How to choreograph a culture of storytelling

Strengthen your public relations storytelling game by sourcing impactful stories from within

March 25, 2021

Public relations practitioners are tasked with building and maintaining relationships between brands and stakeholders. How do you do this? Connect with audiences through storytelling in ways that activate emotions, ideas and behaviors.

The role of a public relations professional isn’t always an easy one. We tend to be the teammates who ask a myriad of questions surrounding an initiative, constantly push for “sharing, sharing and more sharing” and we’re always on the hunt for that feel-good story. You may think we’re just nosy. The truth? It’s because we can’t do our jobs alone.

In my 15 years at this agency, I’ve worked with a host of clients and companies. From nonprofit to government, small businesses to corporate – they all have very different internal communications functions. Some have robust divisions with a dozen or more communications-focused positions, while others have a solo soldier or no one at all. Whether on one end of the spectrum or the other, finding customer and employee stories is a challenge for all.

These stories can play out across all your public relations and marketing communications channels, including your website, blog, social media, email marketing and newsletters, as well as publications like annual reports, and news media coverage. They are essential to building brand equity and establishing long-term relationships with both internal and external stakeholders. Side note: if you’re interested in learning more about choosing the right tone in your communications, check out this recent blog post by president of advertising Heather Price for the great debate of heart vs. humor.

So, what is one to do when harvesting those stories is a daunting task? Here are a few tips for creating a framework for successful story mining:

Create an internal task force to identify compelling stories from within.

Many years ago, we worked with a client that struggled with internal communications among departments. It was a large institution, and the communications lead knew there were inspiring stories to unfold but felt lost with how to find them. As a result, we helped the client establish a media relations task force with representatives from each key business unit. The employees were recruited for bi-monthly meetings to discuss public relations efforts and share stories from the day-to-day operations, among team members and customers.

Educate your team on what those impactful stories look like. When it comes to knowing what is “newsworthy” or “social worthy,” it isn’t an innate trait.

As a professional communicator and lover of consuming media, I like to think I have a solid grasp on what a good story is. It’s more than just entertaining your audience. It’s about an emotional connection that ultimately inspires and motivates. Many times, people outside the public relations realm aren’t wired this way and may have tons of stories to share but to them, they’re just part of the job. Consider creating a cheat sheet or toolkit for all employees that describes examples of these stories and the types of testimonials you’re looking for.

Set up a process for employees to submit story ideas, interesting tidbits and news that’s potentially worth sharing.

Whether a large corporation or a small nonprofit, this concept is key. You want to encourage proactive storytelling and sharing with a call to action. This can be as simple as encouraging employees to contact a point person with ideas, or it can be a submission form on a company intranet. Whatever it is, it should be easy, all employees need to be aware it exists and have access.

Share the stories with your employees, through regular newsletters, intranet site spotlights, etc., to spark new ideas and sharing among others.

Once you have cultivated this culture of storytelling, then make sure you’re keeping all employees in the storytelling loop. Don’t assume everyone is watching the company social feeds and reading that newspaper article you just landed. Keep them informed through employee-specific communications so they can see the good news and be encouraged to continue sharing.

Find your storytelling success.

For more storytelling tips, check out PRSA Strategies & Tactics for recent articles on sharing stories in a negative environment and connecting with audiences by adding empathy to your stories.

If your company is interested in becoming a storytelling success and wants some help, reach out to me. We love finding inspirational stories from within. It’s not only our job; it’s our passion.

Chernoff Newman has deep category experience in agriculture, food and beverage, education and workforce development, energy, economic development, financial/insurance, healthcare and infrastructure. We design integrated marketing and strategic communications that are impactful, thought-provoking and influential. We marry ingenuity with business know-how to influence beliefs and behaviors for brands, companies and their many stakeholders. We influence attitude and inclination. We influence opinion and outcomes. And when needed, we also influence to quell contention.