The Power of Storytelling and the Decline of the Mainstream Media

Last Updated Apr 11, 2008 5:08 PM EDT

I've now had a chance to reflect on the Bulldog Reporter 2008 Media Relations Summit held earlier this week, and I wanted to share a couple of thoughts.

First off, a shout-out to all the terrific folks I met at the conference and to anyone discovering this blog because of my relentless promotion of it during the conference. I hope you find lots of interesting, entertaining and actionable PR news and information and come back regularly to check what's up.

The first deep thought I wanted to share was about the power of storytelling. Time and again during the conference, the need for becoming better and more agile storytellers came up as the essential tool for PR professionals.

What does this mean? Aren't we already telling stories? Well, yes and no. We all try to frame our pitches and releases as stories, but too often they a) aren't told in a digestible storytelling format and b) don't contain enough of the human interest elements of a real story to make them compelling.

Storytelling is an art, not a science, so there's isn't one right way to do it. But here are some tips to get you thinking about creating better stories:

  • The element of time: stories need a beginning, middle and end, and that usually involves the element of time.
  • Challenges overcome: we all want to know how each other is faring in the world, so good stories include trials and tribulations. Victory laps aren't nearly as interesting.
  • Detail, detail, detail: this can be a double-edged sword, because often we issue news chock-full of detail, but it's the wrong kind. Product specs, for instance, aren't interesting details that tell a story. Details that support storytelling elements such as risks taken (how much money is at stake) and people involved (team members, not spokespeople or top execs) are examples of interesting details
  • Novelty: good stories tell us something we didn't already know or thought we knew. So again, your new product may be a big deal to you, but new products are released everyday. Dig a little deeper to find something truly novel about your product (how or why it was developed, risks taken, challenges overcome) and I guarantee you'll get more coverage and interest.
Case in point: as I think I've made clear, I'm not interested in covering routine PR industry news about new clients or new hires. But you could take those exact same nuggets of information and tell me a story about how you won the client or why the new hire's skill set is an example of changes in the PR industry, and now I'm interested. I'd be happy to cover it here in the Catching Flack blog.

The cool thing about focusing on storytelling is that it is platform-neutral, meaning you can tell stories in any setting, whether it's print media, podcasts, speeches or anything in between.

That leads me to the other big observation coming out of the conference, which was the palpable decline in interest in PR's relationship to the mainstream media. The media panels that have long been the highlight and the big draw of this conference drew far fewer attendees than in the past. Meanwhile, the track of sessions around new media and social media drew packed rooms.

You have to figure that if PR people aren't interested in what mainstream journalists have to say, that interest in their point of view in general is on the wane. Of course, the mainstream media is still hugely influential, but you couldn't miss this reaction by a random group of PR people as sign of the times.

  • Jon Greer

    Jon Greer has been analyzing media and PR for more than 25 years. He's been a journalist and a PR executive, and has been a featured speaker for many years at the Bulldog Reporter Media Relations Summit, and served as Bulldog's Editorial Director for their PR University series of weekly how-to audio conferences.

    Jon provides PR services including media relations and freelance writing to clients including start-ups, law firms, corporations, investment banks and venture capital firms. In addition, Jon provides spokesperson training. Learn more about Jon's training programs at The Media Bridge.