Beyond PR

Oct 20, 2015

Scare Up an Audience with These ‘Spooky’ Storytelling Tips

scary good press release tips title

It was a dark and stormy night when the unsuspecting PR professional was confronted with her scariest assignment yet: WRITING A PRESS RELEASE!

Okay, okay, writing a press release isn’t very scary. But it’s almost Halloween, and this PR girl is in the mood for ghost stories.

While I don’t get to write about vampires or werewolves, my imagination has been running a little wild recently. This got me thinking: Writing a ghost story and writing a press release aren’t all that different, are they?

Maybe a press release and a spooky story don’t have a lot in common at face value, but there are lessons to be learned from the process of weaving a tale of terror that can apply to writing a press release. Here are a few ways PR and marketing pros can take inspiration from the season’s best stories when crafting brand communications.

Set the scene: A good scary story is one that starts on a dark and stormy night, in an isolated cabin in the woods as the wind howls and rattles the windows of our protagonist’s chilly bedroom. Floors creak, mysterious things go bump in the night, and the anticipation that trouble is afoot starts to send chills down your reader’s spine.

While it’s unlikely your press release is going to have such a dramatic setting, creating the proper atmosphere for your news story is important. Start your release by putting your potential audience in the position of someone who needs to use your product or service to do his or her job better. Help them visualize themselves in those real-life scenarios where your brand’s mission is realized.

This context is what will make your message resonate with your potential buyers, and will generate interest in your brand.

Communications Objectives

Cast your characters: Most stories, scary or otherwise, have at least a protagonist the reader is rooting for. The key to a good scary story is putting the protagonist up against someone or something the reader doesn’t want to encounter. Nobody wants to turn the corner and be faced with goblins or ghouls or zombies on a rabid hunt for brains. It’s that connection with the protagonist that gets readers invested in the outcome of the story.

The twist here is to avoid making your brand the star of the story. Think of your protagonist as your reader: They’re the “good guy” that your brand is here to rescue from the horrifying prospect of a life without you! While your brand is certainly on the side of good, writing your press release with the point of view of your customer in mind will draw readers into your message and inspire deeper connections with your brand.

The key is to define and know your audience. Locking in on the personas of your target buyers will help you craft stories with them at the center.

Plot your path: The plot is what makes a story a story; it gives structure to what is happening. The beginning of a ghost story introduces the reader to conflict. The middle builds anxiety and fear, and after the climax or tipping point, we end with a resolution to the conflict.

While most of a ghost story is going to be focused on building that fear, your press release’s story can still build tension among your readers. Again, the tension you’re creating is going to be around imagining a life without your brand’s products, services, and employees. The resolution is the solution you’re offering your buyers.

Make sure you find the right balance between storytelling and presenting the relevant information your audience needs to make a purchasing decision.

Tell the truth: The most haunting ghost stories are those that *might* be true. The Blair Witch Project, for example, had many people believing it was a true documentary. The film was both a box office and a critical success, and remains one of the most memorable horror films of its time.

These scary stories, the ones that are based on real events or set in real-life situations, are unquestionably the scariest. And again, while you’re not trying to terrify your audience, authenticity is still going to make your story more memorable. Whatever story you’re telling, make sure the content you are sharing in your press release is true—factually, and to your brand’s voice and overall message.

We remember stories. We delight in sharing our favorites with those around us. If you want your brand’s message to be memorable, to resonate with your buyers and drive action, tell the truth.

From its origins as a way to share information, the press release has evolved into a storytelling tool that can — and should — be deployed to achieve a multitude of goals. Download Reach Your Communications Objectives with an Intelligent Mix of Tactics to explore five B2C and B2B press release use cases.

Author Danielle Capriato is the manager of strategic communications at PR Newswire. She refuses to watch The Blair Witch Project alone.  Follow her on Twitter @dcapriato.

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