Storytelling and the age of diminishing attention spans – how does this affect your PR?

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By Samantha Hogg-Brandjes, author and owner of Ginja Ninja


I am in the business of using communications to educate audiences and create awareness for a multitude of brands. It is these two fundamentals that most brands look to PR for when realising something is missing in their marketing mix. It sounds simple, but it’s not when you do this month in and month out for the same brands. We do it well, exceptionally well in fact, and we have many proof points showing the fruits of our labour and our prowess as PR experts.

To educate is to teach an audience more than they know and in a way that helps them to not only remember it, but to implement said teachings. In my 31st year in the industry I have spent the first half of this year touring, teaching, lecturing and presenting about a fundamental element of PR that is key to the future of this profession and business: storytelling.

Author, Terry Tempest Williams, says ‘storytelling is the oldest form of education’ and as a firm believer and advocate for an ‘old school is cool’ approach, I am here to tell you that all businesses need to consider what story they are telling. And if they aren’t, then they need to question whether they are truly comfortable not speaking to the people that make business successful: employees and clients.

Everybody loves a good story, I have so many to tell that I even wrote a book. I can tell you that it was by far one of my biggest professional achievements, telling my tales was hard, it required commitment, tenacity, dedication, grit, and self-belief. I pushed through and I am so happy I did because it has helped me educate people about PR and it is creating awareness about why storytelling is so vital to business success. 

Thankfully, we are here to help a business craft and tell stories consistently, because like I said, it really isn’t easy. It takes a strategic mindset and clever conceptualisation, not to mention writing talent. Just because you can push out an impressive email once a quarter, does not make you an effective storyteller, I promise you.


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In my work, I see way more people who don’t communicate enough to both employees and clients. I tap dance for my supper, so to speak, as I explain over and over again why these conversations are so important. Why media relations works, even now, after decades of doing it, and why social media is not a good enough platform to communicate either. 

It can get tiresome, because to me at least, it makes complete and logical sense, but we push on and advocate tirelessly for storytelling to feature as a big part of a broader communications and marketing strategy because we are that invested in it. 

Just consider what your day is like, how many stories are told, whether about processes, systems, product development, client relations, employee issues and concerns. Just imagine having a team of clever and creative people who work with you to ensure the communications of these are managed in a strategic and impactful way, that your entire business will be on the same page, and as they say in old school talk, ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’. It can be extremely powerful in a multitude of ways. 

I once sat in a traffic department queue with a delightful pastor of a church. I asked him, purely out of curiosity, if he could tell which marriages will last and which have no chance. I say this only because mine was supposed to last forever and was cut traumatically short after 14 years and I never saw it coming. His response was quite incredible because he said that he had a non-negotiable questionnaire, which each couple had to complete before he would  marry them. This subtle trick weeded out the couples not ready while ensuring the ones who were ready would be the happily ever-after tribe. The reason, he said, was because almost all marriages fail because of a lack of communication. “Anyone can be compatible if they truly want to be, people just don’t communicate effectively and that alone can break down a marriage.”

I left there happy that I was a ‘talker’ but realised even then that was not enough to do once in a while, and like in the case of my first marriage, at all, because if we were really honest and spoke openly, so much would have turned out differently. Marriage is not much different to other relationships; bad communication can destroy a marriage and it can also break a business. 

In truth, storytelling is in all of our DNA. It is fundamental to the human experience. Cave paintings are testament to the deep need to communicate with each other not only in the present moment but also across time. Our history, heritage, culture, personal identity, how we engage with each other, and the world is grounded in narrative.   

Storytelling is hardwired in the brain. Successful individuals throughout history have discovered the power of effective storytelling and how a compelling narrative can leave an indelible mark on the world. Apple’s rise from the ashes to one of the most recognised, revered, and aspirational brands in the world is thanks to a carefully constructed narrative. Serious scientific effort in the fields of neuroscience and psychology is now dedicated to understanding how stories can change or entrench our attitudes, beliefs and behaviours.  

Steve Jobs said: ‘The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.”

Storytelling is our future. In his brilliant book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari, says that history is ultimately a complex network of stories we have told each other. It is the essence of our survival and prosperity, and it is because of the tales we have told that we have come to believe in capitalism, nations, borders, justice, money and laws. Storytelling, and sharing stories, is an evolutionary tendency we all possess because we are deeply social creatures and primed to care a great deal about our reputation and the reputation of others. Several giant leaps forward and major technological revolutions later, and the primacy of the need to hear and be heard is the same as it was thousands of years ago. When you view concepts like storytelling and reputation like Harari, then PR, and indeed all communications, are fundamentally important for people, businesses and institutions everywhere.


Samantha Hogg-Brandjes is a communications consultant with 31 years of experience and author of the book “Making Hotdogs” – a quirky guide to building a career in PR and making life awesome.

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