Originally published in PRSA Pittsburgh.

 

Storytelling & Discretion – A Love Story

Romeo and Juliet. Catherine and Heathcliff. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. They all have one thing in common in the world of fiction: they’re epic romances. The equivalent in the PR realm? The star-crossed love of storytelling and discretion.

As PR professionals we’re required to channel our brains’ right hemispheres and deliver creative messaging, concepts, and narratives that resonate with diverse audiences while simultaneously evaluating the potential nuances of responses to campaigns and company news or updates. It’s a delicate balance.

To avoid negative backlash, a PR professional may err on the side of caution at the sacrifice of ingenuity. A good PR professional may weigh multiple tiered options within or just outside of a client’s comfort zone (the “well, we put it out there” mentality). But a great PR professional challenges complacency with compelling ideas that are still authentic to a brand, their goals and their audience.

Think About It

Imagine a world where State Street Global Advisors’ “Fearless Girl” didn’t stand tall and strong? Or where Nike’s “Dream Crazy” campaign didn’t include Colin Kaepernick? There was probably hesitancy at first, options needed to be weighed. Without a doubt the board rooms were abound with devil’s advocates and a profusion of questions:

“Will there be criticism of the statue being a girl and not a woman?”
“Will the juxtaposition with the Charging Bull be understood or viewed as exploitive?”
“What are the potential risks of associating our brand with an individual with such polarizing critics?”
“How can our association with Kaepernick affect sales and current business affiliations?”

While the best laid plans of mice and men can often go awry, it’s these discretionary Q&As that lead to the most effective storytelling with the best results. In these brainstorms it’s realized that to achieve A, we must do B and C and to avoid D, we must do E and F. Discretion isn’t about scratching an idea or completely restructuring it until it’s something different entirely, discretion is the constructive feedback necessary to align unconventional ideas into a digestible, appealing narrative.

Take Pepsi’s ad featuring Kendall Jenner for example. An attempt to insert themselves positively into a global discussion gone horribly wrong. Without the right amount of discretion in their execution, they trivialized an entire movement in seconds. On the flipside, they may have taken discretion a step too far (possibly after their previously mentioned blunder) as their recent “Is Pepsi Ok?” ad fell flat despite an all-star cast. Then, boom! They finally nailed it with their Pepsi rewind ad (with the exception of the Kendall Jenner ad, of course) with brilliant reminiscing, fun and a focus on what’s made them iconic without being narcissistic.

The Takeaway

Storytelling without some degree of discretion? Crazy first (and last) date.
Storytelling with too much discretion? Lukewarm feelings.
But that magic balance between storytelling and discretion? Unconditional love.