Last month, I attended a communicator’s conference in Portland, where keynote speaker Jim Olson shared Starbucks’s commitment to storytelling in its communications. When asked how Starbucks measures the impact of storytelling, he explained that it’s still in its early days. I’d like to answer the question myself, but before I do, it’s useful to dust off the axiom, “Interesting trumps dull.” The same qualities that shape our entertainment tastes—drama, failure, redemption and bizarreness—play a role in media relations. Storytelling techniques borrow from these concepts and have the potential to push a pitch into the interesting quadrant (as perceived by journalists). Now back to the question: You can measure the storytelling boost in media relations activities. As the Internet commoditizes news announcements, journalists increasingly seek fodder for unique stories, as opposed to rehashing what’s already in the public domain. In addition, there’s a greater premium on fresh points of view to insert into their stories. Offering raw content—even pre-packaged executive quotes—based on the principles of storytelling helps journalists do just that. You can measure the spirit of this concept. Reverse-engineer a company’s coverage over a given period of time, categorizing the stories based on the following:
• News-driven • Competitor • Industry or trend • Feature or blog post on the company (not tied to news)
For old-school approaches to media relations, this type of benchmark will inevitably show that most of the media coverage comes from news. If the company is a top three player in its industry/niche, it might fall into some competitive coverage and industry/trend pieces. Without a storytelling dimension, though, stand-alone pieces on the company—arguably the most valuable—will be scarce. Building out storytelling fodder will increase what we’ve come to call one-off stories, as well as the company’s voice in industry pieces. Simply breaking down your coverage into news-driven coverage vs. non-news coverage can be revealing. Here’s another cue that storytelling in your media relations is working. Measure the amount of content emailed to journalists that finds its way into published stories. As workloads crush journalists, some will use slices of emailed content—if it is narrative grade, not corporate-speak. For example, The New York Times wrote a story on China last year that included us. The highlighted vignette was taken from an email. Definitely not corporate-speak. You can even measure what constitutes storytelling fodder. For example, we analyzed non-news stories in an array of business publications. Fifteen to 20 percent of the content was anecdotal. Yet, the communications function (internal and outside resources) often creates content with few or no anecdotes. If the PR function were to capture its top anecdotes from 2013 and the percentage of these anecdotes that appeared in the media, it would be a revealing benchmark. If your anecdotes are appearing in the media, deeper coverage often isn’t far behind. Combined, these metrics offer a decent look at the value of storytelling in your media relations efforts, but they’re hardly a comprehensive list. If you have additional thoughts, by all means expand the list. 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.