Opinion: Learning to love the story

The small theoretical step from corporate messaging to audience-centric content requires a big shift in mindset, says Weber Shandwick's Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill: Head of editorial at Weber Shandwick Asia-Pacific

The messaging mantra sits at the heart of PR. The delivery of messages to key stakeholders is a major objective for agencies and clients alike. In of itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Identifying and articulating corporate messages is a great starting point for brand communications.

But is it enough?

A well-crafted press release that ticks off the brand message requirements may well result in media coverage, but will it move the needle? Will it genuinely influence or change audience perceptions, raising brand awareness and corporate reputation along the way? Unlikely, because messages are far too often based on what a brand wants to say, rather than what its audience wants to hear.

The challenge is how to turn these corporate messages into stories that connect with audiences, compelling them to stop, read, watch and share. To take generic, functional, communications and turn them into something that is distinctive, purposeful and human.

The huge changes in how we access and consume information —the proliferation of content across digital channels, combined with steadily decreasing online attention spans — has only intensified the need for brands to create stories that attract and hold an audience’s attention, something true for both B2C and B2B companies.

So, what should be the response from agencies and their clients? To paraphrase Kubrick: stop worrying about messages and learn to love the story.

Start with a position. Who are you as a company, what do you want to say, and how do you want to say it? Then take time to understand your audience – who are they, what kind of content do they like to consume and on what channels? Once you have defined the intersection between these two, you are ready to tell the brand story by creating content that is relevant, timely and audience focused.

The theoretical step from corporate messaging to an audience-centric content strategy is a small one, but implementation may be more complicated. From a practical point of view, it will need structural change within agencies to allow the greater integration of existing PR talent and new, complimentary skill sets across practices.

It will also require a mindset change, from both agencies and in-house PR teams alike. To take more risk. To challenge the accepted way of doing things. But mostly to understand that a content-led approach to communications is not replacing traditional PR, but is enhancing it, making it even more effective than before.

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