The Facts Alone Do Not Make a Story

May 20, 2014 Beth Monaghan

Reporting is not storytelling. Successful PR campaigns rest on great stories, not just great facts.

Dictionary.com defines “reporting” this way: an account or statement describing in detail an event, situation, or the like, usually as the result of observation, inquiry, etc.

The most important part of that definition is the phrase “usually as a result of observation.” It implies the presence of context, insight. Facts are important because they validate the story. Yet on their own, they lack context. When companies look to make their stories public, the facts can distract them from the stories that make those facts interesting. It is the difference between beginning the discussion with WHY versus WHAT. What you do is simply the proof of how you think.

To break through the clutter and distracted attention we’re all clamoring for amid today’s connected age of mobile, social, digital, and its associated busyness, we need a compelling story.

As I blazed through Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism, it reminded me of the roots of a compelling story. McKeown asserts that the most successful people say no to 90 percent of the opportunities in front of them, in favor of the 10 percent that help them achieve their personal and professional goals. Amen! (And by the way, if you have not read Essentialism, I recommend buying it today and reading it tomorrow.)

Great storytelling requires a willingness and ability to dig until we find the 10 percent that will ring through the noise – the proverbial signal. McKeown recounted a story about the writer Nora Ephron (of “Sleepless in Seattle” fame). During a high school journalism class her teacher explained the concept of a lead – who, what, why, where and when. For PR people, these are the makings of our press releases.

Ephron’s teacher gave her these facts: “Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college President Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins,” etc.

Ephron and her class then wrote their news stories, which their teacher declared were all wrong. Not one student found the lead, which was this: “There will be no school on Thursday.”

I spend my days looking for those stories. At InkHouse, we ask clients strange questions about their personal passions and activities. We ask what motivated them to start their companies. We ask what keeps them up at night. We ask them to imagine our world in five to 10 years. These questions help uncover the story. And sometimes, it’s the story that bubbles up from the facts but was hidden under a pile of information, as was the case in Ephron’s story.

What are the 10 essentials to your story? Now delete nine!

Topics: Content, Messaging, Press Releases, Writing, Storytelling, Thought Leadership
Beth Monaghan

Beth is the CEO of InkHouse, which she co-founded in 2007, and has grown into one of the fastest-growing PR firms in the nation with 100+ employees and four offices. Named one of the “Top Women in PR” by PR News, Beth is working to reinvent the PR agency model to bend it toward the kind of culture that catapults great ideas and jettisons the rules that no longer work. At InkHouse, Beth focuses on inventing and implementing the new strategies that shape the agency’s work. In addition to changing the PR profession, Beth is working to change workplace culture as an advocate for equal opportunities. A frequent contributor to Forbes and Fortune, she is widely cited in outlets ranging from NPR, to Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Bloomberg and The Boston Globe. Beth was an appointee to Governor Patrick’s Women in the Workplace Task Force, and currently serves on two boards of directors as vice chair for the Alliance for Business Leadership and the vice president of the Massachusetts Women’s Forum. Beth spent six years learning the ropes in startup technology PR at Schwartz Communications and then moved on to venture capital firm Charles River Ventures before she went to The Castle Group, a generalist PR firm, for which she was a vice president. She studied PR, creative writing and journalism at Syracuse University and graduated from its SI Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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