Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Find the Story – PR Tip #18

One of the hardest jobs we have in PR is to find the story. Sometimes, the story is right there for everyone to see, other times it’s elusive. Sometimes we forget to look. We have all had times when we’re under deadline and a release has to get written and we just crank it out headline, subhead, quotes and boilerplate. But that’s not our job. Our job is to find the story.

Part of this is developing the story arc and helping readers easily navigate from beginning (the problem or trend addressed), the middle (the value proposition and how this announcement fits) and the end (how the market, customer and company benefits).  Most companies start looking for the story in the wrong place, though. They start with what they have made. Problem is, that’s like telling a story from the middle. The truth is, the story starts way before that and it starts with what the customer needs and the problem they are trying to solve. 

When looking for the story, start by finding what about the announcement appeals to you or--even better--to the person you hope will read it. Remember, people buy things (consumer goods, business technology, apps, etc.) because it has perceived value to them. It makes their life better, easier or more productive. If you can hone in on the “why this matters” to a specific person you will be way ahead of more press releases and other PR materials are written.

The story, or at least a compelling version of it, can be elusive. As mentioned above, we’ve had lots of clients that believed that the story started and stopped with the products they’ve made. They think that the world will know exactly why this technology matters and how it will change lives to their target customers. They are wrong. Often very, very wrong and then are baffled when a reporter isn’t as excited about their news as they are or the story comes out and it’s very vanilla.

We recently had a client announce a bit of new technology that was interesting from a purely technology perspective. We could have written the release and the pitch to focus solely on the technology and it would have been good. However, there was so much more that it could be and, as we peeled away the layers, we found a really interesting story about how retail stores were using the technology to help lure customers offline and back into the brick-and-mortar locations during the holiday shopping season by creating a better in-store shopping experience and helping to keep the retail store’s network secure. The technology was still a big part of the story, but now we’re focusing on the problem the customer needed to solve and how they are solving it.

Even if the story can’t be tied directly to a problem or challenge a customer faces, it can often be written to talk about how a new product or technology can change the market. It can be the first time customers can combine products to do something, or how it’s the first implementation of a new standard or even how it’s the first product to allow the market to better leverage a developing trend.  When telling a good story, a developing trend or market shift can be your best friend so take the time to understand what these trends are so you can tell a more compelling story. 

Remember, when telling a story, you can’t just say “innovative new technology will reshape the economics of blah blah blah.” You have to walk the reader through a compelling narrative that helps them understand why the story you are telling is important to them personally and professionally.  When writing your next press release, blog, contributed article or any other PR writing, you'll make it much easier for your client and the target reader to connect if you tell a good story. And if you find yourself, or your company in the wrong story, then get out of it. We've all been part of interviews that go sideways because the reporter has an agenda or your spokesperson says something they shouldn't. In this case, it's your job to try can get the story back on track or find a way out. This is my story and I’m sticking to it.  

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