Hosted by Workman Group Communications, with the support of media outlets Adweek and Mediabistro, "Going Beyond Storytelling" focused on the evolving role PR, communications and earned media play in defining and connecting brands to the world.
Pam Workman, CEO of Workman Group, and Tiffany Guarnaccia, founder of Communications Week and CEO of Kite Hill PR, welcomed the audience and introduced the panel. Patrick Coffee, Senior Editor at Mediabistro, and editor of PRNewsWire and AgencySpy, moderated the panel, which included:
- Andrew Fingerman, Media Director, MRY
- Shoshana Winter, Executive Planning Director, Digital Integration, mcgarrybowen
- Tyler Gray, Editorial Director, Creative Newsroom, Edelman
- Brendan Murphy, Senior Partner Design, Lippincott
Storytellers: The Second-Most Used Word (and Most Annoying?)
The word of the day was definitely “storytelling”. Moderator Coffee from Mediabistro gave it second place only to the word “content” in the language of brand communicators today, while the panelists offered “digital integration” to the list. While they all agreed certain buzzwords could be “annoying” in their overuse, they are prominently used for a reason.
Agencies are presented with the challenge of developing a creative narrative that keeps the end recipient interested while balancing tactical messages the advertiser would like to convey (like discount codes). Storytelling, according to Gray from Edelman, is a system, a process for making human connections. Fingerman from MRY added that agencies create stories that remain true to the brand and are told in a way that consumers will react. “If you tell a story in the woods, does anyone hear it?” asked moderator Coffee.
Addressing Paid v. Earned
Gray shared that he was just white boarding at Edelman today, weighing the campaigns that were in each category. There were just as many in paid as in earned. Winter from mcgarrybowen added that some organic social media posts have a lower than desirable reach, but by amplifying posts in paid, agencies and brands can attain meaningful penetration. She added, if your client is looking at “social as free, [that is] really not the case anymore.”
Whose Brand Is It Anyway? How to Maintain a Consistent Voice
A statement heard at many panels during Communications Week is that the lines between agencies, brands and media are blurring—predominantly because storytelling can come from anywhere—but great storytelling, more than ever, involves the collaboration of those sources, and the customer. For example, a commercial that was predominantly seen on TV, or even on a brand’s online property, is now seen by eyeballs outside the traditional media plan because people share it online. PR agencies are at the forefront of helping to create and share content, moving the conversation along for more exposure. But brands need “permission to join the conversation,” according to Edelmans’ Gray, like bringing a bottle of wine to a dinner party.
It is not uncommon to see layers of agencies in the same room with the brands they represent, according to Coffee, “so how do you maintain a consistent voice?” Planning a “big, organizing idea” is the cornerstone, according to Winter from mcgarrybowen. An idea that can be scaled so that all the pieces fit together. She added, “The heaviest lifting is coming up with something compelling to begin with.” Small companies might have an easier time collaborating with less people in the room. For enterprise organizations where the ad agency contact is one person and the PR contact another, there is a stronger need to focus on who is responsible for the original idea. From a client’s point of view, having all those agencies in the same room enables a “creative tension,” added Fingerman from MRY, which can be a good thing.
At the same time, “we are all becoming competitive” in what we do, says Winter. The playing field is leveled, and long gone are the days when the advertising agency received all the attention. “Great ideas can come from anywhere,” she echoed. “Keep evolving,” recommended Gray. Since Edelman is not focused on acquiring companies, Gray tries to keep a “constant start-up feel” to support their evolution.
Coffee closed the session by sharing his “imperfect metaphor” for the new blurred lines. It is like a reality show. PR is the host, the ad agency is the contestant, the brand agency is production, and the client is the sponsor.
We hoped you enjoyed the event, and the cocktails at followed. If you didn't grab a copy of Adweek onsite, which had a special Public Relations section, you can still check out Adweek's article on Creating Brand Stories by Stuart Feil.
As quoted in his article, "Storytelling is the hot trend in marketing right now, but that's what PR people have been doing since the practice started," said Brad Buyce, EVP of Coyne Public Relations. Well said!