Storytelling for the Digital Age: 2011 PRSA International Conference

November 1st, 2011
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This post first appeared on PRSA ComPRehension 10.27.11 and is reposted with permission.

Even though the PRSA International Conference was my 12th in the past 13 years, I was excited about this year’s theme of Envisioning the Future of Public Relations. As I’m a PRSSA mentor and adviser, and vice president of BurrellesLuce Media Contacts, the future of the profession is close to my heart.

One of the sessions I attended was led by my colleague Johna Burke, on the topic of storytelling and its importance in this digital age. I came away with two pages of typewritten notes, but here are what I believe to be the key takeaways.

Burke began by stressing that storytelling is the core competency in the public relations profession, next to great writing. She talked about this being the “Web 2.0” of storytelling. No more is it just local library readings, storytelling festivals and other analog channels. We now have multimedia, hypertext, social media, user-generated broadcast, etc. Public relations professionals must leverage the art form — make your story compelling, make it stand out.

Blasting your message out to the masses is not the way to reach everyone. The most important considerations:

  • Where is your audience? Target your story through the proper channels.
  • What matters? Understand who your community is and what they want. 
  • What is sustainable? Understand how your organization makes and spends money. Channel your resources in the proper way so that you aren’t wasting time and money talking where no one is listening.

In the spirit of being in Orlando, Burke referenced Walt Disney as one of the best storytellers of all time; he knew who his audience was. He knew that kids were his primary market, yet he recognized his secondary market was the parents (using allusions above the kids’ heads to amuse the adults). He also didn’t forget there’s always a tertiary market — audiences we may not have originally anticipated but who still matter and who take an interest in our stories. These audiences should be identified as they emerge. 

The key is to understand what your brand means. Being generic dilutes the message.

Public relations professionals must empower their audience by digging deeper, driving the story. She warns to beware of the desire to be the newest, coolest — using the “all sizzle, no steak” analogy. People see through this, and will not support long-time relationships, which is what you need. You do want to be relevant — visuals, videos, info-graphics are powerful, but don’t miss the opportunity to tell your story.

Tressa Robbins is vice president of Media Contacts for BurrellesLuce. Tressa is a regular contributor to BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas blog, a member of the St. Louis PRSA chapter, Champions for PRSSA section member, PRSSA mentor and Professional Adviser. She recently served as a panelist for the PRSSA National Conference and speaks at the local and regional level. Connect with Tressa on LinkedIn and follow Tressa on Twitter @tressalynne.

2 Responses to “Storytelling for the Digital Age: 2011 PRSA International Conference”

  1. [...] was absolutely terrific), or sat in on Jay Baer‘s presentation, people kept talking about the importance of storytelling and how it is central to what public relations practitioners [...]

  2. [...] At CRT/tanaka, our crisis communication and media training expert, Brian Ellis has helped several Fortune 500 leaders become effective communicators and he is one of my favorite speakers at the agency. Here are a few tips that I have personally learned from Brian as well as my favorite speakers in the PR and Digital Media circles like Bonin Bough, Digital Head at Kraft Foods, Scott Monty, Chief of Social Media, Ford Motors and Johna Burke, Senior VP at BurresLuce. [...]

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