversation I asked the trainer if they had changed his rigging or feed. It turns out they did. Due to an electrolyte problem they had begun giving him two-to-four quarts of Gatorade. Bingo! A story, one that would result in national publicity in Sports Illustrated and USA Today among others.

Another story taken from my days at Yonkers Raceway, centered on creating the “Oink-Off of Champions” during the Westchester County Fair.   The previous year we introduced the Robinson Racing Pigs to the metropolitan area at the Fair. These racing pigs wound up drawing television coverage from every local affiliate in the area, as well as the CBS Morning Show. Knowing this would not be a novelty the next year, I created the “Oink Off” which invited every radio station in the tri-state area to enter their bumper stickers which would be placed on the pigs creating an NCAA championship-type competition.   We wound up having a pig interviewed on Don Imus’ old show on WNBC Radio in New York and having numerous others discuss the results on air.  The final race was covered live by a two Westchester radio stations.

In telling these stories, not only was I relaying positive experiences from my career, but I was using them to engage the students and explain how public relations, is not something to learn by rote but through experience.

I was very pleased when a couple of the students came up to me afterwards and said my talk had convinced them a public relations career is indeed the right choice for them.

Every public relations campaign revolves around telling stories.  The publicists that shape their client’s message into interesting and compelling storylines are the ones that have the greatest success in placing these stories with the proper media outlets.  Stories not framed properly like a bad book, will not find any buyers.

How can storytelling work effectively for your business?  Here are a few ways.

–          Use a story to give a prospective client or customer a glimpse into your personal background but make it relevant. No one wants to hear your life or career story but if you can relate a particular story where what you experienced and accomplished professionally was similar in nature to the challenge facing that potential audience, your story can resonate and possibly sway the business in your direction.

–          Showcase success stories where you implemented a creative approach or campaign that received acclaim and was well-received.  Tell your “Oink-Off Story.”

–          Share anecdotal information that can captivate your group, audience or presentation.  This makes your conversation real.  You are no longer a boring power point presentation.

–          Use appropriate humor in your storytelling but don’t make it a distraction.

 Tom Cosentino

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