Kara Simon, Assistant Account Executive
My latest obsession has been The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column and podcast. I know, I know – I am late to the game, but…
IT. IS. AWESOME.
Not only are the stories told narrated by some of my favorite celebrities, but the writing styles, narratives and key messaging are the best, bar none. I am not just saying this because I majored in journalism, or because I idolize the all-knowing publication that is The New York Times. I am saying this because it is one of the best examples of storytelling today.
In the PR industry, it is our job to tell stories. A lot of the time they are happy, positive stories about industry successes and leaders making a difference. Other times, they are hard-hitting, pulse-rising breaking stories that you never see coming. Regardless of news’ tone, if we don’t turn it into a story, then it’s just another piece of news cluttering people’s inboxes or smart devices ready to be deleted.
So what goes into the making of a good story?
First, it is important to establish your characters. In our case, these are the individuals involved. What is their title? What is their position on the topic? Most importantly though, what makes them different from every other leader in the industry? The “Modern Love” column almost always establishes the character with a background story that makes them unique. It may not be completely relevant to the story at hand, but it is designed to make the character relatable, so the reader can place themselves in the shoes of that character and be more willing to accept the story. The same should be done in PR, so that a C-level executive can be seen as someone who an “Average Joe” would want to get to know.
Secondly, the plot. What is TRULY happening? Nobody, and I mean nobody, cares about all of the tiny intricacies of an event… So get to the point. For example, the best love stories are the ones that start with the two people who fall in love interacting from the beginning. The same goes for the best PR stories. They start with the headline upfront, and then gradually give way to supporting details.
Finally, the ending. The best endings are not endings at all. In fact, they leave the reader with a “But, what’s next?” thought bubble over their head. It is how you get them to think about your story long after their eyes depart from the screen the story was on. It is how you get them to wake up the next morning still thinking about your story, and begin looking for follow-up stories that may have come out the next day. The majority of the “Modern Love” stories do this as well. The last sentence leaves you with a lingering thought that draws your mouse downward and into the next love story. So, make your ending linger for as long as you want it to be remembered.
If there is one thing to take away from this article, PR professional or not, it is that stories have a way of impacting people. So, what is yours?
Larry Meltzer, Agency Principal/Creative Director of MM2 Public Relations
I can’t help wondering if a possible solution to stop the decline of newspapers has been under our feet all this time.
Consider this microcosm of the newspaper world. Every morning, residents on my street are greeted with colored plastic bags, each holding a different newspaper: white for the major daily, blue for the New York Times, pink for the Wall Street Journal, and – once a week – clear for the weekly community paper.
The white bag used to rule, sitting on the sidewalk in front of nearly every house. Today, white, blue and pink bags are scattered around with no real majority, but the clear bag – fully paid subscriptions only, no comps – is a uniform sight up and down the street, week after week.
My informal focus group of neighbors reveals why: People want the news that affects them – school happenings, new retailers, town issues and the like. They’re perfectly happy to get the national and world news on the fly, wherever they find it, whether in print, broadcast or online.
Maybe those colored plastic bags need to take a look at each other and think about how to take back their turf, on the sidewalk and on the newsstands, so to speak. Is the answer in the European model, where a few national newspapers prosper happily alongside local dailies that are truly local?
After all, news is more relevant when it’s more personal, which is why those hyper-local web sites seem to be attracting eyeballs. Perhaps the major dailies should consider doing what they’re staffed to do best – becoming the go-to source for everything local – while leaving the world reporting to the national papers staffed to do that best.