Narrative by numbers: The production line of storytelling

I recently came across a post on PR Newswire’s blog (http://blog.prnewswire.com/2013/08/01/using-storytelling-to-drive-business-goals/) informing me of all the ways I could use storytelling to drive my business goals. Like the narrator of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, who finds himself cast back in time upon consumption of a madeline, I was sent rocketing back to the autumn of 2011. Leveson was only just winding into gear, Mr James Saville OBE lived in our hearts still as a treasured childhood companion, and a journalist friend of mine responded to an enthusiastic tweet I’d sent with a putdown. Replying to some thought I’d tweeted, she told me: “Mark, I’m bored of storytelling.”

She was wrong, of course. Typically for a journalist, she has a tiny attention span, and was perhaps unable to see the many applications of narrative thinking in communications. I’ve been preaching about the power of stories for years, but it was only around the turn of this decade that it became generally a faddish topic. I was happy when it did – for too long, clients of mine had been unable to see beyond their next ad deadline. Finally, people were beginning to understand that communications had to be deep and rich. They had to move people, and they had to last.

The point, however, is that by 2011 the value of stories was an established idea. Interesting and nuanced interpretations of it have come since, and the theory is still being applied to many great campaigns – Coca Cola’s ‘Content 2020’ remains the most powerful development of the theme. Nonetheless, in parlance likely to appeal to my journalist friend, storytelling in and of itself is old news. Whichever new biz pixie at PR Newswire decided to run that blog grossly miscalculated. Instead of looking hip, they look tired.

Not that we should be surprised – many of PR’s big beasts are well and truly on the rocks. Their client lists remain impressive – for now – but they were built to serve a dying model. In the days before communications were targeted, and smart, and deep, they’d get you a release to the people you needed it got to, across the world, at the same time. Nowadays, they’ll do the same, but they’ll do it after your competitors have swept Reddit, or YouTube, or Facebook with a ten second video, or created a media firestorm with one perfectly placed interview. They’re production lines, built to package repeat products, and this repackaged idea should be proof of just how slowly those production lines are running.

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