In the Beginning: 10 Tips for Creating Stories to Remember

February 4, 2019


The following is an edited excerpt from Robert Deigh’s book “Spark: The Complete Public Relations Guide for Small Business.”

Let me tell you a story: A postal organization once hired my firm to garner press coverage for its international conference in Washington, D.C. We made all of the usual pre-announcements but, frankly, outside of postal-industry press, there was little reason to expect much media interest.

We then discovered that two young Australian entrepreneurs were coming all the way from Sydney to the event to demonstrate advanced mail-delivery drones they were testing successfully in that country. So, we pitched that story to TV stations and print press that loved the idea of the photogenic Aussies and the visuals of the drones. In the process, media also interviewed event organizers and other participants. The story about the Australians was our door-opener to press coverage for the whole event.
One more: At an event, I sat next to a forest ranger from the West. When the topic turned to thunderstorms, he piped up, “I know a little something about lightning; I’ve been hit twice.” Asking the obvious, I said, “What does that feel like?” He rolled his eyes, laughing: “Are you kidding? It hurts like hell!” A straight-talking forest ranger who’s been struck twice by lightning! Somewhere there’s got to be a newspaper or magazine looking for this guy and his story.
Being a good storyteller is perhaps the most important skill for a PR/communications professional. When you give a reporter a great story idea, you’re doing two things: the obvious — you’re increasing your chances of getting press placement — and, less obvious, you’re making that reporter look smart to his/her editor for coming up with great story ideas. Do that consistently and you’ll become a go-to story source for the press.

Storytelling in business is not limited to attracting press, of course. It’s pretty much the core of all your communications — including your website, case studies, white papers, articles, presentations, marketing materials, social media posts and face-to-face interactions with prospects and other audiences.

How do you tell a story in a way that people will remember you? Here are some tips:

• Be emotional. Happiness, sadness, shock, surprise, success, faith, despair, elation, wonder, hope, mystery, failure and love. Your story ideas will have a much better chance of getting accepted by reporters if they have one or more of these elements. Make it personal — don’t be afraid to show that you are human.

• Be anecdotal. All news and feature stories are about people — so make people the focus of your pitch. Everyone has a story to tell, personal and professional. Frame any story idea you pitch to media or other audiences with compelling anecdotes. Maybe they’ll want to write about your business because of all the lessons you’ve learned.

If your team helped out at a homeless shelter, don’t just post a photo of them serving food in logo T-shirts. Who are they helping, how often do they help, and how prevalent is the homeless problem in your town? Do you write ghost articles for your clients (or your CEO if you’re in corporate communications)? Get as personal as you can. What got that person interested in their industry? What mistakes taught them the most? What can others learn from their experiences?

• Appeal to the head and the heart — the analytical and the passionate. For example: “Clients love working with our team” and “We make people’s lives better.”

• Create a separate company story page on your website and insert personal stories into staff bios. What is interesting and colorful about your company and its people? Also insert personal information into company bios. Dig a bit to get to the interesting stuff; frankly, everyone has a dog or a cat. Look for interesting stories about hobbies, family, travel, etc.

• Use context. How does your story help me understand why your service or products are better than your competitors’? Why should I want to do business with you? What is the call to action?

• Give me just enough detail and get to the point quickly — with no clichés or jargon. Speak plainly.

• Identify newsworthy people in your organization. Get the facts (and their permission) and bring them to the attention of the news media. For example, if a member of your accounting department is an accomplished portrait painter, it may be a good story for the arts section of the newspaper. “Our staff is creative in both work and play; it includes a number of talented athletes, adventurers, musicians and people active in important causes.” Support each claim with proof points about real people.

• Grab ideas from stories that have already been published. Check the websites of newspapers across the country. You may find a feature or business-story idea in some other city that your local newspapers, TV or radio stations have not covered. Ideas can come from anywhere. 

• Create a list of trend stories in your industry, all of which could include your organization/product/issue as an example to support the subjects of the articles. Match up each trend idea with an appropriate publication and reporter. How does the story of your organization fit into the larger trend story?

• Provide camera-ready graphics or artwork for any story idea. Pictures help tell a story. Small media outlets with limited staff especially will love you for providing graphics to go with any story idea. Make sure that any graphics are easily understood and attractive. Also, be sure to credit the name of the artist or photographer who created the work and make sure you have permission to use it.

Robert Deigh

Robert Deigh is a communications professional with more than 25 years of experience in public affairs, marketing and journalism. He served as communications director of the PBS TV network where he was also its national media spokesperson. He was an active-duty U.S. Army public affairs officer in the Panama Canal Zone and at a number of stateside locations.


I. J. Hudson says:

Excellent advice for people selling things or ideas. Nice piece.

Feb. 5, 2019

Ann Blancodine McIntyre says:

Thanks Rob! Very helpful hints. And I love the Beatles photo...that just might be one of the albums I own...or was it in the pile that I stupidly gave away....

Feb. 8, 2019

Dan Kelly says:

Rob, Great article. You won't mind if i share with associates and clients!

Feb. 8, 2019

Debra Tingley says:

Rob, Great information and helpful hints. Was able to share this to co-workers. Thanks.

April 1, 2019

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