Jo Trizila

Seven Skills Every PR Pro Must Have to Excel at Storytelling

By: Jo Trizila | May 8, 2017 | 
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Seven Skills Every PR Pro Must Have to Excel at StorytellingMy undergraduate degree and graduate studies were in theater.

It wasn’t until I graduated that I discovered I did not have much talent for acting—but I did have the storytelling bug.

Theater to PR isn’t much of a stretch.

In theater, we have a script, a director, actors, audience members, and location.

In public relations, we have the story, the client, people who make up the story, audience members, and location.

Our firm writes everything very editorially—we treat each opportunity as a story.

With this method, we get predictable results.

Storytelling has been and always will be the single most valuable skill any PR pro must have.

Storytelling is an art.

A lot of uncommon skill sets go into storytelling. A good storyteller is…

A Detective (i.e., Mining for Stories)

Clients notoriously don’t know what makes a good plot line for a story and often we find stories in the oddest ways.

One of my favorite stories was with Massage Envy.

I was in the tranquility room waiting for my appointment.

As I was waiting, I saw a therapist come out of one of the rooms using a long white cane.

The franchise owner had four legally blind therapists on staff.

I “sold” the story to the Associated Press and to this day, it is still one of my favorite stories: Blind Masseuses Don’t Miss Seeing a Thing.

A Playwright’s Writer

You must be a rock-solid writer.

Not a lot more needs to be said here.

A Salesman

You need to be an incredible salesperson, both to the client and to the journalist.

This is a big one.

Just having an incredible story to tell is only one part of the equation.

You must have an outlet to tell it.

In the summer of 2014, we were tasked with developing a worldwide publicity campaign for Jeff Gusky’s The Hidden World of WWI.

This is a collection of black-and-white photographs of never before seen WWI underground cities.

Because these underground cities had never been photographed before, and because we could not reveal their actual location, the media didn’t believe our story.

We thought this story would sell itself, and the phones would be ringing off the hooks.

We were wrong.

It took a few weeks of heavy hitting before the wheels started moving.

However, at the end of our yearlong campaign, we had the client in virtually every major news outlet.

Here’s BBC One’s coverage: Underground Cities.

A Clairvoyant

You have an amazing opportunity for your client with an even more amazing story.

We know that unless it is national or breaking news, multiple features are unlikely—you must know what outlet is going to give your client maximum exposure.

It’s about analytics.

For example, I knew (with the above-mentioned story on blind therapists) I could get local coverage, but I also knew it was a national story.

I had my top three outlets printed out and went from there.

This happens with every story we pitch.

Also, sometimes the story is better told in print than video and vice versa.

You need to know this—just as a director knows if his piece is better suited for the stage, small screen, or big screen.

A Master Builder

Storytelling 101: Build your story/script.

You are the playwright here.

How do you want the client’s story to be told?

Who are the players?

What is the setting, how do you wrap it up?

It must be captivating with a very clear focus.

And for the love of God, keep the sales pitch to a minimum.

Go buy an ad if you are trying to sell something.

A Creative Director

The best compliment we get at our firm is when a journalist comes back to us and says, “Thanks for making my job easier.”

#Winning!

Think like the journalist.

What are they going to need to help them tell your story?

Is it video? Photography? Infographics? Statistics? A real customer testimony?

Have all these assets lined up prior to pitching your story.

Last, but most definitely not least, a good storyteller must…

An Award-Winning Marksman

The devil’s in the details.

We all know that a missing comma can totally change the meaning of a sentence.

We also know that specifying an interview in eastern/central/pacific time zones is critical, if a television shoot is live or recorded, etc.

PR is all about credibility.

If you miss or blunder on important details, you lose your credibility.

Storytelling is the Number One Skill Needed

In all my years in this profession (25+), storytelling is the number one skill I seek.

Most PR pros can check boxes: Writing—check; grammar—check; AP format—check; pitching success—check.

But if they can’t originate, locate, identify a good story, the above is worthless to my firm and to our clients.

One does not have to have connections in the media (although it does help) to pitch a great story.

A great story will trump connections anytime.

About Jo Trizila


Jo Trizila is founder & CEO of Dallas-based TrizCom Public Relations and Pitch PR and a member of the board of directors for Heroes for Children and advisory board of directors for Taylors Gift. TrizCom is based in Dallas with a national and international footprint.

  • Such a great article, Jo!

    I was trying to pick my favorite from your list, but I can’t. All of them are very important.

    Love this: “A great story will trump connections anytime.”

    I would add: A great story will make connections for you or your brand.

    Thank you, Jo!

    • JoTrizila

      Thanks so much Corina.

  • Edward M. Bury

    Sound commentary here, and I certainly concur. Let me point out that public relations professionals today also need to think strategically and conduct themselves ethically and responsibly in order to become successful storytellers.

    • JoTrizila

      Could NOT agree more.

  • Hi Jo, yes I really agree one has to be a detective mining for stories. And definitely, a salesperson, as your example shows sometimes a story isn’t always as easy to get out there as you would think! When you put it all together it really is a diverse bunch of skills the profession demands, we should all take a moment to pat ourselves on the back!

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