Is Storytelling in PR worthless?

Naturally, there will be exceptions to the rule, but on the whole, the industry is not equipped to produce compelling stories. I recognise that’s a bold, if not heretical, claim which is in need of some supporting arguments, so here goes.

PR professionals, as with the rest of the communications community, have been slavish to the idea of story, but we haven’t been astute enough to recognise that we tend to do it wrongly. Here’s what I mean, as practitioners we rely on conventional rhetoric to persuade. We mirror our clients, who have been trained this way; as creative writing guru, Robert McKee says, we build our case on facts, stats and quotes from authorities. We see it as an intellectual process, because we can’t see it any other way. Subsequently, we miss the vital component that make stories persuasive – the emotion!

Which begs the question – why do we miss it? As I said, this is partly down to producing what we think the clients want – a safe, logic-driven, data-based approach that typically leaves audiences cold at best. Ultimately though, we can’t do this properly, because as practitioners we’re schooled to keep those emotions in check.  This is especially the case with agency staff – I include myself here as a former agency man – who are immediately alerted of the paramount need to keep clients happy. I’m not saying that agency folk lack maturity per se; of course not, there are some brilliant minds at work here, but I fear they reflect their environmental upbringing which is essentially about one thing – profit. If we don’t fully explore our feelings in this space, including the reality of failure and the uncertainties of a tech future, how can we expect to produce rich, meaningful narratives for others?

Disruption is affecting us all at dizzying speeds, businesses are feeling increasingly vulnerable, so it is incumbent on us as professionals to embrace greater emotional exposure – to demonstrate how we feel - to produce stories and relationships that are reflective of our growing sensitivities and befitting of a more engaged audience.

This article first featured in Mumbrella on the 19 December