I want to tell you a story about 2015’s hottest trend in PR and media

December 12, 2014

This post was written by Mike Lizun, Senior Vice President

I’m calling it right now: The biggest trend in PR in 2015 will be … storytelling. I know, I know, it’s a safe bet. The perennial powerhouse. The Yankees of media relations. But storytelling has never had greater importance or more widespread impact than right now, likely in ways you’re not yet thinking about. And nowhere was this clearer than at the recent Mashable Media Summit in New York City.

I’ve attended countless national conferences on media, public relations, and marketing, all of which address the latest and greatest, the flavor of the month in tricks, tips, and tactics, and what’s working now. While useful, these discussions are too often weighed down with tool talk: video tools, podcasting tools, blogging tools, search tools, social tools, mobile tools, and digital publishing tools. Tools are important, but ultimately they exist to serve PR’s primary objective: storytelling. And that’s what the Mashable Media Summit delivered. The entire day — all of the panels and presentations — focused exclusively on telling stories and reaching audiences. And I’m really glad it did.

So what were the biggest takeaways of this year’s Media Summit? Here’s how I and other attendees told the story on Twitter, and why storytelling will never not be a trend.

Or, as Stacy Martinet, CMO of Mashable, put it as she kicked things off:

No matter if it’s a news story, blog post, movie, podcast, or nightly newscast, you need to tell a story to inform, engage, stir emotion, and deliver value to your reader, viewer, and audience. Why should they read or watch you over someone or something else? What can they get from you that they can’t get somewhere else?

Let’s get visual, visual
Telling a brand or news story with a visual or photo is something I’ve discussed on this blog a few times over the years, and I could go on and on with anyone willing to listen. We’ve seen visuals continue to grow in importance over the past few years, but visual storytelling didn’t start with Instagram. Anyone looking for a good example of this medium should look at photojournalists, who have captured and told stories without words for more than 150 years. The only difference today is the emphasis on capturing a visual story that others will share, not just over dinner with family and friends, but with the entire world.

Photographer Rick Smolan shared his story on stage, and was one of the most engaging presenters of the day. Because of the incredible story he was part of and was able to photograph, his words came to life as he flashed photos on the screen behind him.

Through his photos, he was able to accomplish the goal of every story: You don’t just read it or hear it or see it, you experience it.

How old dogs are learning new tricks
What about the nightly news? How does it compete for time and audience when news is happening, documented, talked about, and shared online every second of the day? According to ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir, it’s about bringing them a different and more engaging experience during the evening news. David discussed this on stage with Jim Roberts, the Executive Editor of Mashable and former Assistant Managing Editor of The New York Times.

The nightly news can’t just be about what’s happening. It has to tell a deeper or more engaging story or find an angle or a story that viewers haven’t been exposed to across social media all day. How does your storytelling stand apart from what everyone else is writing, photographing, and tweeting?

World News Tonight is also taking it a step further. In order to be part of the wake-to-sleep news cycle, David is doing Facecasts — one-minute social media newscasts — exclusively for Facebook.

What about “traditional” media, like magazines? What can they offer their readers in print that they can’t in digital? Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan Joanna Coles said it best by saying the magazine is for unplugging:

Cosmopolitan has readers that still value print, so it offers them that experience, which allows for immersion in a story without the need to participate — there are no links to click, no comments to add. Brands too are looking at the hard copy format as another platform, publishing books or magazines as experiments and measuring the appeal to the readers they want to reach.

Stories, stories everywhere
Now I want to take a moment to talk about the weather. Wait! Come back! Honestly, admit it: We talk about the weather every day. And not just when there’s nothing else to talk about. The weather is about stories both big and small, and The Weather Channel has started taking advantage. No longer just a place to tune in on the day of a big storm, or an app to check the forecast, The Weather Channel is turning into much more of a channel of stories and experiences. And it’s using multiple platforms to tell them.

The Internet is a great place to tell a weather story. Think visuals, data, graphs, social media — real immersive experiences. Or in the words of Weather Channel’s Editor-in-Chief, Neil Katz:

It’s not just about you
Piper and Larry (of Orange is the New Black fame) took the stage to talk about their journey from Piper’s prison sentence to memoir to acclaimed Netflix series. But for me, the main takeaway from their discussion was that they never intended their story to be about them. They wanted to raise awareness of the broader issue of how the prison system works.

(Thanks for favoriting the tweet, @Piper!)

The broader story, the bigger story. We hear this from media time and time again. Stop being so self-serving with your media pitch. What are you part of? What trend are you part of? What is the broader story this idea fits with? It’s not just your story — what is THE story?

There were several more panels at the event that I’d like to discuss, and I’ll be doing that in some future posts. Mashable published its own story of the event in tweets (including a few of my own), and I encourage you to take a look and read others’ perspectives on the day too. But it all comes back to telling good stories to the right audience on the best platforms. And always remember: Technology and tools are great, but all have their limitations and won’t cover up a lousy story.

So when you’re thinking over the holiday break and early into the New Year, and look into your crystal ball trying to figure out the secret trends that will give you a leg up in 2015 in media, marketing, and PR, fear not. The answer is storytelling. And it always will be.

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