Virtually every novel reflects some form of the classic storytelling arc.
Same goes for movies.
As I drove to see “Zero Dark Thirty” a while back, I wondered how the heck the movie would build drama. I already knew how the story ended. Yet, the CIA operative played by Jessica Chastain had to with stuff going cockeyed again and again to the point that I lost myself in the story and indeed could feel the tension building.
In the communications business, we don’t have 300 pages or two hours on the silver screen to define characters or advance a plot with the requisite twists and turns that culminate in a payoff and happy ending.
It’s not just the element of time that poses a quandary for communicators. The intrinsic nature of classic storytelling revolves around crisis or, better yet, the type of failure that causes the audience to wince. That’s what elevates the tension and keeps the audience engaged.
PR pros are conditioned to do the opposite. We’re striving to highlight achievements, ever conscious of keeping any semblance of a crisis behind closed—no, make that locked—doors.
It’s this catch-22 that led to creation of “The Communicator’s Spike”:
What bolsters this narrative comes from the gap or contrast between the old way and the new way. The greater the difference between the old way and the new way, the more interesting the story.
It still requires PR to get out of its comfort zone. Often, we don’t want to discuss the past because it wasn’t flattering. Yet, without the past, the journalist or reader has no way to frame the story, which generates the contrast (between two points in time).
By storytelling fodder, I don’t mean just facts and figures. There must be texture, anecdotes, and language that demands attention.
You can actually create some drama with this technique.
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At the very least, the story packs more punch than your garden-variety PR narrative.
Lou Hoffman is CEO of the Hoffman Agency a global communications consultancy. He blogs on storytelling in business at Ishmael's Corner, where a version of this article originally appeared.