Posts Taged storytelling

Authenticity and PR


You’ll often hear that public relations is an industry built on relationships. This is true, but there is an added element that goes hand-in-hand with relationships—authenticity.

In an age of curated social media posts (#blessed) and glossy corporate stories sans reference to long hours and employee burnout, consumers are left feeling dubious and duped. Instead of connecting to the brand or business, they are left wondering if what they’re observing is real—and oftentimes it’s not.

People want passion, struggle and relatable content. Storytelling in communications provides the perfect example for the importance of authentic communication. A story is one of the most common ways humans connect, hence its popularity among PR pros. The elements of a story are important: the hero, their obstacle and their solution are essential to drawing the reader in. However, who tells the story and how they tell it can have a big impact on the authenticity.


Who’s telling the story?

The storyteller is often the one responsible for how the story is perceived. If there is misalignment between the storyteller’s voice or personality and the story they’re sharing, it’s glaringly obvious to listeners.

One example of this in PR is influencer marketing. Edelman’s 2017 Digital Trends report focused on the trend of influencer marketing. Influencers and those who are highly visible on social platforms often have a distinct voice and personalized connection with their followers which makes them optimal story-sharers. However, scripted and impersonal language can derail an influencer’s ability to connect with their followers.  Consumers are smart enough to recognize what is forced and what is real.

How are they telling it?

An element that is often passed over in storytelling is the “struggle” aspect that resides between the problem and the solution. This is what’s real and real is what matters! Don’t leave out the hard stuff because of concern that it doesn’t position the brand in a positive light.

This quote from a MarketingLand article sums it up perfectly, “The world is hungry for more truth, realness and transparency. Social media platforms are enabling our consumers to express their authentic selves — and they expect the same from the brands they choose.”

Next time you are crafting a story, consider who is telling it and how they’re doing so. It’s these (sometimes) intangible things that make the difference between authenticity and inauthentic content.



What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me

What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me

“What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me” is part two of a mini-series on education and being a millennial in the world of PR, from some of our young professionals at A.wordsmith. Read part one here.


I veered towards PR after five years in the education and nonprofit world. The overlap between development and communications is significant, but I realized that specialized training would give me an advantage in the market and elevate my skillset. I pursued a Master’s in Management Communications with a Concentration in Marketing and Public Relations. This mouthful of a degree combined a wide mix of journalism, sociology, social media, marketing, research, and rhetorical methods courses into a surprisingly cohesive curriculum. While I certainly had a lot to learn post-graduation, I graduated with an excellent grasp of the core capabilities required in public relations. These are a few  of the things my public relations degree taught me that helped me get a head start in my PR career:

What makes great writing

The writing skills taught in kindergarten through college programs often focus on grammar and basic style guidelines. I believe that great writing requires this knowledge. I can easily bore even the most earnest listener with my zeal for the Oxford comma, my personal relationships with Strunk & White and Harbrace, and my embarrassing crush on The New Yorker’s diaereses.

However, advanced writing requires something richer. One of my courses focused almost exclusively on metaphors. Another guided me through sensory writing about music and food. Still others spent time on the logistics of understanding and cooperating with your audience. These exercises gave me the toolbox and the je ne sais quoi that makes great writing great, and the ability to tap them for the vast range of topics and markets that our PR clients belong to.

How to become an expert in anything

When I explain that much of my work involves writing and working on articles with media outlets, the next question is always, “About what?”

“Whatever the client needs.”

On any given day, I may be producing content about anything from the FDA approval process for prescription drugs to the hidden gems of southern Oregon wine country. The tasks can rarely be boiled down to simple copywriting or editing – most of the time I am researching, developing, and presenting complex subjects. I spend hours poring over articles and blogs, perusing competitor thought leadership, and interviewing subject matter experts. Fortunately, rigorous research requirements in school left me quite adept at zigzagging through academic databases and lay publications. My marketing coursework primed me in strategic competitor research. I owe my interview skills to a fastidious journalism adjunct and a supportive qualitative research methods professor. These skills let me become an overnight expert in just about anything – and I couldn’t produce quality work without them.

What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me

Why we tell stories

We tell stories because they work. Stories are at the root of communication. They’re more engaging and can reach a wide audience. In every course I took – from Social Media and Culture to Applied Marketing Strategies – the importance of storytelling was pounded into our minds. Journalists and editors can sniff right through a pitch about a nonstory. The case studies A.wordsmith writes tell a company’s success story with a certain goal in mind, and even web copy has greater impact if it illustrates the point. PR shares messages, and the best messages are usually couched in stories.

Look for part 3 of this series next week!

Top 4 Takeaways from Art + Science of Storytelling across Platforms


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.


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.

The 3 Classic Communications Strategies That Still Matter Today


As PR professionals, we spend a lot of time keeping up with The Next Big Thing in communications strategies. For good reason – a Google algorithm or trending hashtag can make or break a campaign in today’s constantly-moving media landscape. In many ways, however, there’s nothing new about our jobs. Humans are communicators, and our the way we tell stories, transmit messages, and influence one another doesn’t change much.

The Art of Rhetoric

The foundations of what we now consider the art of persuasion was defined 2,300 years ago. Aristotle, pupil of Plato and tutor to Alexander the Great, is remembered as one of Western society’s first great orators. In between laying the groundwork for the next 2,000 years of scientific research and composing the first formal study of logic, he outlined classic communications strategies for effective speaking and messaging. His Art of Rhetoric describes three methods of persuasion – logos, pathos, and ethos – that a thought leader must rely on.

Alexander and Aristotle

1. Logos

Unsurprisingly, people are persuaded by logical arguments and clear evidence. In American culture, fact-based decision-making is highly valued, and it’s the persuasive strategy most of us learned in school. In marketing, we might point out tests or studies where our product excelled, thus logically demonstrating that it’s the best option for consumers.

2. Ethos

Logic and facts are useless, however, if the audience doesn’t trust the speaker. Ethos represents the need to establish a speaker’s credibility. The words of Jane Smith, Chief Environmental Officer at Eco-Green Company, Inc. carry a lot more weight than those of Jane Smith, the headshot at the bottom of this guest post. While credibility is often derived from expertise, it can also come from endorsements or recommendations, or evidence that the speaker is a good or deserving person.

3. Pathos

It’s tempting to believe that most decision-making is guided by reason, but any communications pro can tell you that emotion is equally important. The most effective speakers, writers and artists make their audience sigh, laugh, smile and cry. The use of pathos relies on eliciting those emotional reactions in the process of persuasion.


If the ethics of native advertising have your brain in a twist, or your contacts have dried up from staring at serifs, stop. Take a step back and make sure your message follows these classic communications strategies by being logical, credible, and emotionally appealing. In 2,000 years, the rest will be window dressing.[/text_dd] [/column_dd] [/section_dd]

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.


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:

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.

Why Narrative Matters


Want to hear a great story?

Well, I don’t mean to slight you, but I don’t have one. I got you hooked though, right? Everyone loves a good story – so much so that we’ve preserved our entire human history in one form of narrative or another (even the word history has “story” embedded in it). It’s no secret that we are social creatures who communicate primarily through narrative – it’s how we tell the world who we are, where we come from, and where we want to go. It’s why we ask someone we’ve just met, “So – what’s your story?” Obviously, narrative is everywhere. And not only does it apply to friendly conversation, but it also applies to business communication.


Meaning over marketing

Now, more than ever, narrative is crucial to a company’s success. An article in the Portland Business Journal notes that the millennial generation is hyper-aware and hyper-concerned about why a company was created, why it should be invested in, and what it can do to help the consumer directly. This generation yearns for “meaning over marketing” and narrative is what they rely on to supply the meaning that might help them connect with a company/organization on a deeper level.

A large part of what PR does is to help a company or organization tell their story in a way that fosters public interest, admiration, and trust. Because not everyone is a great storyteller (see: the friend that always laughs before the punchline and makes it completely un-funny when you finally get there) but everyone has a story. Sometimes all you need is a little help from someone who knows how to tell your story the way you would want it to be heard.


And emotional pull

Stories make us cry, laugh, sigh, scowl, smirk, and even fall in love. They foster relationships by catalyzing a shared experience between two or more people. Likewise, a good story told by an honest company has the ability to bring business and consumer closer in a positive way.

So why not use the power and potential of narrative to your advantage?

The Value of the Story

Value of the Story

We live in a world where new information is constantly at our fingertips. We’ve been told that this has affected our attention spans, our memorization skills, our ability to concentrate. When scanning the web, we may balk at a large block of text, bookmarking and moving on to bigger headlines, something we can skim. There’s always the option to browse for something more immediate, to click the sidebar, or refresh the feed. The web has changed the way information is shared, and it’s changed the way stories are told. We’ve learned that web content needs to be brief and to the point to accommodate the new reader. Every word counts. Good design matters.

Does this mean that people aren’t really reading anymore? That storytelling doesn’t have value? Thanks to Significant Objects, we can rest assured that (for now) people still understand the value of the story. An experiment exploring the effect of narrative on subjective value, the Significant Objects project used writers, garage sale objects and eBay to test the value of storytelling. Over 200 participating writers were paired with an object purchased for about $1.25. Each writer wrote a short story to be used in place of the object’s description and the object was put up for bid on eBay. So far, object sales have brought in more than $8,000. How’s that for objective proof of the value of the story?