The power of storytelling to build both external and internal communications for a modern business has been well proven; stories are an integral part of everybody’s lives. In today’s business world, the art of storytelling allows companies to not only stand out from their competitors, but also to remain in the minds of their customers for a long time afterwards. 

However, the key to success with storytelling is authenticity. A good story is one thing, but it must be based on truth and values, and (where appropriate) backed up by intention and action, in order to be truly meaningful.

What is Storytelling?

Telling a story in PR can capture the attention of the public and the media, by delivering information in a way that shapes opinions, behaviors, and trust. Done well, the use of the right words to reveal the images of a compelling story will without doubt stimulate the listeners’ imagination, and build a stronger bond than other PR techniques can achieve.

The Power of Storytelling

The power of stories, as opposed to “dry” facts or information, lies in their ability to engage the listener on a deeper emotional level. We are touched by stories with our hearts: we empathize with the characters, and we feel a connection to the plotlines.

According to the lore of storytelling itself, the core of its power relates to a person’s “eternal needs”. It is easy to understand what drives people when you understand their motivations; people are always driven by the same sorts of emotions.

In a similar way, storytelling from companies appeals to the values and emotions of their target audiences, creating a strong emotional bond between business and the public while conveying the company’s values.

The Four Ps of Effective Storytelling

Microsoft’s Chief Storyteller and General Manager of its Image & Culture team, Steve Clayton, identified the four “Ps” that his team uses to make a great story. They are:

  1. People: The story being told must be about a person, although you can use a fictional character that uses your product or service. Sharing the story of an employee who contributed to an idea is also a great option.
  2. Process: The process of creating your product or founding the company should feature in the story, via interesting anecdotes or descriptions of internal processes that are not usually visible to those outside the business.
  3. Place: The story should be filled with descriptions of places that are important to your company, including the location of production or head office.
  4. Product: At this point, the most important thing is not to describe the advantages of the product itself for the best sale, but to tell its story, from inception to implementation.

What is the Role of Storytelling in Public Relations?

Through the use of storytelling techniques in PR, a company has the potential to develop strong relationships with its audience by sparking their imagination. But it’s got to be done well. The science reveals that a well-told story stimulates more parts of the brain, so to evoke the right feelings and influence audience opinions in line with the marketing goals of your business, you should сreate a positive image, drive audience engagement, make your content stand out from competitors, change public opinion, and humanize the brand.

Digital Storytelling in PR

The art of narrating stories using digital media (audio, photography, video, graphic design, podcasts, computer games) can be described as digital storytelling. Media in today’s digital world is an important way to share stories with audiences, which is why many companies use the internet and social media platforms for storytelling purposes. 

The use of digital storytelling in PR opens up innovative possibilities for interactivity. Furthermore, it allows for two-way communication and feedback loops with the public, whereby you can listen to what the audience is saying and incorporate that into future storytelling activities.

5 Ways to Improve a Brand’s Story in a Virtual PR Environment

Brands should always be in a test-and-learn mode. The digital landscape is changing quickly and requires a good deal of intellectual curiosity. 

Here are five tips that brands can follow to improve the effectiveness and creativity of their storytelling in a virtual PR environment and beyond:

#1 Create a Deeper Emotional Connection

Emotion gives a story ‘legs’. However, many business stories are “storytelling lite”: superficial and still too corporate-oriented. What you’re striving to achieve must be human and relatable. Storytelling of the future – storytelling that is successful and sustainable – can be imperfect, just like people are. And to be effective, it must go deep. 

#2 Go Beyond the Business

In actual fact, the gold standard of storytelling is to base a story on something that is bigger than the company; something that is all about the social change component. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria add depth to your company’s story. Considering how much time people spend in the digital world, social and Internet platforms should be the first place in which you explain how your business mission corresponds to a broader goal, which is far bigger than your company alone.

#3 Look Wider When Seeking Out Your Company’s Storytellers

C-suite executives are often thought to be the most credible storytellers. However, we know that customers trust people that are most like them – which means grass-roots employees, rather than executives and marketing/PR departments. Storytellers who are close to the front lines are truly the most effective, whether they are in sales, services or product teams. Embracing these storytellers will increase the credibility and scale of your storytelling efforts, which will lead to increased lifetime client value.

#4 Collaborate with Your Customers

User-generated content (UGC) is undoubtedly one of the most powerful tools for promotion. This type of content puts customers in the spotlight and provides social proof and trust. It is important that user-generated visuals complement your branded content, but the most vital thing is that your brand welcomes the dialogue. Let your customers create the story of your brand!

#5 Don’t Limit Your Media

A variety of platforms are needed for effective storytelling. All media serve a different purpose and benefit the story in their own way. The stories you write can be promoted on social media, your website, newsletter, blogs, podcasts, and more. Adding videos, audio, images and text will provide your audience with the most dynamic experience and encourage them to interact.

Examples of Storytelling in PR Campaigns

Many companies use storytelling in their PR campaigns, but not all do it successfully. Here are three examples of brands that use storytelling well in public relations:

Nike: Strong Values Through All Communications

This famous sports brand employs really powerful storytelling in its PR campaigns and communications. Nike’s core values are reflected in each message. The brand has become synonymous with strength, grit and hard work, not only on the sports field, but in life itself. 

Its strong storytelling messaging is apparent in virtually every advertisement it makes. For example, the Nike video “One Day We Won’t Need This Day” features a group of heroes (a minority community) achieving their sports goals while overcoming the challenges of racial differences and discrimination. In this way, the company not only communicates with an audience of sports interest, but also raises a broader social issue.

Patagonia: Bigger Than Clothing 

Patagonia provides an excellent example of how to think beyond your business. The values that the company shares are deeply rooted in ecology and concern for the planet. Since 1973, the company’s mission has remained unchanged, and focused on care for the environment. 

Patagonia uses real stories of its customers’ lives in the outdoors to become more credible and trustworthy. The team posts audience videos on its social media accounts and shares written customer stories in the blog. 

Moreover, Patagonia doesn’t just tell beautiful stories: they take action. The brand uses its platform to raise awareness of environmental issues, and also implements a variety of related initiatives, such as the “1% For The Planet” program, under which the company pledges 1% of its sales to the preservation and restoration of nature. Real actions are essential when your story is based on global issues.

Dove: Real People and Authentic Emotions

One of the first brands to feature its customers on its videos is Dove. Since the company started making videos, it has featured mostly women, but recently it has also featured dads. 

Their video “Dove Men+Care Mission: Care” tells the story of John’s family reuniting just outside of his U.S. military base. John is a real man, one of 300 traveling home for Father’s Day. In the video he talks about how hard it is to be away from his kids for months at a time. It is impossible to watch it without tearing up. An absolutely great example of using emotions as a key element of storytelling in PR.