Publicity, Stories, Conversation and Chaos


Rick Murray circulated a great blog post from Seth Godwin…

The post outlines how Storytelling is the art that elevated our role from publicists to great public relations practitioners. The jist of the comment is that essentially through a story we can create a mythology and perception that has lasting resonance as opposed to a release of information that generates a headline or newsletter article or comment.

Luke’s post on the ability for video to tell stories got me thinking about what elements of storytelling shape a mental picture that endures. My thoughts were that the story should cover some of the points below (your thoughts on any additional points welcome) :

1. Narrative – beginning, middle and end
2. Resolves a mystery, paradox, moral dilemma
3. Characters/organization who go through a journey
4. Illuminates a specific setting, back drop or world view

Back in the day brand owners and advertisers in particular became very good at telling stories think of the Milk Tray Man or the packet of Pilas Phogg Snacks (remember them?) but there are many classic adds that exploited this storytelling ability. Ironically PR agencies were less effective at story telling and often defaulting to tactical release driven media relations and publicity, however, the new environment of social media presents a great opportunity for PR people to set this right.

As we know we are now in an age of conversation where the driving force of communication are comments, thoughts and ideas that are exchanged rapidly and even tweeted in only 180 characters. But this creates a challenge for communicators. How do we tell a story in this environment? The answer is not easy because listening and contributing to a conversation makes a narrative very hard. Traditional messaging does n’t work because a conversation means listening and responding real time.

The answer has to be strategic, based on analysis and insight. If we have a way of analyzing the whole conversation at a moment in time then we can build a framework for our story to engage the conversation. However, we also need a way of rapidly refining what we have to say and this is where monitoring comes in and using 2.0 tools to listen and adapt our point but within the umbrella of a story. Two things are important here: firstly influencers and this is because it more effective to listen to the influential and then a more powerful endorsement and amplifier when the influential comment on our story. Secondly the issues are key because if the story is built around a known issue that people are talking about then it will automatically start to become a part of a much bigger issues-driven narrative. The nirvana for this kind of story telling is when you become an idea starter or partner with an idea starter whether it is Dita Von Teese to tell a story about a new kind of lingerie or David Rothschild to campaign on re-using plastics if your idea starts or ignites the story then it spreads and grows exponentially.

However, the challenge does n’t end with conversation because there is also chaos. A great report from Forrester estimated that 80 percent of comment on a brand is beyond the control of the brand owner. Again in this scenario the company has to work with the influential to be understood. However, the nature of this conversation can be chaotic take for instance the spoof video circulating recently of news coverage around Sony product launch that revolved around the company being honest and to put it mildly cursing the usefulness of it’s products.

Attachment(s) available for download until 2009-04-10



This is the live rail of social media and how we tell stories in this world of chaos is a thorny issue. A part of the answer must be in authentic ideas, conversations and humility in story telling as the video shows anything too slick or messaged is resented and parodied. But it takes a lot of strength to remain gracious in the face of this kind of onslaught. Unless of course this was itself an attempt at authenticity.


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