19 Feb The Secret to PR? Practice Telling Stories
From cautionary fairy tales, to the sagas of the Viking skalds, to Scheherezade, a legendary royal heroine who saved a kingdom from a mad king by reciting 1001 Nights, stories (and their tellers) have always occupied an important role in society. A good story can ground us, teach us and even save us.
But what makes a good story? What catches our attention and keeps us glued to the page?
In PR, our days are spent crafting and telling companies’ stories—whether for a B2B company reinventing the technological underpinnings of society, or a consumer goods company with an important social mission. Listening to these innovators and translating their vision for multiple audiences is, more than anything else, a function of storytelling. As with any good myth or legend, we must understand the company’s origin story, mission, conflicts, solutions and heroes and then develop a narrative that’s true, transparent and engaging. In short: you can’t do PR unless you can tell a story. And that means you’ve got to embrace writing.
I firmly believe that becoming a better writer makes you a better storyteller in all aspects of life. Once you learn how to structure a short story or poem for impact—understanding what’s necessary versus unnecessary, what’s repetitive and what simply can’t be cut, what makes a piece flow or feel disjointed—you can do the same for a company article or an executive byline.
Outside of PR, my passion is writing fiction, and I love to take classes from local community and adult education centers and organizations like Boston’s Grub Street to hone my craft. These classes pay dividends for inspiration in creative writing, and they teach deep lessons that also apply to the professional writing crucial for PR storytelling. Whether you’re writing a novel or a case study, your ultimate goal is to capture a reader’s attention and keep them engaged, sentence after sentence.
With every story my creative writing classmates share, I learn something new and become accustomed to asking questions to get to the heart of good writing: What is the narrative structure? How does the dialogue flow? What’s the perspective, and what does the reader know (or not know)? The beauty of writing is that you’re never “done”—you’re always learning something new, or unlocking some novel (ha!) perspective or skill. These structural questions are key to creating a seamless narrative that doesn’t jolt the reader out of suspending disbelief.
PR might hinge on the ability to write, but here’s the good news: to tell stories is to be human. It’s fundamental to who we are. So practice telling tall tales and true myths, practice shocking endings and scintillating beginnings, practice writing and then practice it some more. Push the limits of your skills and take that night class or map out the pilot episode for a TV show you’ve always wanted to see. Try writing your client’s company narrative as a short story, or bring a little poetry to that contributed article. Whatever you do, just write.