Posts Tagged ‘Creating Your Story’

Media Minute: Wrong questions, wrong answers

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Media Minute: Wrong questions, wrong answers

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: Wrong questions, wrong answersIf you ask the wrong questions, you usually get the wrong answers.

For example, I recently found these questions in my inbox:

“What does it take, in your experience, to achieve good public relations? What are good public relations? If I am already issuing periodic press releases, is that enough?

“What if I have a whole social media marketing plan and I am distributing monthly newsletters, tweeting weekly, writing articles and publishing them in online magazines and talking about everything I do (my company does) on Facebook and Linked-in. Is that enough?

“I believe the above is a more tactic(al) view of PR tools, what about the strategic view of PR?

“And the million $ question — is there real value is paying a retainer of tens of thousands of shekels to a PR firm? Sometimes I feel that despite all the tools that I use, I am not breaking a glass ceiling when it comes to awareness. Can a good PR firm help me and my business? Is a traditional PR firm or a digital marketing firm more advisable today?

“I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences on the above.”

A lot of people seem to think the key to successful PR is using the right tools. But the tools are just tools to help you reach the right audience effectively with right message.

Should a carpenter use a hammer, a saw, a screwdriver, a level, a ruler — or all of them? Depends on the job to be done. S/he probably won’t use a saw to drive nails or a hammer to cut a board. And a master carpenter is going to build a better cabinet than I would even if we use the same tools and materials.

I suggested to the author of the opening questions that she start with a different set of questions:

  • What’s your objective? What do you want to happen as a result of telling your story?
  • Who’s your audience? Unless you have a monopoly on air and we need to buy it from you to breathe, the answer is not everyone.
  • What’s your message? What do you need to say to your audience to persuade them to do whatever you need them to do to meet your objective?
  • How do you reach your audience with your message? Getting a story into the Wall Street Journal may sound like success — unless your audience doesn’t read the Wall Street Journal.

Once you know the answers to these questions, then you can start thinking about which tools to use and how often to use them.

Does the questioner need to hire a PR agency? Maybe. Does she need to hire a large, expensive agency? In her case, probably a waste of money. She’d be better off working with an experienced independent practitioner, a small agency or hiring an employee to do her PR work.

Starting with tactics is often tempting. We’ve all done it. But it’s a bad place to start if you don’t know the answers to the questions I listed above and if you don’t have a strategy for delivering your message effectively to your audience. There’s no cookie cutter list of the right tools to use. And good PR is about building relationships, not just delivering a message.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

Media Minute: The power of anecdotes

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Media Minute: The power of anecdotes

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: The power of anecdotesBoston. What a week. And a horrible event brings out the strength and resiliency of the city where it happened.

You can tell the story of last week’s events in Boston with a broad brush: Explosion. Shock. Photos of the two hats. High-speed chase. Daylong search. And the capture.

But it’s the personal anecdotes — the hero in the cowboy hat, personal information about the victims or add your favorite example here — that fill in the details and add depth and poignancy to the story.

Every one of us was touched by one or more of these personal anecdotes that emerged as the events of last week unfolded. And each of us has our personal collection of these stories that we remember from last week’s events.

Some of these details are shared — things we read or saw on TV. Some are more personal, based on being in Boston or knowing someone who was.

But here’s my point: You recognize the high-level, broad-brush version I outlined above. But it’s the smaller, personal-interest stories that had the biggest impact for most of us.

Anecdotes are powerful storytelling tools. They humanize your story. Use them whenever you can to humanize your story and make it more interesting.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?


Listen to Jerry’s Tips for Telling Your Story every Tuesday at 11:05 a.m., Mountain Time, on the Experience Pros Radio Show, KLZ 560AM in Denver or at on the Internet. Missed it on the air? Listen to the archives. And check out Jerry’s content-focused blog at

Be quotable if you want to be quoted

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Be quotable if you want to be remembered

By Jerry Brown, APR

Be quotable if you want to be rememberedIf you’re quotable when you talk to reporters there’s a good chance you’ll get quoted. That’s because good quotes are as irresistible to a reporter as candy is to a kid.

You can be clever, funny or outrageous if you want. But you don’t have to be. You just have to be interesting. Have something worth saying that helps reporters tell their stories and they’ll quote you more often than not.

You don’t talk to reporters? It doesn’t matter. The same idea applies to telling your story to any audience.

Reporters like good quotes because they know their audience, people like you and me, like them. A quotable quote is an easily remembered way of saying something well. Be quotable when talking to reporters and you’ll be quoted. Be quotable when talking to the rest of us and you’ll be remembered.

If I have a not-so-quotable statement from a client I know wants to be quoted, I ask them three questions:

What are you really trying to say? It’s amazing how often what they’re saying bears little resemblance to what they’re trying to say. Say what your really mean and it’s usually much clearer and quotable than the watered-down version.

Why will the audience you’re trying to reach care? Unless you say something that’s interesting to your audience, what you say probably won’t be remembered.

Do you really want to be quoted? I ask this question even when I know the answer is yes to get clients to think about what it will take to be quoted. It helps them understand the need to be quotable.

Is your message being ignored? Ask yourself the three questions listed above and work to make what you say more quotable.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Media Minute. Your Story: Just Tell It

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Media Minute. Your Story: Just Tell It

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute. Your Story: Just Tell It.You have a story to tell? Just tell it. Because if you don’t tell your story, who will?

Don’t know how to start? Or what to say after you do? Then ask yourself this question: What do you really want the rest of us to know about you, your company or what you sell?

Don’t dress it up or try to refine it. Tell yourself the version that lays out what you want to say in its raw, unedited form. Let go of any doubt or self-judgment and tell yourself what you would really like to say to the rest of us if you could do it without any fear of backlash or failure. What does that version of your story look like? Don’t edit yet. Just tell it.

Once you’ve done that, ask yourself these questions:

  • If the raw version of your story is all about you — and chances are it is — how can you make it more relevant to the rest of us? Why should we care? What’s in it for us? Make those changes to the raw version of your story.
  • Are there any parts of your story you’re reluctant to tell because you’re afraid of what might happen if you do? If so, what are you afraid will happen? Is the danger real? Or just an excuse that keeps you from telling your story? If the danger is real, is there a way to remove the danger but tell us what we need to know to care about your story and do what you want us to do? Make those changes to the raw version of your story.
  • How can you shorten your story? Most of us say too much when telling our story. What can you take out to boil your story down to its essence? Answer the other questions before you tackle this one. But once you get to this question, be ruthless. Take out as much as you can. This is like sharpening the blade of a knife or a pair of scissors. If you take the extra stuff out of your story, it will become sharper — and more effective.

Once you’ve answered the questions and made the changes I’ve suggested, your story should be ready to share with the rest of us.

You have a story to tell? Just tell it. And keep telling it over and over and over because most of us won’t hear it the first time you tell it. And if you don’t tell your story, who will?

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Media Minute: What’s the lead?

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Media Minute: What’s the lead?

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: What's the LeadYou’re a reporter on deadline ready to write your story. What’s your lead?

Depends on what the facts are, right? Partly. But not entirely. The other big variable? Your audience.

For example, the Philadelphia 76ers and Chicago Bulls played game four of their NBA playoff series yesterday. The final score was Philadelphia 89, Chicago 82. What’s the lead? Depends on where you are. Papers in the two home cities focus on their city’s team. Everywhere else the lead almost always focuses on the winner.

The headline on “Sixers down Bulls, now one win from advancing”

The Chicago Tribune’s headline: “Bulls in a 3-1 hole after Game 4 loss”

Another example, from Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. According to the book, a journalism professor walked into the first day of a journalism class at Beverly Hills High School some years ago and told his students: “Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. The speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown.”

Then the professor asked the students to write the lead for a story about the announcement. All the students dutifully wrote a brief synopsis of the “facts” of the story.

The professor’s lead? “There will be no school next Thursday.”

I agree with the professor as long as the story was for the school newspaper. A writer for an education paper would have written a different lead. And the Beverly Hills Courier might not have cared at all.

You can’t tell your story effectively unless you know who you’re writing for — not because the facts change but because the relevancy of the facts changes.

So, understand who your audience is before telling your story. You may need to tell your story very differently to different audiences because each audience may be interested in your story for different reasons.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?


Shameless plug: I recently changed my website to You’ll always find a link to the latest version of the Monday Morning Media Minute there. There’s also a new blog available on the site. The new blog is called JerryBrownPR. Unlike the Media Minute, I’m not distributing JerryBrownPR by email. But I hope you’ll check it out from time to time. And I hope you find it useful and relevant.

Media Minute: Make it visual

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Media Minute: Make it visual
By Jerry Brown, APR

Is a picture really worth a thousand words? Maybe. But I have a different question for you: Are you using pictures and other visual design elements to bring out the full value of your words?

If not, you’re missing the boat.

With digital photography, high-quality stock-photo services that charge as little as $1 per picture and how easy it is to put pictures and video online, there’s no excuse for not adding strong visual impact to your story.

A few examples (you’ll come up with more) of how to do that:

  • News releases aren’t just for the news media any more. If you’re writing a news release, add it to your website or blog with one or more pictures — or even a video — that help tell your story. You can offer the picture(s) to the media, too, of course. Just make sure it/they are professional quality.
  • Do you blog? Or use Facebook? Pictures add impact to what you’re posting.
  • Do you use PowerPoint for presentations? Word-packed slides are deadly. If you aren’t using more pictures than words on your slides, you’re probably guilty of “death by PowerPoint.” Avoid clip art. And don’t add visuals as an afterthought. They are at least as important as the words you put on your slides. If you do a lot of PowerPoint presentations, I recommend you read presentationzen by Garr Reynolds. It radically changed the way I do PowerPoint slides. And my slides are much better as a result.

Next week: The importance of editing. And a few tips for becoming a better editor.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Media Minute: Anecdotes, analogies, examples

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Media Minute: Anecdotes, analogies, examples
By Jerry Brown, APR

Anecdotes, analogies and examples are powerful storytelling tools. Use them whenever possible.

Anecdotes humanize your story. That makes your story more appealing to the rest of us — and more likely to get our attention. They make it more likely that we’ll hear what you say. But go easy on anecdotes that paint you as the hero. And stay away from anecdotes that criticize or poke fun at someone else.

Analogies simplify your story. They make it easier for the rest of us to understand your story. And they’ll help us remember it, too. Have you seen the new “that’s the Egg McMuffin of . . .” commercials from McDonald’s? My prediction is they’ll prove to be among the more memorable commercials of 2012 — and may even become part of our pop culture. They embody a great analogy.

Examples help explain your story. They provide a concrete memory hook that makes it more likely your story will be remembered. The Monday Morning Media Minute is the Egg McMuffin of media tips, for example.

Anecdotes, analogies, examples help get your story heard, understood and remembered.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Tell me a story. Make it about me.

Monday, January 9th, 2012

By Jerry Brown, APR

Tell me a story. And make it about me.

Whether you’re issuing a news release, delivering a speech or using social media, the best way to get the rest of us to hear, understand and remember what you have to say is to tell us a story.

People love stories. People have been telling stories for as long as there have been people. We teach, learn and remember through storytelling.

So, if you want to be heard, understood and remembered, become a good storyteller.

And make your stories about me. Why? Because everybody’s favorite subject is me. Find a way to make your story relevant to your audience and you increase dramatically the chances of getting the rest of us to listen to what you have to say.

In fact, two of the biggest mistakes storytellers make is telling stories that focus on themselves instead of their audience and telling stories that are boring.

I’ll explore ways to make your story more interesting over the next few weeks.

Coming up next week, a basic rule every storyteller should know: Don’t let the facts get in the way of your story. And, no, I’m not suggesting you be dishonest.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Surprise Me

Monday, March 28th, 2011

By Jerry Brown, APR

Surprised boy“We all know the disappointment, and yes, sometimes even the horror.

“Looking forward to a healthy, crispy salad, you open the vegetable crisper in the fridge to discover the fresh lettuce and tomatoes purchased only days before now resemble the cast of a ’50’s science fiction thriller.”

That’s my all-time favorite lead for a news release. It’s for a product called Extra Life, a little green disc that costs about five bucks and goes into your refrigerator to keep fruits and vegetables fresh longer. That news release won coverage that included the entire food section page of the Denver Post and a feature story with picture in the Rocky Mountain News back in the days when Denver had two daily newspapers.

It’s decidedly informal, not properly “corporate” sounding at all. It uses a slang term for a kitchen appliance. And it jumps from first person to second person without any real justification.

But it works. It’s well written. It’s entertaining. It’s unexpectedly informal. (Imagine yourself as a reporter leafing through a pile of news releases all saying “xxx today announced that . . .”) And, most important of all, it’s about me. And you. We’re all included in the narrative of this news release because we’ve all experienced the scene it describes — and the problem it promises to fix.

Want the rest of us to read your news releases? Then make them about us — not about you. And make them interesting.

Here are three approaches that can help you do that:

  • Lead with an anecdote: “Joan Doe has spent the last 43 years helping others. On Tuesday, several dozen of them will be on hand for her final day at work to say thank you and tell her how she changed their lives.” Good anecdotes add personality to your story. Properly used, they are powerful storytelling tools.
  • Lead with a question: “Why are local birdwatchers putting down their binoculars and picking up protest signs?” Some purists say you should never lead with a question. My response: Why would you ignore such a powerful tool for engaging your audience?
  • Lead with your first-person experience: “The bear stared at me. I stared back. What I did next probably saved my life. And it could save yours.” Be careful if you go down this path. Properly used, first-person narratives can be interesting. But if it’s all about you, the rest of us won’t care.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Tell me a story. Make it about me.

Monday, August 16th, 2010

By Jerry Brown, APR

storytelling2Tell me a story. Make it about me.

Reporters tell stories for a living. Follow their example. Write your news releases like news stories. Good reporters frame their stories before they start writing by asking themselves:

  • What’s the news? Don’t bury your news. If a reporter (or editor) doesn’t know why your story’s news by the time s/he’s read the first paragraph or two of your release, it’ll end up in the trash.
  • What do readers / viewers want to know? Reporters write for the benefit of their audience, not for your benefit. What does your audience want to know? Tell them in your news release. Then find reporters who write for that audience to turn your story into news.
  • So what?  Why should I care? The basic questions of journalism are who, what, where, when and why. Answer them in your news releases.  But there’s an even more important question:  So what?  “What” is about facts.  “So what” is about why those facts matter.  Tell me why your story matters to me and I’ll be interested.

That’s my two cents’ worth.  What’s yours?