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Top 4 Takeaways from Art + Science of Storytelling across Platforms

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I recently had the opportunity to attend a PRSA webinar presented by Geoff Livingston and Andrew Gilman called the Art and Science of Storytelling across Platforms. Given that a huge portion of a PR professional’s job is crafting stories for their clients, this topic was relevant and applicable. Here are my top takeaways from the webinar:

Emotion and fact are the building blocks for your story

“No facts without stories and no stories without facts” – this was one of the first messages the presenter pressed. This is a useful framework through which to filter story concepts. When building a story for a client, start with a headline. Ensure the headline is factual and straightforward—but also unique and with emotional interest. Gilman used an example of UPS and their “no left turns” story.  Their headline UPS values sustainability, is factual, but generic and did not differentiate UPS from their competitors. However, adding the interest element, UPS values sustainability—never takes left turns provides a differentiating factor and unique appeal.

Gilman also recommends crafting a story that can be localized to smaller markets. For instance in the UPS example, a PR professional could pitch to their local outlet and encourage them to follow UPS drivers and see the story for themselves.

Consider a communication wheel

Once the story has been built for the client, it’s time to consider your platform options. Gilman presented the option of creating a strategic communications wheel for your client. The wheel has the client at the center with all the forms of communicating their message as the spokes. Laying out all of the possibilities in a visual can show the breadth of opportunities available.

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Pick your media venue

The primary media venue will determine your primary platform. Livingston recommends that the primary outlet reach the broadest audience possible. The type of content may determine your primary venue—e.g. if there’s video content you may use YouTube or Vimeo. Once you have your primary platform selected it’s crucial to have all secondary and tertiary outlets connect to it. Secondary outlets should appeal to a more specialized audience—they may provide more details or insider information that would attract a more enthusiastic group. Which secondary outlet platforms are best depends on the story, but they tend to be social media outlets and blogs.

Repeat your message—not your story

Do not copy and paste your message onto all your platforms. No one wants to read the same word-for-word content on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook—the content should be tweaked for each. Consider the key elements of your story, then consider the platform and audience. How can it be reshaped to fit a new platform? In-depth, lengthier content? Visual imagery? Interactive elements? Use these questions to make changes to the story as you spread your message across different media.

How are you a thought leader? Answer these 6 questions to find out.

If you are reading this you likely already understand the value of thought leadership products. A thought leadership product is anything – written, video, multi-media – produced to help inform an audience on something you do really well. These products are especially critical for service organizations that rely on the smarts and unique capabilities of its people to distinguish itself from the competition. And these are the kinds of products that A.wordsmith is really, really good at creating.

As developers of thought leadership content for our clients we are often faced with the daunting task of distilling the fragmented, but brilliant, thinking of our clients into easy-to-read, easy-to-understand thought leadership content.

To do that, we get on the phone or sit down with our subject matter expert, the SME. We typically have an hour or less. The SME is a senior-level, sometimes C-suite level, individual, with limited time and patience. Add to that the fact that we often come into these discovery sessions with only a rudimentary understanding of the topic – often just enough to be dangerous.

So how do we approach a critical SME interview given these challenges? We formulate really smart questions.

To get there, let’s go back to the importance of story.

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This week my colleague Allison and I attended PRSA’s annual Communicators Conference in Portland. The speakers were excellent – everyone from Mike Riley Research to representatives from Edelman breaking down this year’s Trust Barometer – but my favorite session came from consultant Andrew Robinson of Eugene, Oregon. He advocated for the power of a single story in employee engagement, and outlined the basic elements of a captivating company story.

Andrew’s story elements interestingly aligned almost directly with the initial questions we ask during a thought leadership discovery session. The output of these discovery sessions are ultimately stories, powerfully effective in everything from driving sales to employee engagement. And powerfully relevant — just as Lemonade is to the Beyhive and “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” is to my kindergartener — in sparking a conversation and prompting action from the audience you most want to engage.

Beyoncé's latest thought leadership product was a multi-media blend of poetry, music and photography. (source: www.independent.co.uk)

As developers of thought leadership content these questions guide our process. For organizations struggling with what their thought leadership focus should be, these questions can help pinpoint your greatest opportunities to share and engage.

6 Thought Leadership Questions

Story Element: Villain

Interview Question #1: What are your client’s pain points?

Story Element: Hero

Interview Question #2: How are you specially equipped to solve those problems?

Story Element: Backstory

Interview Question #3: What are the external – market, industry, etc. – exacerbating this problem?

Story Element: Plot

Interview Question #4: What is the common turning point for your clients, the moment that they decide to turn to you for help?

Story Element: Crisis

Interview Question #5: What does it look like when you attack this problem? What is your unique process?

Story Element: Resolution

Interview Question #6: What are the proof points that what you do works?

For more information check out some of our thought leadership work.