How to use storytelling in your PR strategy

Published in Link No 2 2014

These days as a PR professional, you can get online publicity for fashion brands in no time. But consider that short-term activities do not build valuable relationships with your target group. Transparency can be counterproductive to mythologisation. And that is what it’s all about in the fashion industry. Embrace the internet, but be sure to keep an eye for imagination. This begs the question: how to tell your brand story in an exciting way that incites connection? In brief, how to use storytelling in your PR strategy?

Its speed and accessibility have made the internet a very powerful medium in a very short time. Constant online connections have resulted in the habit of checking social media streams wherever you are, and sharing or one-click ordering the latest must-haves from your mobile device. Fashion sites make use of this by providing product-centred ‘snack news’. This obviously leads to link building, awareness and traffic to the brand’s website, on top of boosting sales, but do keep in mind that this approach is only superficial and does not offer the kind of space you need to tell people the story behind the brand. This digital avenue does not provide a strong connection; your brand will only catch your target group’s attention for a fleeting moment, while want you really want is for it to nestle saliently in their memories. Online content is often too superficial, and lacks meaning and imagination. On a product level, which is all about ‘what’s hot and what not’, visualised by red carpet pics, street shots and blogger selfies, you’re just as easily replaced by another brand. And hypes yield no actual results, as they do not produce brand equity.

Mythologisation, powered by storytelling

How can we succeed in communicating a brand story and create a myth via the fragmented media landscape with its diverse channels? For a higher level of ambition and to establish a connection, you have to really touch people. You need a deeper layer for imagination and exaltation. You can’t create a myth by pre-chewing everything: sometimes, it’s better not to be an open book. Unreachability creates desire; it all helps to stir fantasy, and to get people going. Limited supply (Apple), legendary heritage or cult status can make a brand story all the more interesting. This all gives consumers the beginning of a quest. Curiosity or imagination can also be stirred by just lifting a corner of the veil, using symbols, or even causing confusion. That is sure to get attention. Once you’ve made contact, make sure to provide a passageway to a deeper emotional level. All of this can be done by applying centuries-old storytelling techniques. We can use storytelling to bring a brand to life, and to ensure that consumers feel a unique, personal connection with a brand. You need meaningful content for transformation. Content-wise, you can take a much broader approach. Events, presentations or types of packaging can be conveyors of communication with which you can tell a story if you integrate them in your communication strategy. With these, you can appeal to multiple sensors, and stimulate the senses

Once upon a time…

It all starts with empathy. As a brand, you have to completely empathise with your consumer’s world to know their daily problems and needs. Think with the brand purpose as a starting point. How to add value? These ideas lead to a powerful concept, from which you can come up with angles. Stay in control. Don’t give the whole story away all at once; be selective. Make sure to claim your story and your message in traditional, ‘non-superficial’ media. Magazines are better suited for branding as well as for themed advertising campaigns. Fashion reportages are visual and spark readers’ imaginations. You can reinforce your brand by interpreting your collection. Which trend, which vision is behind the designs, the models, the location, the theme? All these ingredients contribute to mythologisation of your brand; they stick and they create desire.

Transmedial brand building

Storytelling is both transformational and transmedial. This goes beyond crossmedial. A good story takes time to unfold. Adapt content to the type of medium and make it unique every time to create more search engine value (see my next column for more on SEO PR) and to make your brand easier to find. Together, it will establish a plot line. This way you don’t have to tell your story chronologically. You can challenge people to go on their own quest; leave room for interpretation. Or ask questions to make consumers come up with ideas. The result: engagement. The public can and may then participate by contributing its own sub-stories. The possibilities for expansion are endless.

Respect print media deadlines; quality takes time. Make sure to have images available early in the season. Be the first to lend your newest collections to fashion magazine stylists for shoots. Build a relationship of trust with opinion leaders among journalists, maintain a constant dialogue and don’t hesitate to involve them in the early concept stages. They want exclusive content straight from the source. It might not be perfect or completely finished yet, but doesn’t that just show originality? Frayed edges give a brand personality. Journalists will then also be prepared to dig a little deeper, to focus more on background. The advantage for a brand is being able to realise an objective article, which can be of great value for a position of authority. A good background story lasts, and offers content to post on social media channels, boosted by twitter. It can be difficult, but have faith and be patient; if you put your product online too early, you can forget about offline. Brands with fast success risk missing out on valuable attention. When executing a brand story through a PR campaign, it is highly important to involve marketing communication or PR specialists in the design process from the start, so that the brand concept is sure to have enough newsworthy elements. You have to make sure there are enough angles and elements with which to tell a story transmedially, and that the right content can be created in time to generate meaningful publicity.