FOR THE LAST 18 years I’ve worked in the PR industry.
I started my career as a press officer for the Progressive Democrats. I then went on to work as a government advisor and then as a corporate PR practitioner, before creating the software MediaHQ.
Like most things, my career has now come full circle. Last year, I had an epiphany about the true nature of communications.
I realised that a fundamental change was taking place, as the traditional dividing lines between public relations, marketing and advertising were blurring beyond recognition.
At that moment I knew it was time to act, to create something new. Communications is moving towards a golden age of storytelling and away from dependence on traditional media.
We now live in a time when you can nurture and build your own audience and connect with them directly.
The best, and most successful, organisations capitalise on that by putting storytelling at the heart of everything they do.
They don’t obsess about whether it’s PR, marketing or social media, or whether it’s below or above the line. They obsess about the story and how to make it better.
Brands like General Electric, Apple, Hiut Denim, Paddy Power and Dollar Shave Club build all of their communications on this approach – and it’s a spectacular success.
With that in mind, here’s what I think makes a great storyteller:
1. Always remember the true power of communications
Communication changes people’s minds and gets them to act. If political communications is successful, it comes from the heart. It reflects the vision and values of a leader and it moves an audience. At its best it looks like ‘Yes We Can’, or – dare I say it – ‘Make America Great Again’. It resonates, changes minds and gets people to act.
2. Everyone is creative
To have better ideas you need to practice creativity every day. Even the most creative minds need to practice and channel their creativity.
Authors go to an office and write from nine to five. Musicians lock themselves away to finish a piece of work. For me, I schedule creativity by writing every Thursday morning. It’s how I balance the business side as a chief executive and the creative side as the ‘ideas guy’.
3. Always have a compelling mission
If you know what you want to achieve, everything else is easier. All content, communications and marketing needs to be rooted in that mission. It’s not about one television or newspaper piece in isolation. It’s about creating an overall mood that achieves the goals of your organisation.
4. Get to know your audience and be insanely relevant to them every day
Analyse your audience in any way you can, through analytics, research, data, even bring a few of them for a coffee. What do they really want from you? What can you do that will entice them to act?
5. The best storytellers communicate with emotion
Emotion always trumps rational argument. This why the best politicians speak to people about their issues and their challenges as opposed to taxation or policies, or why charities tell such compelling stories.
6. Be yourself
Find your own voice and communicate with personality. The best brands do this. They communicate from the heart of their brand, sharing stories that reflect their mission, their values and their personality.
7. Always strive to do better work
People who want to be great have better taste and instincts. Immerse yourself in your topics, read books, listen to podcasts, go to events.
8. Never stop building and nurturing your network
You can never know enough people, and they will always help you. This is vital for storytelling because great people make great stories. Be sure you surround yourself with interesting, creative people.
9. If you can’t explain it in a single sentence, don’t bother
Every story needs a compelling headline – write that first and the rest will follow.
10. Have an instinct for your topic
People with finely tuned instincts love their subject and develop the power of nerd’s knowledge. This instinct will kick in, and you’ll know when it’s time to put pen to paper and create something great.
Jack Murray is chief executive and founder of communications agency All Good Tales.
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