Archive for December, 2013

Companies and Storytelling: What Could Go Wrong?

art figures

Considering all the recent talk in PR and business circles about organizational storytelling—including our own contributions to the buzz, “Organizational Storytelling and PR”—got me to wondering: What could possibly go wrong?

What, indeed!

Then I happened upon the article, “Companies Telling Stories.” The red flag raised in “Companies Telling Stories” is that companies may use storytelling to create myths and legends, rather than show the unvarnished truth. I came to realize that my subtle thoughts were very real concerns.

As we’ve indicated, we’re proponents of organizational storytelling to help establish brands, disseminate information, and provide a clear differentiation or explanation on issues; however, our endorsement of the time-honored tradition of storytelling for PR clearly presumes that the same standards of ethics, mutuality and transparency that are the hallmark of public relations practice will apply in business storytelling. Short of that, you’ve just got companies spinning yarns to obfuscate, misinform, or worse yet, deceive.

Once upon a time

To become more than just a passing fad or the hyped trend of the moment, to be truly useful and effective, storytelling must become embedded within the culture of the organization. Moreover, the kinds of stories that build and advance a company’s narrative may not be those that can be readily farmed out; rather, they must be sustained, truly characteristic of the values and activities of the organization, and open to scrutiny and reflection. While many authors may contribute to storytelling process, it’s the guided, ethical overall public relations strategy that makes business storytelling most effective.

So, like others in the industry, while we’re enamored with the storytelling process, we recognize that its true value in PR comes from the strong ethical framework that shapes all content into something useable, truthful and relevant to an audience. As well-known digital strategist and entrepreneur Ann Handley says in a recent post: The best content isn’t storytelling. The best content is telling a true story well.

Storytellers2

We’ll be writing more about companies and storytelling, good and bad, in upcoming posts.  Also, please check out our post examining other aspects of business storytelling at:

http://storify.com/PRDoctorChicago/companies-and-storytelling

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Teaching Public Relations in a Digital World

Public Relations

As a PR professional, I recently had occasion to step back into a role I occupied almost two decades ago: that of PR teacher. Of course, I’ve taught numerous media courses since then—writing, social media marketing, speech, media studies– but none of them specifically public relations. It’s interesting because in the ’90s I actually led the public relations sequence for a California university. Nevertheless, even though I’m active in public relations every day, I hadn’t really had occasion to think about how I’d teach it today in light of all the changes in the digital and social world that have impacted the industry.

Given that opportunity after being invited by a school for a visit, I came to realize the new way I would teach public relations today. Here’s what I decided: I’d teach PR similar to how I teach social media marketing,college teacher with emphasis on content, strategy, marketing, storytelling, plus visual storytelling, and with an understanding of cross-platform integration through Web, digital, social and mobile. With that, I’d underscore these points:

  • Content, means good writing, even great writing … finding your own voice and how it connects w/ others.
  • Competent execution: You don’t have to be great, but you have to be good … you have to understand the fundamentals, and then some. Hopefully, you can always team with other specialists to make execution great.
  • Attitude for collaboration: Understand that expertise is increasingly part of a shared experience. Knowing how to work in groups and teams is a fundamental. Politico CEO Jim VandeHei said it best when he shared his internal memo on Politico’s culture:

“People who thrive here are highly talented, self-motivated doers who are brimming with passion and a desire to win. …

There is no tolerance for office drama and problem ducking. Litigate differences in person, bluntly but respectfully. If a problem arises, confront it directly and don’t waste the time and energy griping about it with others. And then move on.”

 I’d also add: Be familiar with the new “tools of the trade.” For public relations, this is no longer the caricature of an individual practitioner with simply a phone, a competent media list, and a news release or a news pitch. Today it might mean creating a Storify, Flipboard, Paperli or infographic. It’s also about understanding digital, social, and mobile platforms, how they operate, intersect, and how they can work best together in a marketing context. What does Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., offer a brand? How can they be effectively used to create and advance a product or organizational narrative? PR and marketing today is about the synergies you can create across platforms. It’s formally called “channel agnosticism—using paid, earned, owned and social to, as described by Jennifer Risi of Ogilvy Public Relations, “tell a cohesive story that resonates with discerning consumers.”

What’s your idea of the best methods and practices for teaching public relations in a digital world? Let us know.


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