If You Don’t Tell Your Organization’s Story, Someone Else Will

Typewriter with Once Upon a TimeIn an age when practically everyone carries the latest model of a mobile device, when breaking news is always a glance away and one company’s misstep can spread like wildfire across the country in a matter of only minutes, it is essential that organizations can effectively communicate their stories, before someone else does for them.

Find Real Stories

The foundation of telling your organization’s story well is to start with finding a story: a real story. Every organization has a story to tell. Even the smallest or seemingly mundane organization has some unique attribute hidden in its history, conception, product, obstacles or successes. As public relations professionals, our job is to unearth these stories and nuances that set organizations apart.

Often best captured by simple anecdotes that reflect organizational values, character and image, your story needs to emulate who you are and what sets you apart. If these stories do not automatically surface, it’s up to you to discover what those differentiations are and effectively communicate them to your audience through authentic communication.

It is important to note, that while a particular instance or fact may seem like an excellent beginning to your brand’s story, even the most interesting tale can stop you in your tracks if it is not consistent with your brand message or values. If you cannot directly link your story to your brand, the message will quickly become diluted and serve as a detriment because of inconsistencies and confusion about who you are and your values. If your story lacks brand consistency or clarity, it’s time to revisit the purpose of finding your story.

The most successful brand stories are not fabricated or over exaggerations of the truth. They are authentic, true and a direct reflection of what the brand values.

Use Real People

Perhaps the simplest way to find a good story that emanates your company’s core character is to find real people who have real stories to tell. Be authentic while creating and refining characters in your story whom your audience will champion. These stories could come from any of your stakeholders, including people from within your organization, one of your clients or even someone in your community. A plethora of compelling content is not necessary in order to communicate your story well. A few unique anecdotes can be more than enough to convey everything about your brand and company culture.

Once you have the story that captures the essence of who you are, what comes next? The mistake many organizations make is convoluting the clarity of their story by hiring an actor or appointing a spokesperson to tell it for them. Consider the purpose of why you originally chose to discover and tell your story; this solution produces the opposite effect.

Did your retired co-founder inherit the shop location of your now nationally recognized bakery chain from a famous pastry artist? Bring her back in for an interview. Make her and what her story means for your organization the focus of your next campaign.

People connect to real stories that evoke authentic emotion. The more willing you are to humanize your stories, the more you can relate to your audience and your audience can relate to you.

Be Authentic

Bottom line: there is trust in transparency.

In this day and age, nothing is hidden. No bad business decision, unethical practice or poor treatment of customers can be concealed. It is only a matter of time before the truth is revealed, and when it is, who would you rather have controlling the conversation: you, the public or even your competition? An honest apology or explanation of the truth can earn the respect of your audience and has the potential to deter ruthless scrutiny, even if that scrutiny is unfounded.

When crafting your story, be as open and honest with your audience as you can be, because openness is equal to trust. Actively disclosing information to your constituents about your company and its products or services is perhaps the most powerful means of establishing and building trust with your audience. Don’t forget to ask yourself the hard questions and answer them before others have the opportunity to answer them for you.

In the end, the key element to telling your organization’s story well is simple: the truth. The most powerful and meaningful brand stories are derived from honesty and openness. When you tell your story by using authenticity and real people to tell those stories, you will establish more than just trust with your stakeholders—you will create passionate brand advocates who believe in your brand and its mission.


Kristen SyndramKristen Syndram is a public relations graduate from Illinois State University and a public relations and communications professional in the central Illinois area. She has gained professional communications experience by working with both Fortune 50 companies as well as boutique agencies and specializes in public relations, media relations and social media. Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter

Intro to Political PR

Growing up, I knew I had to be involved in politics. From the time my mom took me to a presidential rally when I was only five years old, her political enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I helped knock on doors to get out the vote in high school and registered to vote the day I turned 18. There’s nothing like the thrill of election night, when all the hard work pays off and the candidate you believe in is allowed the privilege to work on behalf of the people.

Working on campaigns, Capitol Hill and in the executive branch has given me a unique perspective on how the political world works. Political PR is not for the faint of heart – expect long hours, unexpected demands and job uncertainty because of elections. However, it’s incredibly rewarding when you see major legislation, which you helped guide through, passed and signed into law.

As I knew the natural progression of working in political communications leads to Washington, D.C., or a state capital, I have learned a few things throughout my journey that can help tremendously if you’re looking to break into political PR:

1)     Always network. In an extremely competitive environment like politics, it may seem tough to break into the industry. Not having many political connections myself, I worked hard to connect with anyone and everyone who would meet with me. Make the most of your friends, classmates and their connections. Once you identify someone whose work and experience interests you, ask for an informational meeting and always be thankful for their time. Even if a position isn’t open at the moment, there might be one down the line, and that person can help you land it.

2)     No position or task is beneath you. Although you may have graduated from college, politics is all about working your way up the totem pole. Many young professionals make the mistake of thinking they are qualified to be a press secretary without any experience. It’s important to find solid internships, perhaps on the Hill, which will help you gain skills applicable to a legislative office to be considered for entry-level jobs. If you want to do communications, ask to help the press secretary or communications director with drafting press releases or coordinating social media.

3)     Join a campaign. Often, some of the best hands-on experience you can gain is to join a campaign and work on the trail. A lot of people begin their political PR careers on campaigns, which always need extra help. If you join a race at a more local level, you are more likely to earn more responsibility.

These are just a few takeaways from my time spent in Washington, D.C. One of the most important rules is to have fun. I’ve had made some of my best friends through working in politics. Also, pay it forward – someday, when you’re a big shot, remember there will be people looking for their start and how you have been in their shoes. Happy politicking!


Kate EnosKate Enos is currently an account executive at GYMR Public Relations. Previously, she served as deputy press secretary for the federal agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service. She also has several years of varied legislative and political experience, working on Capitol Hill and on several state and nationwide political campaigns. Enos is the PRSA New Professionals Section mentorship co-chair.

The Press Release Isn’t Dead: Writing for the Digital Age

In an age where established corporations are challenged by Internet startups and consumers order dinner on their smartphones, every industry is learning to adapt to modern advances in digital technology. In fact, industries are finding ways to harness these developments and capitalize on them.

Public relations is naturally at the forefront of this ever-changing landscape. A discipline responsible for communicating with diverse audiences needs to be where those audiences are and speaking their language. This change applies not only to mass consumers, but also to information and content gatekeepers – another role that has been transformed, not nullified, by the Digital Age.

As traditional media shifts, traditional media relations is feeling some growing pains as well. One of the basic tactical issues PR has to deal with is whether the press release is dead or alive. After all, it’s true that PR has evolved far past the elements conventionally associated with it. Modern campaigns commonly involve social strategies and larger-than-life activations that blur with what’s historically been seen as marketing territory. So it’s only natural that we pause to question whether press release dissemination – sometimes scorned as a pesky push tactic – is still relevant.

The truth is, no matter what you call it or what form it takes as digital continues to evolve, the function of the press release is, and always will be, needed.

Think about it like this. Scores of additional media targets have cropped up as the digital space expands. There are all sorts of individuals you might want to reach, from social media influencers to bloggers, that are increasingly difficult to differentiate from traditional journalists. Everyday consumers have been elevated to the level of news editors, as social media and consumer reviews live in the same space as the journalistic pieces we’ve always thought of as “media.”

It’s a tricky landscape to navigate, but success ultimately boils down to your ability to hold an early, active and formative role in telling and shaping your own story (or likely your organization’s or client’s story). Of course there are many ways to do this, like driving traffic to your site’s media center, fostering a social dialogue or sparking word of mouth interest. These methods are all good things, but the tried-and-true strategy of directly targeting those individuals who are writing and talking about you is still as effective as ever.

A press release is an opportunity to tell your organization’s story with the added credibility of your own proactive authority and voice. There will always be a need to do this, even if the look and sound of it changes from a standard document to a video pitch.

But just because the press release is a timeless PR tool does not mean we can let our approach to it stagnate. The Digital Age has altered the basis of what makes an effective pitch.

To really grasp this, we need to think more like journalists than ever. Keep in mind that their reality is shifting a swell. The 24/7 news cycle is morphing into more of a speed-of-light operation, and journalists are now expected to develop content for traditional outlets, websites and social media. In short, they are the busiest they’ve ever been.

On top of this, easy access to digital information and dissemination has created a much higher volume of incoming pitches. After all, just about anyone can write a pitch and blast it to contacts with a few clicks of Mail Merge. Journalists are weeding through an unprecedented amount of information that’s being hurled their way.

These trends aren’t going anywhere, so we need to be mindful of them as we craft our press releases. The demand for substance is higher, as the digital shift has ushered in a keen focus on content curation and has removed all tolerance for self-promotional language that gives neither journalists nor consumers what they’re seeking. The information inflation highlights the need for credible communication, and that’s exactly what you and your press release are positioned to deliver.

Besides the basics of thinking like a journalist and answering the questions you anticipate them asking – yes, the five W’s and all – you can take several steps to implement new digital trends that will help your press release cut through the clutter.

  • Use a multimedia news release and include elements that can be repurposed for news websites and blogs. Provide infographics, videos and hi-res images that your media target can easily repost.
  • Always consider search engine optimization. Remember that press releases are often housed on corporate websites or widely distributed online. Include keywords and links to relevant resources.
  • Take advantage of online distribution sites, like Vocus’s PRWeb, to help your information reach mass consumers just as quickly as traditional gatekeepers.
  • Make your content simple to share via social media. Be sure your headline fits in the 140-character Twitter limit, and incorporate links that allow readers to automatically share the release on top social platforms.

The form of the press release might change, but the facts, stats and newsworthiness still need to be there. There will always be a need for stories, as long as you know how to drive your story home.

How about you? What’s your take on press releases in the Digital Age?


Keri CookKeri Cook works with Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ consumer marketing practice in New York. She graduated from Liberty University with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and writes on topics ranging from media relations to marketing trends, to corporate strategy and crisis communications. While completing her undergrad, Cook was named PRWeek’s 2012 Student of the Year.

Summer Book Club–June: UnMarketing Discussion

“If you believe business is built on relationships, make building them your business.”  That, in a nutshell, is what defines “UnMarketing”. 

Why do marketers, in a world where consumers strive to fast forward through commercials and place their phone numbers on “do not call” lists, continue to use old ways of marketing that they themselves detest?  “Why do we market to people the way we hate to be marketed to?” asks author Scott Stratten.

Enter UnMarketing: a new way of marketing based on creating connections, building relationships and continually providing value to your contacts using traditional media and social media outlets.  Stratten urges us to “Stop marketing. Start engaging.”

One of the biggest ways Stratten suggests to build relationships with consumers is by positioning yourself, or your company, as an expert in your field.  “When you position yourself as an expert with useful information for people, your marketplace will always have a need for that information,” says Stratten.  Therefore, if a consumer does not currently have use for your product, they will still be interested in communicating with you based on the knowledge you have to share.

So, you have knowledge to share and a few contacts to share with.  Stratten recommends building a social media platform.  With social media tools expanding at what seem like an exponential rate, one cannot possibly use every service.  Stratten suggests starting small.  Pick one place, be it Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, and invest your time in it until you build a strong following.  Stratten outlines three steps to successfully build your platform:

1. Build traction: be consistent with your updates and spread them out over the week.  Share information and respond to others’ updates.  Create a presence.

2. Build momentum: focus on strengthening the connections you have instead of only increasing followers.  Take your conversation to another level, like meeting face-to-face at conferences or Tweetups.

3. Expand: in order to take your relationships to the next level, grow your platform to other social media sites to better engage with your connections. 

Once you have followers, it becomes important to keep your followers.  Every communication should focus on creating valuable content and keeping your followers’ trust.  Stratten emphasizes that one mediocre experience can lead a customer to shop around elsewhere:  “One of the things companies need to realize is that they are only as good as the weakest experience of their customer.  Many businesses are guilty of creating a great experience to get a first sale from you, but are really bad at keeping that level of service going.” 

Stratten describes this “Experience Gap” as the space between the best services and the worst experience a customer receives.  Every business should strive for the smallest Experience Gap because other companies can sneak in through the cracks.

Because no company can afford gaps in trust or experience, the most important rule to follow is to be authentic and transparent.  Being authentic means being yourself.  When you stop trying to be your competitor and start showing what makes you different, you play to your strengths and position yourself for success.  Being transparent means being honest.  Honesty is just a good business rule to follow anyway, and it helps keep the trust of your customers.

These concepts merely scratch the surface of UnMarketing, but they demonstrate that Stratten believes engagement and sincere relationships are the foundation for any business that can no longer be ignored.

Share your thoughts on UnMarketing below!

  1. What did you agree with and why? What did you disagree with?
  2. Stratten provided the advantages and disadvantages for each social media outlet like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.  Have you found a favorite site to engage with your customers?  Are there any pros or cons you would add to any of the site?
  3. UnMarketing featured an entire section on viral marketing.  Have you found success with a viral video? How did you handle the loss of control? How did you connect beyond number of views?
  4. Stratten provides helpful tips to connect with consumers using more traditional means of marketing like tradeshows, newsletters and seminars.  What other ways are you creating conversation beyond social media?  Do you think our society still finds value in traditional media?
  5. Networking is either your biggest fear or your greatest ally as a new professional.  We’ve all seen the “Card Collector” and all strive to be the “Great One”.  Stratten suggests listening to others, being yourself and enjoying the conversation, not just seeing the event as a glorified business card exchange.  What suggestions do you have for other new pros learning how to network? 
  6. What is the most valuable lesson you will take away from this book? Any specific ideas you will adopt?

Stay tuned for the announcement of our July Summer Book Club read!

Event PR: the Original Mobile Marketing by Andrea Nourse

Mobile marketing can mean one of two things. The most recognized meaning today involves smart phones and mobile Internet. The other, more traditional, kind involves hitting the road and bringing a brand or product to the masses. Although the two can, and often do, go hand-in-hand, mobile event marketing presents its own challenges and advantages.

MMA Creative, the agency I work for, represents one of the largest food organizations in the world, and this weekend we kick off two separate tours to promote the nonprofit society. Aside from the hours of logistics that go into these tours, there is also time spent on pre-event PR and marketing through social media that lead up to each of the 20 to 25 stops each tour makes. That adds up to many Tweets.

Being a smaller business, our agency creates everything internally, from press releases and social media to logos, collateral and even truck wraps. Planning for 2011 started long before our 2010 tours ended. As the sole PR practitioner in the agency, I help create and execute this plan.

The PR Plan

For each tour, we create a national press release to announce the tour along with local releases and media advisories for each stop. For our primary tour, we have seven primary sponsors and two secondary sponsors. Two of our primary sponsors also have their own special programming, which includes additional stops and contests. Additionally, a separate partner has its own mobile marketing program. This program creates another layer in the plan, as we target the additional local markets and create a national release to announce the new programs. So on any given week, there are between one and five events going on (two tours and three partner programs), and I am responsible for making sure the local media are out in full effect.

Social Media

The part of mobile marketing that I enjoy the most is using social media—reaching out to and engaging the enthusiasts that make the societies we represent so huge. Even when we are not hosting an event or on the road promoting the client, I am always working hard to ensure that the conversation around our clients and partners continues. Social media is a crucial tool in the success of this effort. Where else can you directly and personally reach out to such a large and diverse audience?

This plan is only a small piece of what goes into producing and managing a mobile marketing tour, but it is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. Our clients and partners invest significant amounts of money into these programs, and our agency must deliver the results they expect. One thing I love about mobile marketing tours is the quick results. Whether it is from handing out samples to event attendees, engaging them in social media conversations or having our tour team interviewed by the local network affiliate, we get real, tangible results that increase awareness for our clients.

Andrea NourseOriginally from Kansas City, Mo., Andrea Nourse moved to Nashville, Tenn., in 2005 to pursue a career in songwriting. Then, in 2006, she enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University, where she studied public relations, marketing and political science. While in college, Nourse worked full-time as the assistant manager for Jos. A. Bank, interned with U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon and, after graduating in May 2010, joined his staff as a field representative and communications assistant. Nourse currently works as a content specialist for MMA Creative, a full-service marketing and advertising agency with offices in Cookeville and Nashville, Tenn., and serves as an At-Large Member of the PRSA New Professionals Section Executive Committee.