Updated: Nov 10, 2020
Storytelling is a skill.
Everybody has a story to tell. But because every person is a complicated, multi-faceted human being, it’s always a challenge to consolidate your story into one that matters to others. Because here’s the secret about storytelling. It’s not about you. It’s about whoever you’re telling the story to. Have you ever been stuck in a conversation with someone who was droning on and on about something you had no interest in? That’s storytelling without catering to the audience. And (especially in PR) that can be even more damaging than not telling your story at all, because your audience doesn’t feel listened to.
PR is all about storytelling. I tell stories all day long on behalf of my clients. And because I used to be in broadcast journalism, I’ve been on both sides of the coin. I’ve been the storyteller and I’ve been the audience. I know what makes a good story, especially in the media. Storytelling is frankly a gift of mine, but because it’s so crucial, I wanted to give my 20 years of experience to you in today’s blog.
So, the first rule in storytelling is to make it easy for your audience. Shorter is sweeter because it’s easier to comprehend. When I was a producer, I would dream of a publicist sending me a pitch that was short and to the point, who knew exactly what my show was about and what kinds of guests I wanted on it, and who could frame it within a 4-minute segment (since that was all I had time for). If they sent a very long release or a press kit, and I consequently had to read an essay to figure out what this company did and how to fit it into my show, that company would never get booked because it was too much work for me. Keep it simple and you will go far.
So how do you pick which angle to take when telling your story? It’s simple (but not easy). Do your research on your audience. If you’re trying to pitch yourself (or your company) to a media outlet, PLEASE do your homework. Know what angle they’re looking for. My team and I always search for niche reporters when pitching our clients because they have a specific agenda. You’re not going to get very far by pitching your article to a general reporter at the New York Times—they’re inundated with hundreds of pitches per day. You’ll have better luck pitching to a niche reporter at the New York Times who has a history of writing about businesses with a sentimental origin story, just like yours.
The most important piece of advice in storytelling is know what makes you unique. The media is cynical. They typically don’t want to publish something that’s been done before. There’s a lot of noise out there, and not all of it is newsworthy (as I’m sure you know). We want a fresh take on a new story. Mekky Media is currently promoting a brand new Chicago spin studio. When pitching it to outlets, the first question is always, ”why is this spin studio different from any of the others?” That producer doesn’t need to hear the intricacies of the workout. (Keep it simple!) He wants a quick snapshot in two sentences. This particular spin studio is a next generation family story - that’s different and interesting enough to catch his attention. The media loves personal spins to stories, so own the fact that you started with $20 in your pocket or that your mom inspired your company. Find your unique differentiator and lean into it. Hard.
The final rule in storytelling that brings it all home is to make it valuable for your audience. It’s great that you’ve done your research on your audience and you’ve identified your unique differentiator, but you have to make sure that the story you choose to tell is pertinent and valuable to your audience. Whether that audience is a media outlet, a potential client, or a colleague, providing value will always set you apart. To my fellow business owners: you customize your proposals to potential clients, right? Of course you do. Not every package your company has to offer is relevant for every person. You customize your offer based on the person’s needs and abilities. The same goes for storytelling. You customize your conversation (and the story) for the person. When pitching to the media, I always think about what that outlet needs, and I create a pitch that answers how my client fills that need. This requires being thoughtful and observant. This is the foundation of emotional intelligence, and will require patience and practice if it’s not a natural skill of yours. But the good news is it is a skill you can work on.
I’ve told stories for my clients for decades, and I’ve seen the power it holds for them. Recently, I started practicing what I preach and doing it for myself too. You may have noticed my blog is a lot more active than it used to be. I have been following all of these steps when I publicly tell my own story. I’ve outlined three audience buckets—whenever I publish a piece of content, I always have one or more of these groups in mind. I keep it concise and easy to digest. (You may notice I’m a fan of listicles and bolding the important takeaways.) I know my unique value as a working mom, entrepreneur, and CEO who keeps it real with you about how hard that is. And I am thoughtful about what I post. I’m not vomiting my emotions just because I’m a person with emotions. I’m intentional about the story I tell and the content I share. The opportunities that have arisen for me, my business, and my clients because I started walking my talk have astounded me. Recently, Mekky Media used my personal story of starting the business to garner press for the company, and we achieved a lot of buzz and new opportunities. It’s a testament to the power of intentionally sharing your story.
What I am now doing for myself is what I’ve been doing for my clients for decades. I share their stories with the world because I believe storytelling is the ultimate gift. Tell your story not to tell it, but to provide value to others. That’s the secret to ultimate success.