Category Archives: PR Writing

3 Ways to Apply Content Marketing Principles to your Lame Annual Report

We spend countless hours planning, writing, gathering information, proofing, working with designers and agencies (if we’re fortunate enough to have a budget for that), printers and mail houses, among others, to produce the classiest, content-driven piece possible to motivate your audiences to some sort of action.

You might then mail this annual report to your members, stakeholders, customers and other key publics, but then what? How do we keep the content and momentum steam engine tearing down the rails, helping move our organization forward?

Check out my video and get the inside track!

 


Symmetrical Thinking, the Art of Storytelling

As a preface to this post, I must state that it’s written with a focus on theoretical constructs and their relationship to PR for my master’s theory course.

If you dare challenge yourself to read this post, you’ll certainly become inundated with some old and new theory. The thrust of this post will be how Grunig’s Symmetrical Model of mutually beneficial relationships and Excellence Theory and Thomas Mickey’s Sociodrama play in tandem with the art of storytelling in the PR profession. We are, at our roots, storytellers who craft narrative in all shapes and forms.

This post is designed to reveal my thoughts on how several theories of communication can both diminish and enlighten the PR practitioner’s ability to weave compelling stories.

Some Earlier Thoughts

Several important pieces of commentary arose from prior class posts that I believe need to be shared again to set the context for this discussion. I wrote about how the brand persona has long been a powerful force in sales because it focuses on “creating a powerful brand narrative… the articulated form of the brand’s character and personality.” More recently, practitioners have realized the value of extracting this brand persona within storytelling to “drive the continuity for the overall brand message” and drive target publics to a specific action. (Crystal and Herskovitz, 2010)

As an advocate for the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) model, I work to weave IMC into my client’s messaging and stories. Malcolm, McDaniel and Langett describe IMC as connecting a brand directly with the customer. They say that “IMC is a story or narrative that encourages action on the part of those within and outside the organization.”

Real-World IMC and Collegiate Experience

I previously discussed how my work with GE Lighting provided me with the perfect outlet to live the brand’s powerful persona and allowed me to craft compelling stories with human interest elements and depth. I mentioned how having all the functions, from product development to marketing communications, involved and working together, could ensure that the brand’s message conveyed its persona.

Persona-based storytelling, tied to the brand and executed within the IMC model, is a powerful set of tools to launch a successful brand. When Malcolm and Langett stated that IMC is dependent upon an “enlarged mentality” they were not kidding. IMC is one of the most challenging models to successfully achieve in any organization, because it requires c-suite and staff buy-in, support, imagination, and an attitude – as Malcolm and Langett would mention – that is similar to a “self-conscious pariah.” (Benhabib, 2000, p. 29)

Within the art of storytelling and IMC lies the discussion of Sociodrama, as discussed by Thomas Mickey. This theory is tied to Symbolic Interactionism by Mead and Cooley, and how people interpret and react to objects and symbols. This interpretation is based on sociology and how we are all “social participants in society… making meaning,” through language-based approaches. (Horn, Neff, 2008, p. 122)

I end my thoughts on persona-based storytelling and Sociodrama by saying that:

From feature stories to newsletter articles to social media posts, the art of storytelling is directly paralleled to Sociodrama and the sociology of the human race and condition. As long as we, as PR professionals, remember we hold the keys to reaching people and compelling them to act through words and visual imagery, we will have a special type of power that we must respect and take great care in using.

What are your thoughts on storytelling from this theoretical perspective? Can it legitimately be applied? If you’re not sure quite yet, read on and see what others and I think about the topic.

The Art of Storytelling from a Kent State University Professor

My Perspective on Storytelling

Crafting a powerful, compelling and memorable story is easier said than done. Only the best writers can compose a story that elicits strong emotions, while allowing the reader relate directly to the piece.

Using Grunig’s Symmetrical Model, which focuses on creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics, I find that it allows me to be able to flesh out more effective message strategy. When I am thinking about how the brand message and tone affect the internal and external audiences, I am much more effective in creating content and messaging that ethically resonates with both. The following is a video from Dr. James Grunig himself talking about the Symmetrical Model tied to PR.

‘‘ A brand narrative without a well-defined, recognizable, memorable, and compelling persona can become a series of disconnected adventures.’’ (Crystal and Herskovitz, 2010)

I have found that, when used together, Symmetrical thinking can open many new doors of thinking, such as brand tonality, voice, character, traits and personality. When I prepare messaging platforms I look to find the various perspectives Mickey discusses, including: interactional, interpretive and cultural perspectives. (Hanson-Horn, Neff, 2008, p.122)

It’s hard to ignore that Mead and Cooley’s theory of Symbolic Interactionism when I prepare messaging as well. Symbolic Interactionism “explores how people create meaning for themselves and the broader society… people actively create meanings of themselves and society through dealings with others.” (Horn, Neff, 2008) Mead and Cooley also suggested that “social research should take a humanist form and explore world views, cultures, and life experiences of different groups.” (Smith, 2001)

A Varied Approach to Message Development

When I develop messaging, I don’t just think of how the target publics would be affected by it, I look at how the brand – if it were a person – would interact with the publics. The brand persona, through symbols, personal traits and character are what connect people to brands. It’s akin to people relating to like people; but the other person is the brand in this case.

I work from this perspective when I develop messaging platforms. My content is driven by the creation of the truest brand persona, always acting the part. The key here is that the brand goes beyond the message. The employees, executives and closest constituents need to act the part as well. This is where Mickey’s Sociodrama comes into play. We are all “actors” in the literal and figurative sense, and must embody the brand. Whether it’s a customer service representative answering the phone or the CEO presenting in front of shareholders, the message and persona must be accurately portrayed. This is true IMC at its best with the core of Excellence Theory infused. I seek to find how we can use best practices for the good of the organization to bolster messaging that can live across the organization and compel my target publics to act.

This is how I ensure that the brand persona, character, and traits connect with the business objectives, goals and messaging. Get in the mind of the brand; live it, breathe it, and it will become part of people’s lives. The best brands, like Coca-Cola®, Hershey’s® and Jet Blue® do it extremely well; and that’s why they are worldwide business leaders.

Bibliography:

Web –

Print –

  • Hanson-Horn, Tricia and Neff, Bonita. Public Relations: From theory to practice. Boston: Pearson Education. 2008. Print.
  • Herskovitz, S. and Crystal, M. “The essential brand persona: storytelling and branding.”  Journal of Business Strategy, (2010): 31, 3.
  • Mickey, Thomas. Sociodrama: An Interpretive Theory for the Practice of Public Relations. University Press of America. 1995. Print.
  • Smith, Philip. Cultural Theory: An Introduction. Malden, Mass. Blackwell, 2003. Print.

Your Blog is Dead… So Give Up

Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851)I:101
I thought my blog was dead and that I should give up until I read a blog post by Bill Sledzik today called “The death of blogging? Kill me now!” I have to admit that’s a pretty killer title for a post. But this guy’s a self-proclaimed storyteller for God’s sake! So his title had better be. All joking aside; he’s a legitimately excellent and qualified storyteller, and he makes a great point in his post.

Bill said (while paraphrasing) that according to a USA Today article, brands are…

“bailing out of their blogs in favor of social channels that are less labor intensive and more connected to their audiences…”

What a terrible excuse! This is true laziness on the part of corporate America. PR pros and marketers alike need to use the mediums that effectively reach their target publics to reach their objectives. Just because you can pop out a 140-character post in less than three minutes doesn’t mean you should discount the power of a blog. Companies are killing their own blogs by drowning their readers in self-promotion and ego-centric posts. It’s no wonder they’re not getting any ROI from their blogs.

A blog needs to be strategic like any other communication vehicle we use. Why would it be any different? Because we’re lazy? Well, the answer is YES. I’ll be the first to take the blame. It’s a pain in the ass to keep up with a blog. But if it’s done with a central strategy in mind, carefully planned and well-written with rich content it may just work!

It’s always been about content. If you’re a technical company, it may take 1,500 words with technical diagrams to effectively reach and engage your audience. If you’re a consumer-driven company selling candy, quick 100-200 word snippets with several fun photos may be the solution.

In either case, if a blog is identified as a tool that will help reach your business objectives, use it if you can. Sometimes the easier and faster solution isn’t the best one.

Thanks to Bill Sledzik, my former prof from Kent State University and beer drinking pal, for inspiring me to write this post. Check out his blog ToughSledding.


Carpe Diem! A new day, a fresh start…

Seize the Day - Dead Poets SocietySo I did the unthinkable on my own blog. A no-no for PR people. I stopped posting for almost a year! Why am I posting again and trying to revive this blog that once had potential you may ask?

Well, I watched Dead Poets Society yesterday for something like the 50th time in my life, and it once again moved me to act and think in different ways. Isn’t that the idea of an inspirational movie like this one? To “seize the day” and take action in unorthodox and unique ways?

I was feeling as though I needed to reinvigorate myself in a holistic fashion. And since it’s been nearly five years since I’ve seen it, I thought what the heck, why not? Let’s see if it makes some kind of impact again. And yes, I can definitely say it did.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, watch it! Robin Williams and a slew of other young actors, now a bit older after its release 22 years ago, were absolutely moving. The writing was provocative. The acting was honest and genuine.

Here’s a little taste of what the Dead Poets Society film is all about for those of you who never had the privilege of seeing it.

Robin WilliamsNeil Perry, played by Robert Sean Leonard, and a group of young, teenage friends attend a wealthy, private academy in a purist New England town set in the 1950s. All of them are awkward in their own ways, trying to fulfill their parents (mostly father’s) dreams. Such was a child’s life during that generation. These adolescents have no individuality or character of their own. That is until they meet their new English teacher, John “Oh Captain, My Captain” Keating.

He was part of a secret society called the Dead Poets when he went to the academy many years prior. He returns to the academy to bring his love of poetry and the written word to these young minds. But it’s more than just the words and how they’re assembled that intrigues him. It’s the beauty they reveal; the meaning, the way they can elicit free-thinking – battling the status quo that’s forever pounded into our brains. He teaches them to break free of the shackles of societal norms. He encourages them to write from their hearts and souls, not from some highfalutin textbook.

Neil faces the worst reality. His father has his life planned in perfect chronological order for him: high school at Welton Academy for boys, Harvard and then medical school. There’s no wavering from this plan or room for discussion. This semester Neil gets to room with the new kid, Todd Anderson, played by Ethan Hawke.  They immediately becomes best friends. Todd is a shy and reserved kid who gravitates towards Neil’s leadership and passion for life. Through Neil’s friendship, and support from Mr. Keating, Todd breaks out of his rigid shell and learns more about the person and true character within.

But the movie takes a turn (as you would imagine)! Neal defies his father, takes the lead role in A Midsummer Nights Dream and receives a standing ovation. Ah, but this would be Neil’s one and only performance. His father catches him and punishes him in front of his friends and Mr. Keating. His father then enrolls him in military academy, condemning his dreams of acting as a ridiculous pipe dream that must be squashed.

Before I go any further, this is where I place the final period in my overview of this narration for you. I could go on, but it would ruin the story. Wouldn’t it?

Here’s a clip of one of the most popular scenes in the movie to give you a taste of this movie’s greatness…

The point of this is that many times we find ourselves deeply falling into the status quo in our lives – whether it’s at home or at our jobs. It happens to me all too often. It’s how you overcome that regimented world that locks you in one train of thought that defines you. It separates you from the herd.

I’m not saying that having processes and procedures is a bad thing. On the contrary, I believe it’s important to our field and our society. But we as PR professionals especially are prone to falling into ruts. Whether it’s the daily grind of pumping out press releases, or filling out that notorious budget report, it happens. I would challenge you, as I try myself to do continually do, to remember to rekindle your own voice, your own thoughts, your own character. Keep yourself unique and free of the prison of regularity.

Creating new ideas and ways of thinking is what makes our profession and the individuals within it special. I see college graduates fresh out of school with that fire in their eyes and think, “yeah, that’s exactly what many of us lose and never work or care to get back.”

Like Neal fighting his father to be his own person and change the world for the better through acting, I say let us do the same. Let us have our own individual characters that speak volumes and let us YAWP from the rooftops of the world that we have an individuality no one else has!

So I’m committing to getting this blog up and running again with this movie experience as the impetus! This time with more of my own thoughts and what I’d like to think of as flavorful rhetoric. Since I shared with you a movie that inspired me, please do the same. Post some comments of your favorite, awe-inspiring movie for all to see.


How can content be king without great writing?

As PR professionals, we all know (or should) that content in any medium is king. It’s what entices the reader and keeps them coming back. But I believe we have failed to ensure our recent college graduates have the necessary writing skills to enter the workforce. Many college programs now heavily focus on Social Media without reinforcing the need to be concise, factual and strong writers. The best Social Media platforms will always fail without extremely well-written content that engages and intrigues the reader.

What’s the profession think?
Richard Cole
, professor and chairperson of the Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Retailing at Michigan State University, wrote about a survey he conducted with Andy Corner, APR, and Larry Hembroff in the October 2009 edition of PRSA Tactics regarding the writing skills of entry-level PR practitioners. Continue reading


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