An insider’s take on PR

There are lots of misconceptions about what PR is and what PR people do. Quite often, I’ve heard that we’re ‘spin doctors’. That we write ‘puff pieces’. That we ‘do events’. And that if there are numbers involved, the PR person should never be asked to fact-check.

To a certain extent, I think the descriptions are accurate and that as a profession, we have ourselves to blame for not being clearer about what it is we do.

I make no apologies for this. However, for the sake of my clients, and especially for business owners who think they might need the help of a PR person, here is a no-nonsense definition. According to the Canadian Public Relations Society: “Public relations is the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals and serve the public interest.”

I really like the focus this definition places on ‘relationships’, on achieving ‘mutual understanding’ and realizing ‘organizational goals’. It emphasizes the fact that relationships can be built and strengthened with good communication. That when there is a breakdown in communication, there are ways to fix it. And that the way things get fixed matters as much as, if not more than, the fact that they were fixed.

In an earlier post, I wrote about how a compelling story can help to engage people. Smart CEO’s use the principles of storytelling to engage their employees, to motivate them to achieve common goals and to celebrate with them when they succeed in performing great things. In short, to build the relationship. So do our political leaders. Who can forget the story President Obama told us in his first presidential campaign and his promise of ‘change we can believe in’?

Recently, I helped a client who was having difficulty getting her story across to her key stakeholders (including representatives from government, industry, and the scientific community). She wanted them to know how proud she was of her organization, and what they had achieved, and also as a not-for-profit, wanted to recognize the financial and in-kind support of numerous partners and donors. Working together, we came up with the idea of an interactive report to highlight the organization’s milestones, celebrate the contribution of its partners and open the door for ongoing dialogue through the use of social media. We decided what needed to be said, who should say it, and what the overarching message should be.

No spin, no puff, no smoke and mirrors. Just two people sitting in a room, trying to find a solution by looking at several commonly-used communications tools and figuring out which one would work best, given the circumstances. If you ask me, that’s as simple as PR is and should be.



More than ever, we need great storytellers

I’m sure most of us have family stories that we learned by heart after years of listening and re-telling. We may have read fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty or The Princess and the Pea when we were young, or listened to folk tales from our grandparents.

In many cultures, there are stories about David and Goliath-type characters, where against all odds, the little guy wins out over the big guy. Even contemporary action heroes like Superman, Spiderman and Batman may be modern-day equivalents of the mythological Hercules.

In university, I was pleasantly surprised when one of my favourite stories turned up on the mandatory reading list. I don’t know how many times I’ve read The Little Prince by Antoine de St.-Exupery, but I still find it an inspiration. Somehow the Little Prince’s untainted view of the world and his unfailing love for the prickly Rose is just the tonic I need to help me shake off my cynical view of the world and re-focus on what’s really important.

The other day, a friend sent me a link to a movie trailer which is also a fabulous story about one of the most iconic American photographs of all time. You’ll recognize it immediately.

What I love about the idea of telling the story ‘behind’ this photograph is that it’s so engaging. The photograph captures the story of the city where my mother grew up and where my parents married in 1953. It’s about immigrant families like mine who settled in New York after leaving England and Ireland. It’s about ordinary people making a living…and in one image shows just how far we’ve come in terms of health and safety standards at work!

I mention all of this because it seems to me we are born story-tellers. We relate to each other through stories. We are constantly creating and re-creating the story of our lives, for ourselves and each other.

I’ve been working in corporate communications for the past 15 years. I’ve heard lots of speeches, participated in lots of town halls, and helped lots of executives get ready for motivational talks. I’ve often thought it’s a shame that as grown-ups, we seem so quick to relinquish the hidden power of heroes, villains, victims, visionaries, leaders, and warriors as soon as soon as we step into the corporate environment.

Instead of forcing our thought processes to comply with the limitations of technologies like PowerPoint, it’s time to start thinking like storytellers. Take the time to shape your story, make it compelling and relevant, and I guarantee, your employees, your customers and your brand will thank you.


Announcing our own spin on content development

A year ago, we re-launched our website with the expectation of one day doing for ourselves what we do every day for our clients — and that is, take the mystery out of corporate communications and public relations and make it easier to understand for non-experts.

Our day of reckoning has arrived and today we’re pleased to make our first blog post. You’ll see that our first post includes a new video on corporate ‘story telling’. It’s a video with a bit of a twist because it features me as a sort of guinea pig to show you how to tell a good story. I hope it gives you some insight into what might work for you.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll be talking more about why I think the concept of story telling is so relevant. In a nutshell, it boils down to this: There is so much in corporate life that depletes the human spirit and yet in order for people to really engage, they need to commit to something that’s bigger than themselves. Great stories provide an opportunity to live outside of ourselves and engage in a different way. In my student days of studying French literature, we called it a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. That’s what great stories do. That’s why we read. That’s why we work hard for some people and not so hard for others.

More on this next time. Here’s the video. I hope you like it.