"Narrative," a term usually linked with storytelling, describes the placement of an event or series of events into a wider context to set the scene for a story as a whole.
In books and movies, narrators skip over certain events or actions to focus on others that are more important or directly affect the story's characters. Each scene is connected to the bigger picture: the story in its entirety.
In public relations, setting a narrative for a brand's story or a company's announcement is just as important. But this aspect is often overlooked: Press releases typically follow the inverted pyramid writing style and focus on the importance of an event or announcement itself. But they're more effective if they take a step back and analyze the event's or announcement's importance to the industry and its consumers as a whole.
Today, as the startup ecosystem becomes ever more saturated with the hundreds of pitches for new apps, products and services constantly being pitched to the media, something more is needed: a clear narrative and placement of the announcement in the wider context. These moves can make a world of difference, and dramatically improve your chances for coverage.
So, how do you create your own narrative?
1. Tell your own story.
Editors' in-boxes are inundated daily with an overwhelming supply of pitches for "revolutionary" new products and services. That's why grabbing their attention with clear and concise information about your announcement is key. However, even the companies that succeed at clarity still focus too much on what my product is, not on why it is important.
The inverted pyramid style pushes the most vital information to the top of the release, with too little emphasis on context. Publicists risk failing to explain to the real significance and the positive impact their product or service can make.
This is not to say that you should exaggerate the importance of your announcement. Claiming that your new fitness app is going to "solve the obesity problem in the U.S and save millions of lives" will likely be met with sneers by skeptical journalists. But outlining the problem (high levels of obesity) and its solution (motivating people to be more active and eat more healthily) is important.
Expressing your company's larger aims and values, then, is a the best way to engage with and appeal to journalists and potential consumers. The allure of your company’s big mission and future potential is far more attractive than the small win of your singular announcement.
2. Invoke an emotional response.
Many of us were left teary-eyed by the closing scenes of Titanic, as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Jack slipped under the icy waters, leaving Rose (Kate Winslett) bobbing alone on that raft. If, however, we had seen only that one scene on its own, without the rest of the movie and its character development, we would have been less likely to reach for the tissues.
That's the power of a strong narrative. We found the scene upsetting because we had seen how much Titanic's characters had been through up to that point. We looked at the big picture rather than any single scene.
The same concept applies to PR. Relating your announcement to the bigger issues which your product aims to solve can incite an emotive response from your readers. While the launch of a new driving safety app, for example, might not grab readers, the fact that nearly 1.3 million people die in road crashes each year, and that more than 20 million are permanently injured, will. Offer readers a real-life issue they can relate to, and you will have their attention.
According to Peter Noel Murray, Ph.D, neuro-imagery research reveals that consumers evaluating brands and choosing products are more influenced by emotions -- personal feelings and past experiences -- than information -- brand attributes, features and facts.
Similarly, Antonio Damasio, professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, argues that emotion is a necessary component to almost all decision-making. Damasio says that when people are confronted with a decision, emotions from previous, related experiences affix values to the options they're considering. And those connections in turn create preferences.
At the end of the day, journalists want to share stories which add to the wider conversation, but most importantly stories which their readership will enjoy, share and engage with. Add this emotive element, and show why your news could make a big difference, to improve your chances of coverage.
3. Consider the bigger picture.
It's uncommon for a story to focus just on one character. Generally, we base our feelings toward a particular character on the behavior and characteristics of other players in the story too.
The same goes for the business world. The impact your announcement has will be based on what is going on in your industry as a whole.
An example is funding announcements -- one of the most common PR releases. While a $200,000 cash injection from an angel investor might be a real turning point for your company, allowing you to push your business model to the next level, that sum might pale in significance to funding rounds going to other major players in the industry.
What's more, the news-reading public has grown accustomed to announcements of multi-million-dollar investments over the last 15 years, a period of extremely active venture capital funding, which reached new highs in 2015. As a result, it is now uncommon to see funding announcements of less than $1 million even covered.
So, even if your company has been lucky enough to raise funding at a high enough level to be considered newsworthy, your narrative remains your PR's main factor. Think of how you can highlight how the influx of capital will be used, and why the positive changes that result will make a difference in everyday people’s lives.
Fitting your story into the wider trends and problems different players are seeing and trying to solve will increase your chances of attracting media attention, a sentiment echoed by TechCrunch editor Mike Butcher in his controversial post entitled "The Press Release is Dead; Use This Instead."
A good way to pick up on trends and follow the direction of the general conversation is by reading leading publications regularly and looking at editorial calendars. These calendars, released annually, outline themes for each month for publications like TechCrunch and Entrepreneur. Keeping track of these tools helps you weave your individual brand story into a wider context, making it more important and relevant to a wider audience, and increasing the likelihood it will be covered.
But, don't forget that narrative thread: When you have spent years devoting energy to creating, developing and finally launching a new product or service, you may find it difficult to turn past your company's "page" and look at its story as a whole. In addition, how that story fits into the bigger picture will depend on a range of external factors generally outside of your control.
But narrative has to stay uppermost. Narrative is the dirt path that leads us through the impenetrable forest, so we move forward and don't feel lost, journalist Wade Rawlins has said. So, see your own impenetrable forest as your competitors all shouting their news at the same time as you. Then see the path through the trees as the narrative that conveys your company's mission and the effect it can have on society as a whole.