Big Idea: David Rice

David Rice, principal and founder of Flow Nonfiction, discusses why short documentaries and real-life storytelling are the future for brands

I'm not really a PR guy. Writing music and making records is my background.

I met my partners at Flow Nonfiction when I was brought in to compose the score for some documentaries showcasing successful partnerships between corporations and NGOs at the Clinton Global Initiative.

After seeing the power of those films to move audiences to action, we were convinced people had an appetite to see stories of the hands-on impact of corporate social good.

Compelling stories
A New York consumer shop caught the vision and gave us our first major assignment. It was the early days of social media, but they sensed that a powerful short film could get people talking about their new Procter & Gamble cause program. The brand took a leap of faith giving PR the job of overseeing production. After all, this was the type of content traditionally developed by their ad agency.

We forged ahead with the piece and its ancillary content, anchoring a campaign that ultimately drove up sales and recruited thousands of participants in the cause program.

But when the time came for a media buy on a traditional 30-second spot, the ad agency unveiled a slick actor-filled commercial. Everyone saw how phony it felt next to the real-life stories we'd captured.

Changing attitudes
What happened next was remarkable as the PR firm was charged with overseeing the creation of a new spot using the footage we'd already shot. Our clients went on to win an award for the campaign.

Why did it work, and why have more than a few subsequent projects been steered away from ad agencies and entrusted instead to PR clients? Real stories are just about all that matters anymore. Modern media is too fast and people are too informed to fully submit to the top-down fantasies of traditional commercials.

A customer expects the companies it supports to provide truth, beauty, and the promise of a greater purpose behind their transactions. One of PR's most noble aspirations is to help their clients provide these things, and interpret and tell the real human stories.

Such pieces shape a customer's beliefs and turn them into a believer or an advocate. PR not only owns these stories, but also the social and earned media infrastructure to distribute them. Branded documentaries – as short-form films or 30-second spots – is a genre of the future.

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