Four years ago, while associate editor of the Irish Independent, I read an article on about how a US airline had devised, quote, “an amazing” new way of connecting with staff and customers.
By Ciaran Byrne
They had produced a new publication called ‘The Magazine’ — a potent mix of real life stories and powerful experiences, all nicely written by the staff of Southwest and its customers.
The initiative had been a blinding success, wowing readers and company executives alike and soon others followed suit; Coca Cola, Nike and GE all created similar offerings, even building out fully-staffed newsrooms to create their own brand storytelling.
But “amazing” — really? At first, like many journalists, I sniggered at the idea of a company creating its own content, of not bowing down to the self-appointed Gatekeepers Of All Things Media.
In truth, people like me, newspaper insiders, jealously guarded our hard-fought positions as * proper * storytellers — and marketing people weren’t going to ruin it for us!
“What the f**k is brand journalism anyway? It’s marketing crap and mostly it’s terrible,” sniffed a newsroom colleague one day. She couldn’t have been more wrong.
Something clicked, the penny dropped — everyone was now a potential storyteller and publisher. The gates were being truly stormed. What Southwest had realised was that they didn’t exclusively need the media to tell their stories; they could become a media branch and do it themselves.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. With Martha Kearns, then news editor of the Sunday Business Post, we set up StoryLab.
It had a single aim; to help businesses of all sizes understand and deploy the power of ‘story’ — and journalism — to communicate with people in a more natural way.
We didn’t set ourselves up as content gurus of any kind, we didn’t pretend to have invented storytelling, we didn’t bullshit people that we could solve world peace with nicely-written case studies.
We just realised that our careers had made us pretty good reporters, writers, editors (or is that content creators and curators?) and filterers of original and interesting angles, hooks and other ingredients that make up great stories.
We realised that many businesses and brands, large and small, had themselves finally twigged that journalism — around for centuries — was a way to unlock minds and reach people.
Our hunch was correct. Three years on and our newspaper heritage is being utilised by StoryLab clients on a daily basis to create trusted journalistic-style content, build story strategies and access the media with measurable and impactful results.
Our experience at The Telegraph, Sunday Times and The Observer in London, as well as Independent News & Media and the Sunday Business Post in Ireland underpins StoryLab.
Many brands have reams of advertising expertise, access to the brightest marketing talents, but they are light on seasoned journalists who can spot, shape and share a good story.
We gambled that we could show businesses some tricks and tips to help them create compelling news and features about themselves that people might want to read, see or listen to.
Today, we also respect and nurture our media contacts. In our PR work, we constantly strive to give editors and journalists what we think they will find useful, packaged in a way that suits THEM. Because we understand newsrooms; that’s pretty useful know-how.
All humans are receptive to great human stories and that’s the constant in everything we do at StoryLab with clients including the National Lottery, UCD, Abbott, Bord Bia, Collins McNicholas, Guinness Storehouse, IT Sligo, Orreco and Sustainable Nation Ireland.
We don’t always have the magic bullet but we do endeavour to distil and extract from businesses the essence of their stories, USPs and standout moments that will make the most interesting talking points.
I’ll be honest — it can be hard going at times. Sometimes you have to look a CEO in the eye and say: ‘there’s no story here’.
Jargon remains a curse that many businesses find difficult to overcome; it blunts their stories and destroys flow – it greatly harms the chances of gaining media coverage or the attention of internal audiences. This remains one of the key challenges in content and communications.
With so many people vying for attention on so many channels, reaching people is harder than ever. Using jargon or cliches helps to make that task impossible.
But there is good news. If you have a good story to tell, we can help to dig it out for you and make it shine. If you want to know more, drop us a line or call.