How do I use storytelling and narrative | PR Espresso

PR Espresso, THINK PR Espresso, Startup, Smallbiz, PR Strategy

Almost every piece I read written by a PR or marketing company talks about narrative and storytelling.  What they don’t tell you is that you have to have an audience that wants to hear it.  You have to find an audience that cares about your story.

The conventional wisdom is that you use narrative to find an audience.  In reality, you have to find your audience and understand that parts of your story – or narrative – they want to hear.

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Rob Ford Blew It!

Rob Ford, Media, Public Relations

After 2 months in rehab, Rob Ford faced the media to explain what everybody already knows – that he has substance abuse issues and has started treatment.  He fell in to the trap that so many entrepreneurs fall into when talking to the media: shamelessly pitching rather than answering questions.

It was Ford’s first formal appearance since he took a leave of absence to get professional treatment.  He acknowledged that he had been at a Muskoka-area facility undergoing, what he described as ‘intensive’ therapy.  He says he has nobody else to blame, apologized to his family, the people of Toronto, Karen Stintz.  Ford also said that he wasn’t asking for forgiveness from the media – some of whom he had not invited to the press conference – and said that some of the ‘associations’ that had been the focus of many of the media reports over the last year had ended.

Ford also talked about addiction being a disease and that everybody knows somebody who suffers.  Rob wants us to believe he’s an average guy; average guys make mistakes, right? They can be forgiven, can’t they?!

And, it might have been OK had he left it there.  Had he taken questions from reporters. Offered contrite, honest answers.  People might have respected him for that.  But he did neither.  Ford, like so many entrepreneurs, just can’t resist himself.  The media is like, dare I say it, a drug.  Ford, never wanting to miss an opportunity to pitch his credentials turned from contrition to campaigning mode on a dime.

Having said his piece, rather than leaving the stage Ford was back to the politician we knew pre-rehab.  Once again – he talked about this record – taxpayers dollars, garbage and the unions all featuring – and how he intends to serve as Mayor for ‘many more years’ to come.

Let there be no doubt Ford was using this speech to restart his reelection campaign.  He just couldn’t resist it.  And, as happens so many times with conversation isn’t about you, it’s about me.  It’s about what I want to say; what I want you to publish; it’s about my agenda, not yours. It’s also why everything that was said before the pitch will be forgotten, questioned or disbelieved.

Sometimes dealing with the media is about knowing when to stop.

Read more about Rob Ford’s PR and Media ‘Strategies’

Who is your audience?

Identifying the right audience is the most important piece of any successful PR program. It enables message, delivery mechanism and timing to be tailored specifically and allows a businesses to figure out how to go about building a relationship with it.  In many cases it is about values and vision, rather than products of services – a common mistake made by businesses of all shapes and sizes.

A mistake that many businesses make is assuming that their audience is everybody  but just because, in the internet-connected world we live in just, because an organization can – in theory contact anybody and everybody – doesn’t mean that they should.  Defining your audience will enable you to target the message, the delivery mechanism and the timing to increase the chances of PR delivering the outcomes you want.

In today’s edition of the THINK PR Espresso we look at how to create an audience persona that will form the basis of your next PR, marketing or publicity program.


What is Publicity?

Publicity is what most PR agencies sell as public relations. It’s the communication of what an organization wants to tell as many people as possible.  It’s also known as promotion.

There is little consideration for the audience; often no communication of a value proposition; there’s usually no clear call to action or defined outcome. The nature of publicity means it is, largely, a one way communication.

For more information, here’s a blog post on the topic called ‘Most PR & Marketing is Promotion’

A PR Plan for Porter Expansion

Porter's PR program has failed to address any of the concerns about it's expansion plans
Porter's PR program has failed to address any of the concerns about it's expansion plans
Porter Airlines wants to see jets at Toronto City Airport

I’m a big fan of Porter Airlines.  I like their marketing and PR and I enjoy flying with them whenever the opportunity arises, but I can’t help feel they’ve missed a trick.  With a key vote due on on December 4th at City Hall on whether to vote on the airlines plans to expand Toronto Billy Bishop Airport to enable it to fly jets as part of an ambitious expansion plan Porter has a window of opportunity to control its own destiny with a smart PR program.

The company should take a page from the WestJet PR playbook.  Earlier in the year the company flew one of it’s new Q400 aircraft – currently the largest plane authorized to fly out of Toronto’s downtown airport, and Porter’s workhorse – past the downtown airport. This was a signal to many that it was looking to add it to its network.  [The company has already said that if Porter is allowed to fly jets from Billy Bishop then it should too.]

With one of the biggest issues around Porter’s plans the impact of jets on residents’ quiet enjoyment of the waterfront addressing and allaying these concerns could play a significant role in getting the vote before Council.  Demonstrating that the C100 ‘whisper’ jets will not negatively impact local residents’ lives could be the difference between the company getting the go-ahead and being forced to go back to the drawing board.

How would I do that?  Porter can’t currently land a new C100 at Billy Bishop – the runway is too short to safely land and take off again.  What it could do is, known in the aviation industry, as a go-around.  A go-around is where a pilot aborts a landing [often because of a safety issue or unexpectedly bad weather conditions] at the very last moment.  Airlines and aircraft manufacturers have also been using a variation on the theme – a low, slow, runway pass, at air shows for many years to show off their new machines.  Porter needs to organize a go-around of slow pass over Billy Bishop airport before the Toronto City Council Executive Committee meets on Wednesday – and it needs to invite the press, supporters, opponents.

Why would I do it?  First, it would give the company a great media shot of C 100s at the downtown airport – a vision of the future, as it sees it.  Second, it would demonstrate that the jets would not result in significant additional noise from the airport – reinforcing press reports from the first flight about the quietness of the airplanes engines – and removing many of the arguments of those opposed to Porter’s plans.  Third, it would undoubtedly be covered by every major media outlet in the city as well as many across Canada and within the aviation industry.  Fourth, it would add weight to its argument and provide ammunition to the arguments of supporters of its plans.

There are many other benefits from getting C 100s flying past Billy Bishop.  T minus 2 days and counting.

Traditional Public Relations is Insanity

Einstein, Insanity, Public Relations
Einstein, Insanity, Public Relations
Einstein once said insanity was to repeatedly do the same thing expecting a different outcome!

Albert Einstein is quoted to have said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  On this basis most public relations programs are insane!  Despite new technologies, new distribution channels and the real-time internet, that gives people the potential to communicate with almost anybody else instantly, public relations has remained the same for more than 100 years and fails to deliver the results that many businesses expect.

It might be reasonable to expect that having tried the traditional approach to PR unsuccessfully that more businesses would try something different.  And yet the majority of new customers for PR agencies are companies that have recently fired an agency because they were dissatisfied with the results.

There are two main scenarios:

  • The first is where an agency has been unable to secure the coverage in key magazines, websites and blogs that they promised [and that the company believe their product or service warrants] and feel they haven’t got the return on the investment they have made. The customer has often spent many thousands of dollars a month for, usually, for a minimum of three months].
  • The other is that a constant stream of press releases, intensive media relations, interviews and the resulting coverage in publications, on websites and in blogs has not translated in to the business outcomes they had hoped [and, in some cases, been promised] for.

Small businesses that try public relations and find that it doesn’t deliver results do one of two things: they start a beauty parade for a new agency, hoping to find that the same combination of resources – press releases, media outreach, interviews and coverage – will deliver better results.  Or, they stop doing public relations and divert the money in to another marketing activity or, in many cases, another part of the business.  The companies that choose the first approach invariably end up at the same place they were with their previous agency and do one of two things.  They start a beauty parade to find another PR agency that they hope will use the same combination of resources… you get the picture?

If traditional PR hasn’t delivered your business the outcomes you’d hoped for then you might want to think differently about public relations.  You might be surprised at the impact it will have on your business.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Ditch the press release.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The first press release was developed as a crisis communications tool by the Pennsylvania Railroad as a way to communicate information about the 1906 Atlantic City train wreck to journalists en mass. It was designed to control speculation and control the message – not as a way to build long-term relationships with an audience.  It was later adapted and, in conjunction with another staple of the PR industry – the wire, became a way for companies in regulated industries to communicate information to multiple audiences simultaneously in order that they met regulatory compliance rules that required them to ensure nobody gained an advantage from prior knowledge of information.
  • Don’t pay others to talk to the media on your behalf.  Your audiences, whether the media, prospect, customers or purchase influencers want to hear from the entrepreneur behind the business, not a paid spokesperson.  As an entrepreneur you are the best person to talk about your business: while PR people can talk on your behalf, they’ll never tell the story as clearly, passionately or honestly as you can.
  • Paying a PR person to be the voice of your business is paying somebody to act as a gatekeeper for all of your business’ most valuable relationships.  If you stop paying the PR agency then you lose the relationships so why not develop and nurture them yourself?
  • Focus. Too many PR programs are coveralls: they try to find ways to communicate with multiple audiences as efficiently as possible.  They are a short cut! Often these audiences have hugely different rules of engagement, languages, frames of reference and burdens of proof yet companies attempt to use the same tactics and collateral to build relationships with them all.  Identifying a small number of target audiences, understanding how they think, talk, where they hang out and which communications channels they use will help you fine tune PR tactics in order to increase their effectiveness.
  • Look beyond the media.  Public Relations has become synonymous with media relations – when in reality, the media is just one public [or audience] for a business.  When you are planning a PR program consider who your other audiences are and develop strategies for building relationships, based on mutual benefit and trust, with them.
  • When traditional media-based public relations hasn’t delivered the results that you want in order to grow your home business it’s insanity to continue to do the same thing hoping for a different outcome. What non-traditional PR tactics have delivered results for your home business?

The key to any successful public relations program is to deliver the right message to the right audience, at the right time and via the right distribution channel.  To find out more about how your business can benefit from thinking differently about public relations contact Lyndon on 1.647.773.2677 or email

Public Relations lessons every entrepreneur can learn from Rob Ford

Rob Ford, Lessons

Today Toronto Mayor Rob Ford finally admitted that he has smoked crack cocaine.  Having dodged media questions for more than six months, issued repeated denials there was a video of him smoking crack, that he had used crack and that he had a substance abuse issue, and accused the media of being out to get him today we saw a clearly contrite Ford acknowledging that he has smoked crack on at least one occasion.

From a PR perspective the crack is now a side-issue.  It’s a serious issue, but had Ford done what he has done today when the allegations first surfaced he wouldn’t find himself in the mess he does today.  Had he provided clear, honest answers, accepted that there was a video, that he had a substance problem and taken a leave of absence to take care of his personal problems he would have killed the story.  He could have dealt with the problems away from the spotlight and worked with his advisers on a strategy to return to city hall and run for a second term as Mayor.

What are the lessons that entrepreneurs can learn from Rob Ford?

First – get ahead of the story.  Had Ford admitted there was a chance the rumors of a video were true, that he has an alcohol problem and taken an immediate leave of absence he would have avoided the media feeding frenzy that has descended on him and City Hall over the last six months.

Second – be specific. Vague arguments or semantics will only encourage the media to seek clarity.  Had Rob Ford been specific about, what he is now saying is a single use of crack cocaine, it would have avoided the media speculation.

Third – change the story.  An admission that he had smoked crack cocaine, had a substance problem and was taking a leave of absence to seek help would have meant the story would have quickly moved on from him smoking crack.  There is no long-term story in a man who is seeking treatment for a substance abuse problem.

Fourth – the truth will likely be known.  It might not be immediately, but – like Lance Armstrong found out – repeated denials, threats and protestations of innocence only make the situation worse when the truth does eventually emerge.

Read more about Rob Ford’s PR and Media ‘Strategies’

It’s us, not you! How PR agencies calculate retainers.

Public Relations, Retainers, Retainer, PR, Startups
“The CFO will determine the baseline hours, and the available client hours, for each staff person… [and] can create budgets that will be the basis of your fee quotes.”

You know when you talk with a traditional PR agency and one of the first questions they ask is, “what’s your budget?”.  This question often comes long before important questions about desired outcomes, commercial objectives, the target audience and what you’ve already tried. It should be no surprise then that, when the proposal arrives, it matches the budget you told them you have.

Have you ever wondered how they come up with the number that most PR agencies use for their average monthly retainer?  This article from PRNews explains how it’s more about their needs than it is about yours.  It explains that agencies should use the CFO to use their budget as the basis for setting their retainer fees, rather than one based on value and creating a plan that helps your business achieve its commercial goals.

This is one of the reasons that I started THINK | DIFFERENT [LY].  Your business deserves a PR plan that will help you deliver the outcomes it needs, rather than one that is built based on the number of billable hours the agency needs to meet its payroll.  It’s why we publish our hourly rates, give our customers control over what they spend – down to a single hour – and develop custom plans for each startup and small business we work with.

If your current agency doesn’t pro-actively look for opportunities to reduce your PR costs then we need to talk.  You need to THINK | DIFFERENT [LY]