By Andrew Lopez, Strategy Lead - PR & Influence, Ogilvy UK


"Well, maybe it started that way. As a dream, but doesn’t everything? Those buildings. These lights. This whole city. Somebody had to dream about it first. And maybe that is what I did. I dreamed about coming here, but then I did it."
- James and the Giant Peach

Today is Roald Dahl day. The master storyteller would have been 103 years young.

Millions and millions of children (and adults) across the world are still completely compelled by his stories about families of foxes, chocolate factories and mean witches. He was a storyteller that had an incomparable skill of weaving together magical worlds full of intrigue and memorable characters.  

The art and practice of ‘storytelling’ in the world of communications has less of a happy legacy. It wouldn’t be an over exaggeration to say it is in danger of becoming one of the most cliched and abused words in communications history.

That’s especially worrying for the world of PR, where storytelling is rooted deep into the very meaning of the practice. Too often, PR storytelling is dangerously close to dull.

How do we ensure storytelling remains a powerful tool in the PR armoury?

Earning Attention

"'The matter with human beans,' the BFG went on, 'is that they is absolutely refusing to believe in anything unless they is actually seeing it right in front of their own schnozzles.'"
– The BFG

At its simplest, PR is about earning people’s attention through storytelling. It’s about finding creative ways of bringing the brand messages to life through experiences. 

As we all keep hearing, this is the age of attention deficit. We are bombarded by more distraction and messages than ever before.

The role for PR is to construct experiences and stories that are genuinely useful, entertaining and thought-provoking. It is a brilliant medium to land a message through the construct of a story. Earning people’s attention (be it journalists, influencers or the end user) isn’t a right: it’s a skill. We would do well to keep reminding ourselves of this as an industry and as consumers.

Cultural Relevance

“It's a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”
- Matilda

A common pitfall in PR storytelling, is to construct a story rooted solely in the brand messaging. Just because we think our brands are wonderful and think about them every waking minute, it doesn’t mean the average person does.

Good and impactful PR storytelling should draw on three vital ingredients: a cultural tension (what’s going on in the world), the audience zeitgeist (what do people really care about?), and the brand’s best self (what does the brand stand for and signify?)

It is the coming together of these three elements that create a story with powerful potential. Just pushing out a brand story thinly disguised as a ‘story’ and it will be die a quick death.

Whisk Them Away

“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. [...] She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”

Powerful PR storytelling should be thought of in similar terms to the power of a good book like in the quote above: it should have the ability to transport people away from their everyday for even a short time. That doesn’t mean it has to be fantasy escapism, but whatever the tone or message, it should inspire in some way; it should get them to stop and think. The ambition? Take them away from whatever they are doing at that given moment and take them somewhere else.

PR is the best storytelling medium out there. When it’s done right, it has some seriously powerful potential with the power to:

* IGNITE debate or discussion

* demonstrate CREDIBILITY & RELEVANCE to people’s lives

* Build INTEGRITY through 3rd party endorsement​

* PROTECT and defend against reputational risk​

* INSPIRE genuine action

And the best way to go about constructing great PR storytelling? Matilda of course has the answer for us:

'"Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it's unbelievable"'.