Telling Stories

Storytelling. Creative writing instructor and creator of the Story Seminar Robert McKee says, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.” In many of your responses to recent posts, capturing emotion by telling stories—through words or images—is a common theme. We often hear storytelling is important, that stories carry more weight and help individuals better connect to brands, organizations, and even products. So how do we approach storytelling in public relations?

Public relations is about informing the public, and yes, you’ve heard me reinforce the message of getting to the point quickly and making facts clear. That provides the foundation for learning how to write a strong news release. Now, how do we build on that knowledge to take writing for public relations to the next level? How do we tell stories on behalf of our organizations and clients? In anticipation of this week’s guest speaker who will discuss amplifying our releases and stories online, I wanted to share the following example, or “story,” if you will forgive the repetition. But first, take a moment to consider what comes to mind when you think of the Starbucks brand? What images and words do you connect with what Starbucks is about and why?

Now, read this article: “Why a Washington Post Editor Left to Work with Starbucks” Does this resonate with the existing story and brand of Starbucks? Why or why not? How does this approach to storytelling further amplify their mission and brand? Can you think of any other organizations or brands doing something similar to connect with their audience and amplify their story?



17 thoughts on “Telling Stories

  1. Storytelling is a good strategy to sell products. Most people like hearing stories because we all have curiosity. It is smart that Starbucks know how to use each small stories to let customers know more about enterprise cultures. When they know more about Starbucks, and they like the stories, they probably will buy more coffee.
    My aunt told me a story about a small coffee shop in Italy. Although the size of the coffee shop is small, it has over 100 years history, and it has a lot of customers every day. The manager would sat down to tell about the history of this coffee shop and stories about this coffee shop. For example, how it start and personal stories about the first owner. The customers were interested in the stories, then they would talk about the stories to others. There were more people come after they hear the stories.
    We should believe the power of story.


  2. I agree with Jasmine. Stories are important because they connect people. People will feel more connected to Starbucks and therefore, buy more coffee. Starbucks goes from being a huge company, to actual people through stories. People are far more likely to connect to another person and their voice/stories than a large company that seems untouchable and far away.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Story telling is probably the most personal way large scale companies can personalize their products and relate to people. A lot of PR is done through an appeal to emotions. This is how Trump is doing their campaigns is trying to “Make America Great Again” thinking about how life was before 9/11, ISIS, and other damaging events. With Starbucks talking about troops. Bringing people together is a prime way of establishing a public relations campaign.

    What comes to mind for me when I think about Starbucks is just coffee and focusing on homework. For me, as a college student, it is what draws me to Starbucks. However, there are millions of people who go to Starbucks and aren’t in school. Those are the people I believe Starbucks is trying to gear towards more.

    What connects me with Starbucks besides just doing homework is a safe and open environment to either do homework, or to meet with a friend. Being able to personalize drinks is also a huge thing for me too. I don’t like milk so they can substitute it in various ways which is awesome.

    Going back to story telling, it can make or break a company. Depending on the stories that people themselves produce, or the company. For example, for months people were talking about Subway and the child pornography charges. Subway had to come back from all the stories and media that was thrown at them so quickly. They are doing just fine with how they handled it. With Starbucks, there are so many different perspectives they can lean on, whether it be doing PR on the coffee, or what they did, taking a step and personalizing it.


  4. Jasmine and Kennedy both have the right idea here. I think it is absolutely crucial to have a “back story”, or a history behind what they are selling and why they started. Starbucks prides themselves in investing themselves in their local communities, and even to the U.S. itself. To collaborate with the storytelling of veterans is important for Starbucks. People tend to be very passionate about veteran’s aid and hearing their stories. It gives American citizens a sense of bonding.

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  5. Storytelling is essential. It is the way in which we, as consumers, are brought in. We enjoy good stories because of how curious we are. We can’t read an intriguing lead and put down the rest of the article. We want to know more. We want to know why we should care, or if we should care at all. A good story provides us with all of this information, if we’re lucky. I would have to argue that many of us aren’t a fan of too much detail, which is why we go for the “need to know” facts first. Even as we pick up a product that we’re considering, we want to know how it will benefit us.

    I agree with Tim that storytelling is the most personal way large scale companies get their products to somehow connect with its consumers. This is a good strategy. It is a strategy that is thriving and has been for some time now. If companies survive solely on its consumers, its brilliant of companies to create products that their consumers can somehow interact and connect with.

    When thinking about Starbucks, I think of coffee. When considering their brand however, I think that their objective is to sell energy. Majority of their consumers are students, or business professionals who drink coffee to fuel themselves. You see this as you walk into Starbucks. There are several people seated at their tables either working or having a conversation with another over coffee. I may not be able to speak for all students, but I find it helpful to go into Starbucks on those nights that I can’t seem to write another sentence to my paper. When I’m surrounded by other individuals who are working and have a cup of coffee beside me, it energizes me.

    Similarly, I think Walmart does a good job at storytelling. In my opinion, their brand caters to those who are looking to save money. As a consumer, I find that I shop there first because their story is “Save Money. Live better.” I am convinced by their slogan alone that in order to live better, one must save money. While this may not be true for others, it appeals to someone like me who is on a fixed income and can save a dollar or two.

    In short, storytelling is the first way to real in an audience, or group of consumers.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think very much, and look very closely at what the brands I wear or support are trying to communicate. My favorites are those that have and tell stories of true compassion and caring, and those that truly live out what they believe. I’ve seen this in brands like Apple, Coke, and Chick Fil A. A true desire to see everyone succeed and help the ones who need to be helped is a big catch in reeling in a genuine audience or consumer group. It’s my personal belief that character attracts character, be it bad or good. So if a company has that sense of self, I believe they will attract those consumers.


  7. Storytelling is incredibly important in marketing. In the book “Made to Stick” there’s a whole chapter on how adding a story to a campaign can make your audience not only remember it easier, but resonate with it on an emotional level. The example used in the book was Subway and how they used Jared’s story to sell their new low fat sandwiches. While (obviously) this campaign was ended because of the horrible things he did in his personal life, Subway’s technique of using a personal story helped to make the American public think of a fast food restaurant as healthy – Something their marketing director never thought would happen.

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  8. Great post! I didn’t know Starbucks did a lot of those things, it was an interesting read. One company that came to mind for me that’s really connecting with their audience is a drum cymbal company named Zildjian. They recently made a commercial promoting their new line of cymbals, but it didn’t feel like an advertisement. It showed these cymbals being played all the way back from the early era of jazz all the way through history to the present day. Their point was that these cymbals helped build and create an industry and era of music, and that YOU could be a part of that. It really drew you in and made you feel a part of the history of music.

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  9. When I first read this, I was dismayed. My education in PR has been great, but it has also given me a wary eye for propaganda. While it is necessary and not intrinsically evil, it’s constant use and misuse is a contributing factor of the inflated consumerist culture we live with today in the U.S.

    Lately, I have been forgetting about the bright potential of public relations, and seeing only the issues with it. I am not sure why this is, but it’s just where my head has been lately.

    As PR pros find new ways in which to sell people on things, we develop immunities, much like bacteria to antibiotics. It seems that ‘sellers’ have to ‘invade’ new aspects of the human experience constantly, in order to catch people off guard. Now, good PR for a good product/face/reason always leads to the same things (loyalty, trust, engagement, etc.) and in that sense, it is not bad. As culture, trends and technology change, healthy PR must simply adapt to these changes to cultivate the end goal.

    In today’s meme-internet culture, however, I have been seeing an increasingly exploitative approach going on. It seems that we have created a generation of thoughtless buyers, processing everything by the peripheral route, and basing decisions on emotional and shallow reasons. I suppose I’m not the first to see this, and this dark side of PR has always existed, people are simply adapting to it more quickly in the internet age.

    What Starbucks is doing is different. It obviously ends up bringing business to Starbucks stores, and seems to be instilling people with intense brand loyalty (even if they don’t like coffee), but it is also doing something real to benefit veterans. I think this is huge. I think that it is a perfect wedding of philanthropic activity and public relations. All of a sudden, people are taking to the Starbucks brand, not just because they have good coffee, but because they are good. We are no longer in a conquest economy, so we have no nobility to look up to. We have corporations and celebrities.

    As of late, these societal figureheads have started to become despotic tyrants. The ‘heartless rulers’ of our hearts and minds. With a monarchial ruler, heartless, selfish actions adversely affect the lives and culture of the people. With capitalist society, ruthless, selfish actions and corresponding PR do the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great thoughts, Grant. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I think we can all easily become jaded and question the meaning behind various tactics and propaganda. I think this currently election season contributes to these reactions. So how do we identify and acknowledge or bring awareness to those taking a different approach? Those that seek to truly make a difference? If we, as consumers of products and information, continue to hold brands and organizations to a higher level of responsibility and transparency, can they step up to the plate? And as potential future public relations professionals, how do we set the bar for “good” PR that seeks to best serve the public on behalf of brands and organizations?


      1. Hi! I just realized that you have been leaving responses to comments. 🙂 For the answer to your question, I feel that I answer it in my comment on your recent post “Called To Do More.” Happy Wednesday!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I think that the new storytelling venture is true to what Starbucks has always stood for. Starbucks has always been involved in philanthropy and makes a real effort in community outreach. Despite the fact that the new long-form storytelling approach using a renowned journalist looks like a public relations stunt, I think the mission of it all is true to everything that Starbucks stands for with respect to positively impacting society. This storytelling approach will further amplify Starbucks’ preexisting brand characteristic of involvement in relevant societal issues. The only other brand I can think of that employs storytelling is Chipotle. The company features stories from various celebrities, writers, and even children on their paper bags, but the highlight is not always a social cause.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I find that storytelling is a really great way for large scale companies to become more personal and become something that people want to become a part of. To be honest, reading the article really helped me think about how Starbucks makes resonates with the world. When I think about Starbucks, I think about how people go there to relax and other such things. I think that storytelling helps amplify the mission and the brand of the company or organization itself. However, I am not sure if there are any other organizations or brands doing something like that.

    Liked by 1 person

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