Public Relations is nothing without storytelling

On storytelling, Walt Disney once said, “That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instil hope again and again and again”. As one of the oldest forms of communication, storytelling provided a platform for people to engage with narratives as set by the storyteller; to travel to distant worlds and paradigms without moving a muscle. Good stories are never forgotten.

In an era where information flows as freely as the Nile river, audiences’ appetite for something compelling and out of the ordinary has increased significantly. We are neither talking about far flung tales (read fake news) that have come to characterise the digital space nor common misconceptions about public relations as a superficial profession for people with over-active imaginations.

In 2017, gaining audiences is as easy as losing them. What may have been popular a few hours ago may as well be history the next day. On to the next one. So how do we keep audiences engaged? How do we ensure we’re really talking to them and not merely past them? How do we involve them?

When I addressed third year PR students at the University of Johannesburg recently, I emphasised that people are weary of products and services being shoved down their throats. With consumers who are so discerning, the likelihood is a complete switch off from any brand that is only focused on the bottom line and not on making consumers part of the story.

To an outsider, public relations may seem easy: Call a journalist, hand them a brown envelope and leave a client media release in their pocket; story published. However, nobody really realises how challenging getting earned media space or identifying strategic opportunities is. The ability to create narratives, shape perspective, kickstart conversations; develop brand recognition and manage reputations is a critical skill for any public relations professional and one very few master.

The most loved and memorable brands pride themselves on the ability to capture the imagination without losing authenticity. Compelling storytelling requires more than one-dimensional thinking. It is a process that demands one to step out of their comfort zone to places beyond imagination.

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