An Analysis: Successful Storytelling in Public Relations
How telling stories in a compelling way has become imperative for companies
By: Grace Davis
“911. What’s your emergency?” are the starting words in a viral video crossing millions of screens. The audio of three separate phone calls to emergency services plays over footage of an empty road over water, the ocean and a rural grassy area. Viewers are left listening to the voices and reading the words of panicked people asking for help. The operator tells them help is on the way. Viewers hear the sounds of emergency services arriving and rescuing the people revealed to be named Jason, Jim and Amanda. The
video ends; it’s an ad for an Apple Watch Series 7. That is the effective storytelling public relations can create. By utilizing 911 calls, something that so many people fear they’ll have to do, Apple successfully told a story that encouraged customers to purchase its product to make them feel safer. The ad is a part of a campaign showing how a Series 7 Apple Watch can help people in dangerous situations. The campaign has been effective too. According to Statista, over 33.9 million Apple Watches were shipped last year.
Creating a New Standard
Storytelling has become so effective in advertising and public relations, it's become an expectation and important asset. Paul Garbett, director of Communication at CSM Sport & Entertainment, shared in PRWeek he tells clients “If you are trying to position a product, focus on how it makes consumers’ lives better or the human story that will bring the communications and creative to life.” Connection is so deeply cherished, that the value of seeing these messages within a brand leads to loyalty. Duolingo creates connections by guilt-tripping app users. If users feel like they’re hurting Duo the owl (not human, but a
personality), they’re more likely to do their daily Spanish lessons. This led to jokes on social media about Duo coming after people if they skip lessons. Duo on the app and social media has given people a story to follow and a character to root for. This is how Duolingo can have such a chaotic yet successful TikTok account with over 3 million followers. “Good stories…should always inspire emotion,” Garbett said. Though the emotions people may feel when completing language lessons may be mixed, Duo can express a multitude of them.
Combatting Controversy with Storytelling
Effective storytelling can also change negative attitudes surrounding controversy. The Blue Origin public relations team was able to utilize human-centric storytelling for the infamous flight Jeff Bezos took to space. It began with the launches being connected to
the launches being connected to the dates of the Freedom 7 capsule and Apollo 11 flights. Bezos then invited his brother Mark to be a passenger. “That was a very human moment for us,” Blue Origin’s VP of Communications Linda Mills said. “It’s a touching story that demonstrated our founder was so confident about the safety of the flight that not only was he willing to fly, but he was willing to fly a close family member as well.” Wally Funk was the final person on the flight to be announced. Funk was a part of The Mercury 13 program. Despite completing her training as an astronaut, she never got to travel into space. Funk’s dream would finally come true at 82 years old. The feelings from the public surrounding this aspect were greatly positive. Though many attitudes stayed unyielding, these choices portrayed a controversial event in a positive light.
Creating a New Story
March of Dimes launched a new initiative in 2019 based on storytelling with the intent to build community and raise awareness for important issues. The impact stories feature people who “inspire [March of Dimes] to work even harder.” Families and individuals are showcased on the page with a small bio, and clicking on it will take a reader to the whole story. The visuals allow for the feeling of connection. Seeing a person’s eyes and face make stories feel more human. “We’re empowering those who are too often silenced or hidden in the shadows,” said Stacey D. Stewart, president and CEO of March of Dimes. “We know it only takes one story like your own to feel heard and supported.”
There are many ways to utilize storytelling, whether that be with using photos and videos, characters and mascots or showcasing true human experience. It’s at the discretion of each company to decide what form of storytelling will best benefit its campaign. With the demand for storytelling within public relations strategy, an increase of its usage has become apparent throughout the industry. New and exciting uses of this are created each day. From the Norwegian Postal Service Santa commercial to the Burt’s Bees documentary that focuses on Burt himself, the ways that successful storytelling can be accomplished through public relations are endless.
About the Author
Grace Davis is a senior public relations student at the University of North Texas and a future PR professional. Davis is from Austin, TX and is president of UNT’s University Program Council, PR officer of the North Texas 40 Foundation and is involved in PRSSA.
Apple Watch series 7 | 911 | apple - youtube. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJ2JiwEARFo
Bradley, D. (2021, November 18). The inside story of how Blue Origin focused on 'human-centric storytelling' for Jeff Bezos' flight. PR Week. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://www.prweek.com/article/1723587/inside-story-blue-origin-focused-human-centric-storytelling-jeff-bezos-flight
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NEW STORY SHARING INITIATIVE LAUNCHED BY MARCH OF DIMES WILL BUILD COMMUNITY TO INCREASE AWARENESS OF ISSUES AROUND PREGNANCY, PARENTHOOD AND LOSS THIS MOTHER’S DAY. March of Dimes News. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://www.marchofdimes.org/news/new-story-sharing-initiative-launched-by-march-of-dimes-will-build-community-to-increase-awareness-of-issues-around-pregnancy-parenthood-and-loss-this-mother-s-day.aspx
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