The Essentials of PR Storytelling

This week’s blog post is sweet and simple.  In the three years that I have spent studying public relations and communications, I have learned a lot about the importance of storytelling.  It is at the core of communications.  Storytelling allows professionals to formulate and relay specific messages––regardless of topic.

Marilyn Fancher, chief creative officer of APCO Worldwide, addressed the art of storytelling in her article on PR News.  She questioned storytelling’s definition.

How do we define storytelling, exactly?  Is it enough to show the role of a product or service in the life of a consumer?  Make the product the hero, as the Mad Men of the world once proclaimed?  Or make the consumer the hero, as is more commonly done today?  Do good stories need both a protagonist and an antagonist, or even an enemy, to provide a complete and satisfying narrative?

Regardless of whatever definition one chooses to place on the term, Fancher claims that captivating storytelling involves two things: emotional linking and a nature of conflict.


Emotional relevance allows for authenticity.  People relate to stories they can affiliate with through experience or emotion.  When this is successfully done, stories become personable and people can recognize themselves within the narrative.  Therefore, we should make sure that our stories are “human”––that they allow for connection between the storyteller, the story itself, and the reader.

The link that forges relationships and builds bonds between brands and consumers is made up of experiences, emotions and associations.

At the end of the day, the goal of storytelling is to engage the reader in some way.  Thus, the reader wields a lot of power; they can choose to work with the storyteller and connect with the narrative, or choose to work against the storyteller and leave the experience incomplete.

As creative storytellers in a globally connected, digital world we have to develop the foresight to understand our audience/partner’s reactions and personal internal dialogue.  This is the essence of what will make a story meaningful and memorable.

According to research performed by APCO Worldwide, the following eight key emotions allow for brand attachment:

  1. Understanding
  2. Approachability
  3. Relevance
  4. Admiration
  5. Curiosity
  6. Identification
  7. Empowerment
  8. Pride


We all want to write and create a good client story, but it’s hard to know where to start.  It’s harder still to unearth the raw emotions in ourselves that will help make the story real.

To address this difficulty, Fancher suggests starting with the search for “the essence of central conflict.”  Where is the friction?  As storytellers, we should embrace the conflict instead of trying to find ways to elude it in the narrative.  Oftentimes, the conflict is what makes the story work so we should not try to mask it.

Unless we ask difficult, even uncomfortable, questions that force us to understand the essence of conflict for our clients, we will never succeed in making that story relevant or even interesting for anyone else.


Fancher presents very good points in her article.  I agree that empathy enhances storytelling.  With the professional aspect aside, we all share experiences.  We must use this to our advantage and connect with others––persons and organizations alike.

Life, as a person or an organization, is a shared experience.  We are indeed all in this together.  And that’s the real story.

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