Which made me wonder about the curious PR phrase pitching or selling stories to journalists. As we all know, the PR industry seems to be pretty hopeless at doing this – more specifically, what is pitched or sold to a journalist is anything but a story in the proper sense of the word.
So what makes a good story – a cursory Google search revealed this helpful little crib sheet. I realise its more geared towards general creative writing, but it did make me realise why PR writing generally fails in its objectives.
Let’s look at some specific examples:
A good story needs conflict and resolution. Stories are made up of people,
places, and happenings. Strong stories usually have a well-defined main character — a he, a she, an animal, a machine, or whatever —
that encounters some kind of trouble (conflict). There is something blocking our protagonist, whether it is nature, another person, or even the main character him or herself. The action taken signifies personal growth and
change — possibly an “ah ha!” — and finally, some sort of redemption. It is the believable action moving the story from beginning to middle to end that keeps the audience entranced.
The protagonist in virtually all tech PR is simply the company or the product. We all know what’s going to happen ie our product/company is the best – buy it/us. No "Ah Ha!" or redemption there.
A good story creates vivid images. Through our knowing, as the storyteller,
what vivid images the story creates for us, we will create images for our listeners. They may not see the same images we see and imagine, and that is the exciting part of storytelling. We want them to imagine their own images that relate to them and their experiences as the story unfolds.
This is the part that makes interaction so important. If our stories help the listener to think of his/her own stories, we have succeeded in igniting
a storytelling spark.
Vivid images in a press release? Not likely. What image is conjured by: "ACAL ATM Parts has been authorised as a certified reseller for
Passfaces Web Access and Passfaces for Windows, patented authentication
software which increases data security in a wide range of applications
including high-risk sectors such as banking and finance." I haven’t singled this release out specifically – pretty much any release you see these days would fail on this test.
story is not “wimpy.” In the excellent book The
Storyteller’s Guideby Bill Mooney and David Holt , many well known storytellers give their views on what makes
a “wimpy story.” Michael Parent says, “The difference between a good story and a wimpy story for me is the wimpy story gives too easy a solution.” Laura Simms says, “A wimpy story is one that points toward something very obvious, that doesn’t have resonance inside,
that doesn’t provide an experience.” Jon Spelman says, “To
me, the strongest mark of a good story well-told is its sincerity. I think there is something about a wimpy story that is insincere; it’s unauthentic.
It’s not true to the person who is telling it.” Kathryn Windham
adds, “When you find interesting people, you are going to find interesting stories.”
Most tech press releases make out that the solution is easy – or states the blindingly obvious – and of course, sincerity abounds, yes? Perhaps the lack of interesting people is a reason for the lack of interesting stories?
story is the story that is perfect for your audience. We must keep in tune with the listeners and change direction if we aren’t connecting
Given the failure rate of PR with connecting with journalists why haven’t we learned to change direction?
story is a story that you love and love to tell. Never, never, never,
tell a story you don’t like, even if a client has requested it. As a storyteller, we are never on the outside looking in as we tell the story.
We are a part of the story. We have internalized that story and we truly care about it. We can’t do that, if we don’t like the story.
This is as good an acid test for PRs as it is for creative writers.
In short, PR better get better at telling stories – or stop pretending that stories are what journalists are being pitched.