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4 important elements of storytelling vital for media relations

by | Nov 10, 2022 | Public Relations

It’s no secret that PR is a great way to spread the word about your company’s brand. Too often, though, companies default to using PR to push their products or services, instead of their story. You may be asking: what’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t companies be aiming to spread the word about their products or services?

Not exactly. Of course, it’s important to clearly articulate what your company does—otherwise, the journalists you pitch won’t be able to craft a substantial piece. But when it comes down to it, PR is not the business of selling products or services. It’s the business of selling stories, and journalism is in the business of telling them. In either case, it’s the story that matters most.

Wondering how best to incorporate storytelling into your PR efforts? It’s helpful to zoom out and examine your brand through the lens of foundational elements in storytelling. Here is a breakdown of four of those key elements, along with some considerations for applying them to PR. By keeping this story-driven framework in mind, you’ll write better pitches, win more placements, and drive overall success for your brand.

1. Engaging beginning

Every story has to start somewhere. But how it starts is crucial. If your pitch launches right into an explanation of your product or service, for instance, journalists are likely to overlook it. So make sure you have some kind of hook to pique their interest.

With an email pitch, your first chance to hook your reader comes before they even open it—with your subject line. Often, a snazzy subject line makes the difference between a quality placement and a pitch left unread. And injecting a bit of narrative into your subject line is a great way to make it pop. When crafting your subject line, ask yourself these questions:

  • What problem does your company solve?
  • What are the stakes in the story you’re pitching?
  • Are there any compelling statistics or factoids that tie into your pitch?

This last point is especially helpful for standing out. Including a statistic or interesting fact in your subject line is a great way to get concrete right off the bat—and potentially get a journalist thinking about your pitch from an interesting angle they would have otherwise overlooked.

2. Setting

Three words: location, location, location. Just as a good book or movie makes it clear where the action takes place, your pitch should convey a “setting” as well. No story occurs in a vacuum; it’s important to give wider context so your audience gets the full picture.

People most commonly think of a setting as a physical location. If there is one that’s relevant to your pitch, make sure to specify it. But don’t just mention the location and leave it at that. Go a bit deeper: ask yourself what impact your story might have on that region. If applicable, you can also explain the significance of your story on a national or even international level.

That said, a setting doesn’t have to be a geographical location. Your pitch might relate to all remote freelance marketers regardless of where they live, for example. In that case, the virtual community of remote freelance marketers would be the “setting” for your pitch—and you can mention your pitch’s implications for this group just as you would with a physical place.

3. Plot

Once you’ve hooked your reader and established your setting, it’s time to get to the meat of your pitch: the plot. On the most basic level, a plot is a series of events that makes up a story. But if your pitch reads like nothing more than a summary, it won’t catch journalists’ attention. There’s solid science to back this up: research shows that the information-processing part of our brain switches off when we hear information in the form of a list.

So go beyond the “who,” “what” and “where,” and start digging into the “how and the “why.” “Digging” is the operative word here. Your story might lie below the surface—and it might take research, interviews, and some outside-the-box thinking to uncover it. But it will be well worth the effort. Think of it as searching for a way to stimulate a journalist’s imagination, rather than presenting a series of facts.

Ultimately, fleshing out a great story is a matter of perspective—so it’s important to consider your pitch from as many angles as possible, in order to find the one that opens up the most interesting plot. As you flesh out your pitch, ask yourself these questions:

  • How does your product or service benefit target customers?
  • What trends will resonate?
  • What success/performance metrics can you leverage?
  • Who are the brand ambassadors who can speak on your behalf?

Answer these questions thoroughly, and you’ll have a “plot” no journalist will be able to resist.

4. Effective conclusion

You’ve hooked your reader with an enticing subject line. You’ve established your setting, physical or otherwise, and you’ve fleshed out your plot. But you’re not quite done yet. You still need to hammer your pitch home with an effective conclusion. This is your chance to get at the bigger picture. What’s the broad, potentially long-term impact of your story? Is there a call to action that readers of your story can take—buying your product/service or otherwise? In short, why should readers care?

Finally, before you sign off, explicitly ask the journalist whether they’d be interested in running your story. If applicable, propose a specific section of their publication where you feel your story would best fit. This shows that you’ve done your research and aren’t just sending out stock pitches. And of course, make sure to maintain a gracious and courteous tone throughout.

Writing a stellar pitch is not easy. It takes effort, vigilance, and a creative sensibility. But with the power of storytelling on your side, you’ll have a much easier time winning over journalists—and moving your business forward.

John McCartney
John McCartney, APR, is a Principal at Jmac PR, a boutique Strategic PR and Marketing Communications agency based in Los Angeles. He is a PRSA-LA board member (Treasurer) and serves on the DEI and Sponsorship committees. You can connect with John on Linkedin, follow him on Twitter at @johnny_mac, or learn more at  www.jmacpr.com.

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