Amith Prabhu: How Storytelling has come to become the new buzzword in PR

16 Sep,2013

By Amith Prabhu


Stories have been told for as long as there has been life. A story was told through drawings, actions and verbally from time immemorial. The first things that little children start comprehending are simple stories. Storybooks and storytimes are how evenings would come to an end as little kids. The dining table at home is where stories got told as one grew up. Then there was the television around which a family gathered to view and listen to fiction and non-fiction stories.  But despite this word being so commonly used a new way of looking at it as emerged in the business of Public Relations in the last couple of years, if not longer.


Storytelling does not need to be defined as everyone understands it. But does everyone get how intelligent storytelling can stand out? Is storytelling just an art or is there a science to it? Are storytellers people who acquire a skill over time or are born with a flair to tell stories in a compelling way? This column today, attempts to answer this and more in a basic way. No doubt storytelling is how PR as a business and  a profession came to be but somewhere down the line the strategy got lost and it became more a tactical activity. It is regaining its lusture.


Storytelling is both an art and a science. It is an art because how it is told depends on who is telling it. It is a science because a good story has a beginning and an end that conveys a happening. If PR professionals practice writing good stories, mastery of this very important tool will emerge. Press releases can no longer be vanilla information notes with a quote or two. They need to be compelling enough for news outlets to even consider reading them beyond the headline. More important than that is how stories unfold in the new space of information consumption – the world of social media. While Twitter presents the challenge of presenting a story in 140 characters which people work around by tweeting links to larger stories, Facebook has to deal with limited attention span that its users have come to have.


Stories are the new press releases and these are being told in different ways – social media posts, videos, podcasts, talks at events, op-eds in digital and print and through graphic art. People have stopped blindly believing in news media they way they did a few years ago thanks to the advent of paid content. Today, every story about a person, a commercial event or a brand is taken with a pinch of salt because the reader/viewer/listener is not sure if this was a genuine story that emanated from a third party or was paid for to be published. In this scenario telling a story in a way that is credible gains high importance.


The three worlds of Paid, Owned and Earned media overlap time and again. The same story will be looked at differently in these three streams. The only way out is to constantly have one’s ear to the ground, keep narrating stories through the written word and verbally because good stories get better when the storyteller practices long and hard. Storytelling in the way we see it is here to stay. Smart PR practitioners of the future will be those who are good storytellers.


Amith Prabhu is founder of The PRomise Foundation which organises PRAXIS – the annual summit for PR & Corp Comm professionals. During the day he is a full-time employee at a leading Public Relations firm’s Chicago office. Views expressed here are the author’s own and don’t represent those of his past, present, future employer or of MxMIndia. You can connect with him on Twitter @amithpr


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