‘Je ne sais quoi’: The magic of storytelling

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Gemma Cooper, PR & Marketing Executive:
  • What makes a good story
  • Role of storytelling in PR
  • Helping brands to stand out

What makes a good story? The backbone of any “good” story, whether it appears in a newspaper, book, or Netflix drama, usually involves setting the scene, a gripping plotline which grabs our attention, all before culminating in a happy – or not so happy – ending.

We only have to glance at the biggest news headlines from this year alone to identify what makes a compelling story in the eyes of the general public. Elon Musk’s brief ownership of Twitter, a tragic conflict in the centre of Europe, the downfall of the UK’s Prime Minister and the very tangible impacts of climate change – these are storylines which are all tied together by the powerful themes of controversy, shock, inspiration, and change.

In a recent webinar, the Education Editor at The Times revealed what the newspaper often looks for in the next successful story: that ‘je ne sais quoi’. Whilst frustratingly intangible, the description does, however, capture the essence of why we all like stories. In fact, we crave stories. We spend much of our free time on news sites, streaming websites, and on social media on the hunt for the funniest, saddest and most inspirational tales from around the world. Storytelling is, essentially, a multifaceted form of entertainment that enables us to both escape the occasional monotony of everyday life and connect with the full range of emotions experienced by others.

This is one of the many reasons why storytelling is one of the important foundations of what we do in public relations. And, sometimes, writing a story with that ‘je ne sais quoi’ is a lot easier than we think – for our team, many of the stories we have written on behalf of our wonderful clients, really do speak for themselves without any need for embellishment. 

This year, we spotlighted some of the inspirational stories of ambitious young people for our client, ACS International Schools. We told the heart-warming story of a 17-year old colourblind student who secured free colourblind glasses and testing for his peers at school. We found another powerful story in a mental health expert who, as a speaker at one of the school’s virtual events, recounted how they learned to overcome personal mental health issues while helping refugees in Greece. An inspirational story that went on to attract the interest of national magazines like Marie Claire, which published an article including the key takeaways from the story.

While liaising with another client, RMI, we were told about one of its incredible paramedics who saved a life on a vessel out to sea, while working remotely on an offshore project. As a result, we are penning their story to share and celebrate it with the world – a real story about a real superhero. These varied and unforgettable tales are what can make an organisation or brand stand out to us when we are scrolling on the internet, browsing the papers or watching TV. The challenge of pulling out the most memorable and relevant themes is unique for each client, and one that we relish in our job as PR professionals.

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