Blend, mash and mix: cookery lessons in storytelling

Shall I tell you a little story about storytelling?

Well once upon a time, PR people mostly worked to help journalists tell stories that helped their clients in many different ways. There was rarely a dull moment, but we largely knew what we were working with. And largely, that was stories.

Then along came a big change that winded many as they tried to work out its implications. It was revolutionary, it was disruptive, it was built for military purposes and it began an unconscious (largely) onslaught on traditional media models. It was called the internet.

Since then the story of PR and the people who work in it has raced by, and while the opportunities created by media fragmentation and digitisation are manifold, they can be daunting too. It’s a brave new world.

And at the heart of it for many now is storytelling. The ability to not only tell a good yarn but sustain it, take it in different directions and keep an audience captivated should give us renewed swagger versus certain other marketing disciplines I could mention. But storytelling is hardly new is it? As PR pioneers like Bernays, or Houdini for that matter, demonstrated nearly 100 years ago.

This was all going through my mind, forming yet more parts of this story, when I tripped across this piece from journalism.co.uk on 10 tips for digital storytelling. Some wise words, but also good insight into how journalists at the New York Times, Washington Post and others are also experimenting and puzzling over how they can be better storytellers with the content, platforms and other potential editorial assets they now have at their disposal.

It raised a few points for me.

Firstly, the demand for more expansive storytelling shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. We’ve been working with it since the dawn of the profession, even if traditional media became our proxy for many decades. The best PR people have always been good storytellers, so we should take the blinkers off.

Secondly, digital media and the way in which journalism is changing give us scope for more sustained and engaging storytelling, which should make value easier to measure. It is an understatement to call this a good thing.

Next, we need to be confident and stand up for ourselves at this time of change in what we do, and remember that journalists are feeling many of the same pressures. Take some heart, we’re in it together, mostly. We just need to stay relevant and valuable in the editorial process.

As journalists seem to have been finding out, we need to have a transmedia mindset and ensure we innovate in how we blend, mash and mix content and techniques in order to tell stories.

Because the best stories have many ingredients, and the best story chefs will need to know how to make good use of them.

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