Have pickaxe, will travel. How to find great stories to tell.

By Matter

How often have you heard something along the lines of “We’ll have to get PR to create a story around this.”? This line of thinking doesn’t sit well with me. (And don’t even get me started on “spin” – ugh.)

Is PR about story-telling? Absolutely.

But it is NOT about making stories up. It is about finding (really good) stories that exist within a company and sharing them in ways that are compelling and valuable to the readers (and yes, to the company, too!). I call it story mining. Like a diamond in the rough, the stories are already there, but they need to be searched out, dug up and cleaned off a bit.

This process can START with what the company sells (be it a hard good, services or content), but should also include things like causes, points of view, advice, personalities and more.

Often the best stories are hidden gems that people don’t necessarily think of as being part of the PR program, so you have to dig a little deeper than you may be used to. (OK, I’ll drop the whole mining analogy now…) Here are a few of the best ways I’ve found to do this.

Find out what stories the people that matter most to you want to hear!

Conduct an audit of customers, partners, the media, etc. Ask for input via your Facebook fan page. Conduct an online survey to your prospect list. While this step often feels intrusive, my experience is that, generally, people at a minimum don’t mind helping out and often are thrilled that you are taking such an interest in what matters to them

Conduct internal Q & A sessions

Select a group of the smartest / longest standing / most interesting / most controversial people within the company and conduct one-on-one interviews using a prepared (but not rigid) set of questions, almost as if you were interviewing the person as a member of the media would. (NOTE: this is not the same as media training, since the focus is on getting at great content, not honing interview techniques)

Participate in more discussions and meetings

OK, full disclosure, I think most meetings are crap (more on that in future posts). BUT they are also a / the primary means of communicating vital information within a company. Too often, if drafting a press release isn’t the next step coming out of a meeting, PR is not at the table. And there are TONS of missed PR opportunities because of this. For example, rather than relying on the biz dev folks to identify when a potentially interesting industry trend story pops up during a partner meeting, PR should strive to be involved in the meeting itself

Each of these techniques needs honing, based on every organization’s unique dynamics. And yes, some will be a waste of time. But the potential payoff from telling real, valuable stories that engage your stakeholders is huge. (I’m sure Woodward and Bernstein “wasted” a lot of time, too!)

What other techniques do you use to find great stories to tell?