Secrets of successful media relations: Number 3 – What’s your story?

by Eddie Reeves on August 11, 2009

Okay, you’ve come up with a newsworthy topic (Secret #1) and you’ve decided upon the specific media to target (Secret #2). Now it’s time to focus on developing a strong message that will not only get the news media’s attention, but get it in a way you want.

What’s the secret to doing that? Tell a good story.

Storytelling is key to how human beings communicate. That’s why some of our most vivid childhood memories are when our parents, grandparents told us bedtime stories. That’s also why every major world religion extols its tenets in parables, fables and other forms of stories. Stories reach us in places that no other form of communications can.

That’s why I usually spend a huge amount of time with my clients helping them discover, define and deliver their unique story. After all, stripped down to its essence, effective public relations is merely a form of classic, non-fiction storytelling.

So what makes a good story?

Think back to what you learned about stories in your middle-school literature classes. Basically, a story pits a sympathetic protagonist (the hero) against an unsympathetic antagonist (the villain), and carries the reader through the conflict as it escalates in action and emotion to a climactic resolution that leaves the characters — and, by extension, the reader — changed in some fundamental way. Strong marketing and PR messages accomplish this same progression and will engage audiences as surely as the best literature does.

So, when you are crafting your story, remember the following keys:

  • Pick a hero. It’s usually easier if this hero is a person but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Even if it is a principle or concept, it must lend itself to personification — that is, it must be able to be imbued with admirable human traits that are important to your audience.
  • Pick a villain. This is one of the most often misunderstood keys to effective marketing. It isn’t enough to position your product, service or cause as the “good guy.” You must also identify a “bad guy” against which you are protecting or defending your audience.
  • Make conflict clear and simple.  Your audience neither wants nor needs eye-glazing detail about how your hero will win; just make the benefits of winning clear.  Two of the most effective marketing efforts of the last fifty years or more were the Ronald Reagan 1980 presidential campaign and the Barack Obama 2008 presidential campaign. In each case, the candidates communicated simple, clear messages aimed squarely at giving their audiences what they wanted: change.  And in each case, despite their opponents loud whining, they spent virtually no time or energy defining the details of what “change” meant.

Clearly, one of the best investments you can make as a marketer is to invest the time and effort necessary to define, develop and deliver your unique story. Whether you are promoting a product, person, a service, a cause or a country, if you tell a compelling tale with all the classic elements, your message will penetrate and your audience will respond.

So get busy on your story. If you can do it on your own, great, but don’t hesitate to get professional help in need be, because this is too important to be left to chance.

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