Public Relations – Communicating with Stories

Ask anybody. What’s better, listening to a tech nerd go on about the specs of his or her new computer, or listening to the excitement from a new user about how beautiful the display is and how fast it loads the content they want? My guess is anybody would much rather hear the excited and dramatic flare of the new user over the stat-rat.

Comics, Kevin Bolk
Comics, Kevin Bolk

By comparison, it’s the difference between someone telling you about the geometric stability of a cardboard box and the synthetic material used to wrap it, rather than the gift it contains.

What does this have to do with public relations? If the goal is to deliver a message, you’ve got to make sure the message is something interesting to the audience you’re trying to reach. Maybe some statistics here and there to support the story, but they aren’t necessary. In fact, most stories – “The fish was THIS big” – are better with a few exaggerations. Remeber to stay within ethical boundaries of course. No lying. And if you’re making a joke or being sarcastic, be sure to make it clear that is what you are doing. Otherwise, you’ll be trying to explain it in the ‘comments’ and you’ll never get your message out the door.

In 2010, John Allen Paulos wrote “Stories vs Statistics” for the Opnionator blog section of the “New York Times.” It is a long and very detailed article about the difference of stats and stories. If you’ve got time, it is a good read, but the point I take from it is “The focus of stories is on individuals rather than averages, on motives rather than movements, on context rather than raw data.” Good stories are engaging, exciting, and connect people to one another.

Good stories are like exceptional service at a restaurant. If the food is great, service amazing, and price is right, you’ll go back for more. Same is true for the stories. If the set up is great, the journey amazing and the time spent rewarding, you’ll come back for more.

Communicating with stories is great for entertaining and engaging. Once you’ve established that you are a source for entertainment, you’ll be growing your engagement. However, as more data emerges, I think it is safe to add some statistics with your stories, just don’t overdo it.

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