From Words to Stories

A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way. – Flannery O’Connor

In public relations, we discuss the power of words: every piece of writing for PR has a purpose, is part of a broader strategy intended to achieve a goal. Even so, some people are quick to dismiss the impact of a well-written news release or carefully worded Tweet. Yet spend just a little time online and you can prove these assumptions wrong. (This NPR story on cities pitching to Amazon to house their second headquarters, for example.)

Now that we are halfway through the semester in our Writing for Public Relations course, I hope you see more clearly the strategy and intent behind writing multiple pitches and releases. Why I challenge you to focus on improving the power of your words and centering on the primary goal of each piece. Why structure and organization matter.

But understanding the format and purpose is only the beginning. This week we will dive into how you can elevate your creativity within writing for public relations; how each piece is part of a larger story you are telling on behalf of a brand or organization. And I’m not using the term “story” lightly here.

Why do you think “story” is a word often used in marketing and public relations? Why are brands focusing on storytelling through content in all its various forms? I’m not just referring to video storytelling. Take a look at the cities pitching to Amazon example again. How are they using their stories to woo Amazon? What stories—from brands, organizations, nonprofits, individuals—are capturing your attention today and why? Share some of your thoughts below in preparation for our discussion on this topic on Wednesday!

 

27 thoughts on “From Words to Stories

  1. I think in this day and age, story is what is going to capture the attention of audiences that are so bombarded by advertisements, media, and distractions. All these brands are vying for the public’s attention—and why should they care? More often than not, brands are impersonal and transaction-based. When a brand tells a story, and tells it well, it humanizes the brand, and gives content that consumers can care about. People want to buy into a story, just as much as companies want Amazon to buy into their story.

    What captured my attention recently was a campaign by Carl’s Junior reaching out to Amazon. The story they told was intentionally breaking rules and professionalism told by most brands. Through a 74 page PDF, they share their brand identity and reach out to Amazon in a way that captivates consumers.

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    1. Yes, you capture it well. Stories help humanize brands. I love what Carl’s Junior has been doing to set itself apart, especially with its pitch to Amazon. Do you think we’re going to see more of this—brands publicly wooing other brands?

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  2. Storytelling is crucial in today’s society. Any company or business can try to sell something, but what truly grabs the attention of a buyer is the story behind the product or company. It is a way to connect with the consumer, but at the same time, provides all of the necessary information. The brands that go beyond transaction based and reach a relationship with the consumer, are the ones who will be most successful. The ones that live out their beliefs mean what they say, and the way they talk about their company shows the consumer the compassion that weaves throughout their story.

    One brand that has continuously been on my mind is Airbnb. I have traveled out of the country by myself, and was very nervous about staying in other peoples homes that I did not know. Instead of Airbnb telling their story, they have customers tell their story. The customer is actually the brand of the company, letting them tell their story for other people to hear. Their stories answer the questions potential stayers have, which essentially tells the story of Airbnb as well.

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    1. Great example, Mallory! We want to relate to brands, and letting their customers share and be part of the brand story can create stronger connections, as you pointed out with Airbnb.

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    2. As soon as I read this bit about storytelling, I also thought of Airbnb. One of the keys of great storytelling is engaged consumers quickly finding themselves in your story. For Airbnb, the story is the customers and hosts. Although I have not personally used their services, their business model is fascinating. I believe they have been successful in realizing how intimidating it may be to stay in the home of a stranger. In realizing the common fear of possible consumers, they actively work to share the stories of hosts and clients to demonstrate they are just regular, friendly people. Through videos and blogs of hosts, one is more inclined to be put at ease to see the faces of the homeowners rather than simply pictures of the houses. Their social media accounts are an extension of their storytelling by constantly sharing various stories and connecting with their clients.

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  3. Story-telling is a popular way of spreading awareness or advertisements that capture one’s attention. It is a popular way of advertising today because a customer finds something or someone they can relate to in the story. Customers want to buy a story. They want to be inspired.

    An advertisement I watched recently that was aired in Japan is called “The Family Way, Seem”. (http://alturl.com/dqdz3)
    Seem is a device you buy on Amazon Japan, that connects to your phone. It tests semen to see if has abnormalities. It spoke to me because living in Japan, sex is not something you openly talk about in families. Because men do not think it is necessary to test themselves, this gives them the ability to do it in privacy.

    The commercial starts out with different families and their experience with Seem. Then goes into statistics of the device and how effective it is and can be to many.

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    1. You bring up a great point in how stories can help us engage with topics that may be challenging to talk about, yet need awareness. It can help make issues more relatable, or open a door to start conversations.

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  4. I think “story’ is used in marketing and PR because it is a better way to reach to your audience and to make them feel personally connected. Just by how things are today, people want to feel connected to something or they want you to make them feel connected to something, so that is way brands are focusing on storytelling. The audience is going to pay more attention to something that connects with them then something that’s not relevant to their lives. It is also a way for the company to make their brand appear more sincere to their audience and this builds trust/ loyalty to the brand.

    I happened upon this Nike Equality Campaign and I think it was well done. It spoke to the public that equality has no boundaries. Since I am a XC and track runner (and our gear is Nike) it spoke to me and made me proud to wear a company that supports everyone. Their is so much diversity on my team and we are all in it together. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43QTjFCPLtI

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  5. I think that story telling is so vital because it really is the way that people learn. Story telling is one of the oldest traditions in the world, every culture across the world has story telling. And there has to be a reason why this is universal. PR companies are starting to realize this, they are realizing the power behind a good story.

    One of my favorite examples of this is the Pepsi campaign with “uncle drew”. In this campaign NBA star Kyrie Irving dresses up as an old school basketball player and challenges younger players to games, obviously surprising them with his skill. This campaign had nothing to do with Pepsi, they would have product placement throughout the short films, but that was it. They understand the power of a good story, and the results have been great for them.

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    1. I think the word story is used because a story can create a lasting impression. A story done right, with emotional bids, can tug on heart strings or light a fire under someone to initiate action with the brand they are exposed to. I think that stories have the ability to create a lasting impression on people and are the closest thing we have until actually doing something ourselves. I think brands focus on storytelling through various forms because it is memorable. Brands want to be remembered long after the storytelling ends. That’s why the cities were doing random or outrageous things in order to not only stand out, but be remembered when it is time for Amazon to pick a second headquarters location.

      Nordstrom always captures my attention because their stories are old, but somehow they are retold over and over again because they have that memorable factor. They have harnessed a consistency with the stories told, which I think makes them really unique.

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  6. I like the new push to tell stories in advertisement. I was just watching a medicine add this weekend and I realized how far that category of add has come. A few years ago, all medicine commercials would zoom into areas of the body and show the medicine helping those areas. Now they have really adopted a new idea, and that is that people want to be taken along with a story. So now, all medicine commercials feature family, a\nd people going out to hang out with their grandkids and kids. I would say they want to the buyer to see how good life could be if they take this medicine, and then we slowly just rearrange and keep learning.

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  7. Storytelling is an age-old pastime to convey meaning. I think the advertising business has been doing it for a while but now everyone is doing it. Like Luke said, medicine companies are no longer using that old zoom-in technique, they tell stories of pain and overcoming pain.

    The Amazon bids are good examples of towns using storytelling to accomplish a goal, but I think the “American Made” story needs to be revamped. Yes, it will always have meaning, but I think we are seeing a shift in popular opinion where people realize there is more to it. Malcom Gladwell teaches about the intricacies of success. It takes opportunity and timing as well.

    I think a good use of storytelling was Demi Lovato’s documentary, Simply Complicated. The documentary was sponsored by Ulta and they used her story to showcase their products. AdWeek wrote an article about YouTube’s evolution and includes Demi and Ulta in that.

    http://www.adweek.com/digital/the-next-step-of-youtubes-original-content-evolution-involves-traditional-film-studios/

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    1. I like your comment about timing. Stories must hit at the right moment and (most of the time) have relevant tie-ins to what’s going on. And like you pointed out with “American made,” sometimes the message is still relevant, but we need to revisit how we express that message and story.

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  8. Stories are catching the attention of the world because they provide a mutually beneficial relationship between the reader and the storyteller. The storyteller is able to share and promote their values while the reader gains information in an impactful way. A well told story moves. It stirs inside the reader and compels action. It is not only a one way conversation, but gives the avenue for response and then starts a chain reaction for what to do next. The stories I appreciate are the ones that give me to opportunity to think and be challenged to something greater. One older example is the Amazon commercial with the different priest friends. It tells a story and then creates conversation with just s small snippet of what the brand does, but the story shows a greater value and message.

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  9. I love the idea of selling a story, not a product! I know that as a consumer myself I tend to lean towards a brand that I trust. I think that the most effective way to earn someone’s trust in terms of business is by making them feel something. Essentially, emotions are what make story telling so successful.

    A brand that I think tells an amazing story is Toms. If you are not familiar with Toms their mission statement is that “Through your purchases, TOMS helps provide shoes, sight, water, safe birth and
    bullying prevention services to people in need. Learn more about what we give.” This paints the picture of the buyer helping people and the story of the brand being an honest, trustworthy and innovative competitor to the average shoe store. Their story is different and at the end of the day, every brand is trying to stand out.

    http://www.toms.com/improving-lives

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  10. I have always said that at the end of the day, PR and Communication is about people. Storytelling is how we connect with one another, and build relationships and find common ground. Nothing beats a story that can touch someone. So if PR professionals are meant to connect with an audience so they can identify with and trust in your brand, there is simply no better way to do this than through storytelling.

    I think a lot of brands know this, and have done a pretty incredible job. One brand that always stands out to me when thinking about this is Nike. Nike doesn’t stick to one story or narrative, but hundreds of them. From professional athletes, to college athletes, to high school, to kids, to the every day winner, to the fitness beginner, to men, to women. Nike has a great way of connecting everyone with stories of inspiration, persistence, sports, and play. Which is why Nike is a leading brand for active wear and sports.

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    1. That’s something I like about Nike as well. And yet though they focus on a lot of stories and individuals, they all anchor back on Nike’s core message, which ties everything together and maintains brand consistency.

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  11. I find it fascinating to hear how different cities across the U.S. are uniquley pitching their city as a whole in hopes of Amazon picking them for their second headquarters location. As a Seattleite, I know Amazon personally as a brand that identifies deeply with the metropolitan, techy, Seattle-culture. I am interested to see which city Amazon will decide upon and which pitch technique will have made the biggest impact on Amazon’s decision.

    I am intrigued by the continuous creativity being portrayed by marketing minds in our media driven society today. When I think about stories that have stuck with me in the media, I find myself enamored by the visual story being told through videography to express a brand.

    Free People is my favorite brand that I follow and they attracted me through the relationship you develop simply by following the brand and becoming apart of the community and story. They have developed their community of followers through the media content they put out like blog posts, personal fashion tips, developing different style categories for their shoppers, and through my personal favorite story telling technique, their short films. The short films they release tell a story that connects their audience to the brand, rather than just the clothing they sell. Their short films often portray free spirited girls who aim towards lives of adventure and love, all while wearing Free People’s latest clothing line. These stories directly connect with their target audience, which is women in their 20’s-30’s.

    https://www.youtube.com/user/freepeople/videos

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  12. Story telling is such a viable part of capturing an audiences attention. By telling a brand story, your connecting and creating a common ground for your audience to relate on. There is something so special about transparency in a brand that allows people to relate.

    One of my favorite brands, as Mallory said earlier, is Air BnB. Though I have never used Air BnB, one of my favorite things to do is look through their website. Weird, I know. But, there is something so sweet about the ability to go on vacation and be able to stay in one home – a home that may not be yours always, but a place that can be a temporary home to hold sweet memories.

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