Tag Archives: PR

What Harry Potter teaches us about storytelling

25 Apr

There’s no denying that JK Rowling is one heck of a story teller. But, I must admit the inspiration for this blog post came as somewhat of a surprise to me.

Last week, as a birthday treat for my husband, we visited the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford. He’s a bit of a film geek and absolutely loved the films (and books!) so I thought it would be a fun day out. It was more than that.

Now, I should make clear that I am in no way a Potterphile. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read and enjoyed all of the books but that’s as deep as our relationship goes. It didn’t take long for that to change.

Whilst queuing to enter the tour, soaking up the atmosphere and marvelling at the extensive gift shop already in plain sight, I noticed a quote from JK Rowling that had been blown up and hung on the wall.

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“No story lives unless someone wants to listen.”

You know when you’re talking to someone and they have no idea what you’re talking about? When you spend time and effort explaining something a hundred different ways and they still don’t get it? When you feel like you’re banging your head on a brick wall and then suddenly there’s a breakthrough? This was my breakthrough. The moment when my thoughts and words became clear in one succinct phrase that was easy for everyone to grasp.

In the world of PR and communications, and particularly in local government, we hear a lot about stories. We’re told that we need to “get more stories out there”. It’s often a reaction to negative coverage and is sometimes seen as the solution to kill any flack or criticism that we may be getting. It’s no solution.

Churning out stories is one thing but making people listen is something else, and if nobody is listening it doesn’t matter how many stories you get out there. Now, I’m not suggesting we don’t tell stories. I’m saying we need to do some leg work first.

We need to be the listeners. We need to listen to our audience and find out what they care about, what they are talking about and how we can link into that in a real and relevant way. In doing that we can make a connection with our audience. Without that connection our audience has no reason to care about what we say and they certainly have no reason to listen.

Here are my corporate storytelling tips:

1. Identify your audience – know who you are talking to. It will make it easier to write the story.
2. Be an active listener – before you write a word, listen to your audience. What are they talking about? Learn about them.
3. Ask and answer ‘why would my audience care?’ – the strength of your answer will tell you if your story is worth writing or not.
4. Be real and relevant – your audience will smell a rat if you are not being genuine. Lose their trust and you lose their ears.
5. Mean it – believe in your story. If you don’t no-one else will.

In learning to listen we can figure out what it is that people really care about and we can connect with that. It’s that connection that makes all the difference. The difference between being heard and being white noise.

And, in case there are any Potterphile’s reading this, here are a few photos from the tour:

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Why is it so easy to neglect internal comms?

17 Oct

Now, I’m not suggesting that this is the case for everyone, but I think internal comms gets a bit of a bum deal. It kind of belongs to comms but also has strong and obvious links with HR. And, somewhere amongst the two internal comms gets a little bit lost. Dare I say it? Neglected.

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I think there are a few reasons why this happens:

1. It’s not going to get us a front page story

If you work in comms, hopefully you know how great it feels to get really positive coverage from the media. It’s visible; it’s credible (for the most part) and is great for the organisation’s reputation. It’s a quick win so we plough our resources into it.

2. It just isn’t sexy enough

I’ve heard internal comms described as a ‘whinge fest’, a chance for the serial complainers to carry on moaning. Well, if you put it like that maybe I’ll give it a wide berth too.

3. Why stir up the hornets’ nest?

Businesses are trying to survive and to do that they have to make a lot of tough decisions. It’s inevitable that whatever decisions they make, they won’t be able to please everyone so why bother aggravating the situation? Let’s just keep our heads down and do what we have to.

4. It’s not my job, is it?

Like I said above, no-one really knows where to put it. It flits between the comms and HR teams without anyone really taking ownership. With no-one driving it forward it just becomes an after-thought: ‘oh, I suppose we’d better send out a staff email or something’.

5. It’s a tough old job

Don’t underestimate internal comms. It’s not all touchy-feely. In fact, it can be quite lonely. You become the ‘face’ of culture change – the person forcing people to do things differently. One minute you’re chatting to employees over a cuppa and the next they see you through suspicious eyes. Now, it’s not always like that but it does happen. Frequently.

There are probably hundreds of other reasons to explain why internal comms hides in the shadows. All of which are important to note but maybe a little irrelevant. We need to concentrate our efforts on making things right.

In an ideal world, maybe your organisation would have a giant PR team with a nice big healthy campaign budget. Maybe. But that’s not the time we live in. We need to look at things differently. If you want to build your reputation you need to do it from the inside out. Focus on your people. Give colleagues the confidence and the skills to tell your story. Make them your brand ambassadors and it will translate across all areas of your business. Create a customer experience that won’t be forgotten. No amount of PR will get you that sort of credibility. Surely that’s reason enough to put internal comms in the spotlight?

Unpaid work experience in PR. Should we just be grateful?

4 Feb

It’s been happening for years but this week a storm has been brewing over the issue of unpaid internships in the PR industry. Following the airing of a BBC2 programme Who Gets the Best Jobs?, people in the industry have declared their disgust at the day-to-day practice of employing hoards of unpaid interns. Though I sigh with relief that people are responding in this way, I am surprised that this has never been an issue before. Or maybe it has?

In 2004 I moved to London to complete a Masters degree in Fashion Journalism. I was desperate to crack into the fashion/PR world and was prepared to do (almost) anything to get my name out there. Coming from a fairly small town in South Wales I had no contacts in the industry and was literally starting from scratch. So, I bombarded numerous PR agencies and fashion magazines with my CV begging them for work experience. And it paid off.

A number of magazines and PR agencies agreed to give me work experience – all unpaid of course. Competition for each placement was incredibly fierce and I got the distinct impression that I should just be ‘grateful’ for the opportunity, and I was. At the majority of my work placements, interns were expected to work full-time (and more) and be available for any other ad hoc requests. Some placements would insist on a minimum time slot of six months – quite a commitment when you’re not getting paid – whereas others were really non-committal and left you wondering what value you were getting.

There’s no denying how valuable work experience can be: you get direct exposure to the industry; real-life-on-the-job training; you make contacts and can decide if it really is what you want. But, an unpaid full-time placement screams exploitation. At one of my placements there was a team of 5-6 interns who literally ran the fashion cupboard. We kept the wheels turning and if you’ve ever worked in fashion you’ll understand what that really means.

According to PR Week, Julian Vogel of Modus Publicity (the man behind the controversy) admitted that by not paying [interns], ‘I do worry sometimes that it does favour the slightly better off’. Well, yes! It absolutely does. I spent about 18 months completing various full-time work experience placements. All of which were unpaid. At the same time I was studying for my Masters degree. I didn’t have the luxury of the ‘bank of mum and dad’ so I worked in shops/cinema so that I could afford to eat. And eventually, it was the money situation that forced me to throw my hands in the air and admit defeat. Just as I felt I was making headway.

It felt like the end of the world at the time but it was a happy ending for me. Though, I do wonder what the ratio of PR success stories to failures is.

So, what does this mean for the PR industry? For the sake of free labour are we exclusive? Maybe. So, what are we going to do about it?