How to Connect Through Story

Stories have been the fabric of our lives and the drivers of our businesses for centuries. And at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) 2013 Southwest District Conference, June 5-7, storytelling in all its myriad ways was the underlying theme. (Although the true theme for the conference, hosted by PRSA Austin, was appropriately #KeepPRWeird.)

“We connect with people through their stories, not their business cards,” explained keynote speaker Dave Lieber, Watchdog Nation columnist for the Dallas Morning News. “And there are no boring stories. So the key is to make your client the hero, and you can do that by stretching to the next level and asking deeper questions.”

Upon jumpstarting the event with Lieber, the conference provided a platform for dynamic exchange about everything from launching your own PR firm to the nitty-gritty details of tracking social media metrics. 

4 Key Takeaways 

While there was simply too much great information to squeeze it all into this recap, there were a few pervasive themes and takeaways that emerged. 

Social Rocks but Traditional Rules: When it comes to carving out strategies for clients, it’s no longer either/or. Today, it’s both/and. The best strategy is one that includes a dynamic social media presence embedded with traditional public and media relations elements. In other words, leverage social media as part of your communications but continue to foster relationships with traditional media channels, too.

See & Be Seen: Expanding online presence is the goal of most organizations today. Now with so many vying for digital real estate, however, it can be easy to get caught up in hype. But have you covered the basics? According to blogger Eric Hyland, Google now uses more than 200 variables to determine a site’s rank. So begin with simple strategies: Identify keywords that are relevant to customers and your content. Optimize headers (H1) to no more than 70 characters in length and descriptions of 150 characters. And finally, use those same keywords in the file name of all photos. 

Measure, Measure, Measure: How do we showcase the returns we’re delivering to our clients and companies—especially when it comes to social media? The key is to establish a baseline of metrics to evaluate regularly, said Angela Jeffrey of She contends the first steps of measurement should include establishing goals, identifying the stakeholder groups to track and then taking the time to measure both qualitative and quantitative results. 

Build Trust & Elevate Your Influence: We all know that succeeding in PR, and in life, is about cultivating relationships based on mutual respect and trust. Whether it’s pitching your career in a job interview, pitching new business or pitching a client’s story to a reporter, the key is to expand your circle of influence. According to Pierpont Senior Vice President and General Manager Stacy Armijo, this begins with seeking to understand what others need. “The first key to influence is respect, and the way to demonstrate respect is to truly listen,” Armijo explained. “A person of influence is far more concerned about being interested than interesting.” 

Tell Your Story, Especially in a Crisis

In the midst of challenges, it’s inevitable to move into quick-response mode, making it easy to lose sight of your core story and strategy. It’s a lesson that closing keynote speaker Katherine McLane has learned well over the years—in working for various political campaigns and for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on No Child Left Behind.

But managing the crises that emerged during her political career was a picnic, McLane said, compared to what she’s experienced as Vice President of Communications & External Affairs for the LIVESTRONG Foundation. The biggest lesson McLane learned from the Lance Armstrong debacle, she said, was to have a strong sense of your company’s story and to tell that story—over and over again.

“We put the mission front and center and kept telling the story of who we are,” McLane explained. “We will never be the organization we were two years ago. We have to rebrand and reorganize but we learned that in this type of situation, you have to move swiftly and stay focused on the people you serve.”

2013 #KeepPRWeird Twitter Highlights