What Is a Brand Narrative In Public Relations?

Owned media, such as company websites, blogs, and social media channels, provide brands with a platform to directly control and shape their narrative. These channels allow brands to present their messages without the distortion or misinterpretation that can occur through third-party media.

By: Dellvin Roshon Williams, Founder at DRW®

hether you’re the CEO of a tech Startup, a broker at a luxury yacht charter operation, a founder of some funky Soho-based online art gallery, or, as I was just over a couple of years ago, a freelance contributing writer-turned-agency owner, you have a daily obligation to shape the identity, reputation, and management of your brand. But there may be some blind spots…

Your ads are not converting.

Your brand’s unique selling points (USPs) aren’t clear to your audience.

Or your team hasn’t honed in on customer buying behavior.

As CEO, your power to influence your team is unmatched. How your company connects with (and engages) prospects, clients and team members using language, narrative, tone, and authenticity is a real indication of how well you can effectively communicate with your audience and reach the next stage of your company’s growth.

That’s why masterful messaging is the single most important element of your business. And if you can influence and inspire your team, you can drive real organizational change.

So, what does brand narrative have to do with long-term business success?

Everything.

What is a Brand narrative?

The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as “a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or services as distinct from those of other sellers.” Branding tells the public not just who a political, social, business, or religious actor is, but also shapes how the actor in question is perceived.

Brands use narrative to get their core messaging across, rally, educate, engage, and inspire their stakeholders and respective publics.

… Narratives deploy language to manipulate symbols and concepts to tell individual stories that – when connected – communicate a singular message designed to drive sales, votes, community formations, and/or converts.

Building a narrative, however, means more than having a logo, tagline, or positioning statement. While these are important starting points, it’s about determining how your brand will be experienced. The point is to explain why your brand exists and how it can resolve conflicts in the lives of buyers.

The clearer you are about the role that your brand plays in a person’s life, the better you will be at defining your brand’s niche, identifying your personas, and crafting messaging that speaks to your desired audience.

Once you understand your niche and have defined your Unique Brand Offering (UBO), you will be better suited to design and execute a well-thought-out PR strategy vis-à-vis objectives, key messaging, and targeted media outreach.

From a public relations perspective, owned media has emerged as a powerful tool for brands to craft and disseminate their narratives.

Effective By leveraging owned media, companies can control their message, build a loyal audience, and establish a strong brand identity. This blog post explores the role of owned media within the Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned (PESO) model, and how elements like websites, whitepapers, storytelling, and brand journalism can enhance public relations strategy.

What is public relations?

While there is little agreement on the exact definition of public relations (PR), there is unanimous agreement on the processes and outcomes associated with public relations practice. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) defines public relations as being “the discipline which looks after reputation, to earn understanding and support and influence opinion and behavior. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its public.”

Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy describe PR as “the planned persuasion of people to behave in ways that further its sponsor’s objectives.” And Ed Zitron in his, This Is How Your Pitch: How to Kick Ass in Your First Years of PR (a personal favorite of mine), describes public relations as being all about “how your client—whether it’s a company, an individual, a foundation, a music group—relates to the public.”

The problem is that when most people think public relations, what they are thinking of is media relations.

Whatever definition you subscribe to, the point is this: PR is about making sure that an organization’s use of and relationship with the media is carefully managed and tightly controlled. The point is that, at its core, the definition of public relations is based on communications and management functions such as:

  • Reputation Management
  • Communication Management
  • Persuasion
  • Relationship Management

Once upon a time, PR pros would work through “third-party endorsements” to engineer or prime public appetite for a set of messages to be disseminated for an organization’s benefit, on the one hand, while keeping the media informed and inform organizations about the needs of media, on the other. And they still do. But PR – as a profession and academic discipline – is far more complex than most imagine.

Areas of PR specialization

Public relations is about how a client – whether it is a company, an individual, a musical group, a politician, or a government entity – “relates to the public” and influences the news cycle by winning positive media coverage that educates, builds awareness, or manages crises using various types of PR identified in This is PR: The Realities of Public Relations, including:

Nonprofit Organizations

Typically independent of government, PR work involves developing promotional activities and fundraising for museums, hospitals, social services, and healthcare groups. PR pros are responsible for training volunteers and providing services in areas of economic and social development. Outside of the United States, nonprofits are called nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Educational Institutions

PR pros who work for educational institutions help schools distinguish themselves from the competition. PR for Education also works with institutions to spread its core message to current and prospective students, stakeholders, and other community members. Public relations programs also evaluate public interest and sentiment and earn support for its overall long-term strategy.

International Public Relations

International public relations focuses on government-to-citizen engagement. International PR, also called public diplomacy, involves nations, businesses, and nonprofits creating favorable reputations with foreign audiences. Areas of particular concern are language, customs, attitudes, and strategic engagement toward multinational corporations (MNCs) as political non-state actors.

Investor Relations

Also referred to as Financial PR, investor relations (IR) involve representing companies in the finance industry. IR activities include preparing and deploying quarterly and annual reports on everything from revenue and net profit dividends to employee turnover and news releases about stock values. A related task involves writing and editing “sensitive internal documents” on compliance and ratings.

Industrial Public Relations

Industrial public relations covers communication techniques involving the promotion and sales of equipment, enhancing the social media reputation and engagement of a given company, or managing the personal brand communication of a CEO, COO, or CFO. Industrial PR also deals with internal communications (i.e., labor relations).

Government

PR roles at the local, state, and/or federal level may be referred to as a public information officer, public affairs officer, or information minister. For NGOs, PR pros work in “public affairs.” Public affairs specialists at all levels work with legislators and stakeholders by consulting with businesses, conducting research, writing policy position papers, and monitoring the effects of policies that positively or adversely affect different constituencies. Public affairs specialists and PR pros do similar work but differ when it comes to their overall function.

So, as far as the public is concerned, collaborating with media and industry influencers can help brands tap into their audience, which increases brand visibility and credibility. Brand stories can be told through social media campaigns and TV advertisements to get the message across.

The problem is that when most people think of public relations, what they are thinking of is media relations. To understand what an effective narrative can have on a public relations campaign, you must first have an idea of what kinds of communication are involved at the media relations level.

What is the role of media relations in public relations?

Media relations is a key component of PR, which focuses on building and managing relationships with journalists, media outlets, and reporters. With the constantly evolving media landscape, this mediation is important for shaping and optimizing public perception, creating credibility, and managing the brand reputation.

Having strong connections with the media and corporate activities can help PR professionals control the narrative around brands. In addition, it helps generate positive press and coverage in crises. It can also help maintain a reputable image with the public, irrespective of what goes on behind closed doors.

Four Stages of Media Relations

There are distinct categories of media relations, and as a PR professional handling the brands, it’s important to know about them to choose the right path for yourself.

Planning

First, this is about strategic planning and preparing for media relations activities. You must define the communication goals and locate the media outlets that can help you market a message. In addition, you’ve to create a media contact list and devise the timeline for outreach.

Media Tactics

The second is about the tactical execution of media relations activities. This is about engaging with the media by leveraging different tactics to secure positive media coverage. Some of the most common media tactics include press releases, media interviews, media pitches, media events, media kits, and contributed op-eds.

See our blog post How to Write a Killer Press Release: The Definitive Guide.

The media events usually include briefings, tours, and press conferences, so the journalists can access your company’s news firsthand. As far as media kits are concerned, they are fact sheets, press releases, and other visuals that help in creating and covering a story.

Implementation

As the name suggests, this is about executing the planned media tactics and engaging the media. The PR professionals must connect with the journalists, pitch their ideas, and distribute press releases. In addition, they must facilitate the interviews and coordinate media events that help brands showcase the message that they’ve always wanted. This is a crucial step to generate interest in your brand and secure sufficient media coverage.

Follow Up

After implementing the strategies and trying different media tactics, following up with journalists is important to build a relationship. For this purpose, you must respond to media inquiries quickly and provide additional information.

If the journalists ask for resources and have any concerns, you need to address them, provide the resources, and give clarifications. In addition, following up can help track the impact of these efforts, so the strategies can be adjusted accordingly.

If your goal is to build an effective public relations communication strategy, mastering narrative patterns is mission-critical. You can’t afford to ignore it when it comes to building relationships and trust with the people you are looking to serve.

How a brand narrative amplifies your PR strategy

To understand the impact of narrative on business, we need to distinguish narrative from story. Narratives are spoken or written accounts of a series of events or accounts that are chronologically connected.

Narratives give us pieces of information that explain why events occur when they do. In short, narrative is how we make sense of the world.

Not every narrative, however, is a story. Narratives give rise to stories because stories are specific narrations that link a set of conflict-driven events (i.e., plot and timeline) that cause meaningful change in a person or an organization’s life.

From a company’s point of view, narrative formation is a communication technique used to emotionally connect with consumers; it is a way of managing long-term consumer experiences and relationships.

From a public relations perspective, narrative is a storytelling technique that reframes not only how we see the world, but how we interpret, present, and understand how patterns of human behavior occur in said world.

The point is that brands use stories to build relationships and trust through published (print, digital, or video) content focused on showcasing a variety of consumer experiences through advertising, personal selling, PR, sales, and direct marketing. But not every story – and by extension every narrative technique – is for every brand.

When it comes down to PR, a narrative-driven approach is important because it drives seamless omnichannel communication. More on that in another blog post.

As humans, we are attracted to stories because they engage us and capture our attention; stories make information more digestible and memorable; and with narrative-driven storytelling, brands can connect with prospects and clients on an emotional level, increase engagement, and drive sales. It also results in a deeper understanding of your brand’s mission and core values.

Scaling a business calls for clear and accessible messaging. Whenever a brand expands and reaches out to a new audience, it becomes important to communicate the primary purpose in a clear, easy-to-understand manner.

Finally, narrative empowers PR professionals to craft brand-centric stories across content types, so consumers can have a more relatable experience. It can help retain current customers, gain new customers, and support business growth with a public relations-led approach.

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