11/25/2013 02:39 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Why Startup PR Is All About Telling a Great Story

On a balmy night earlier this year, I rushed out of the office and jumped into a taxi; I was running late for an event due to a big day in the office. It'd been a busy few weeks of preparation for a media launch, and I'd been spending time drafting media releases, pitching journalists and finalising our ongoing PR strategy.

Not long after arriving at the theatre, the lights went down and the performer, internationally acclaimed storyteller Daniel Morden, took his place on stage.

Sure, the first few stories were enjoyable, but in the same way that everyone loves hearing a grandparent recount their own past adventures. However one particular story struck a deeper chord. It's influenced the way I've approached marketing and PR ever since, and there's some fantastic lessons for startups looking to pitch investors or spark a journalist's interest.

It was the fable of Truth and Story (here's another great version by Lorraine Hartin-Gelardi):

A visitor called Truth arrived in a local village. He walked naked through the streets, looking for company and shelter. But nobody had any interest in speaking with Truth. So Truth, after being shunned by the villagers, went into hiding. Then another stranger arrived in town. This stranger was dressed in absolutely beautiful clothes. Everyone wanted to speak with the stranger and find out what they had to say. And so Truth watched in bewilderment, as he tried to understand why the stranger was so popular.

Eventually Truth worked up the courage to ask the stranger why she were so popular. The stranger replied; she introduced herself as Story. The stranger offered the clothes from her wardrobe to Truth, who put on these bright new robes and headed back to the main street of the village. This time, the villagers came to say hello. They were friendly and wanted to hear what Truth had to say. Eventually, Truth realised that it was only with Story's help that he could connect with the villagers and share what what he had to say.

There's a timeless lesson in this old fable: the most effective way to communicate is using story. Story allows you to present information in a way that makes it interesting to others. It provides the structure and color necessary to engage others. Knowing how to convey your story will help you write a better investor pitch, shape a more compelling story for journalists, and determine a marketing strategy that resonates with your customers. Have you thought about these aspects of your story?


What journey are you as a startup founder going on? Where have you come from and where are you headed? Every good story has a main character that goes on a journey from one place to another. What about your customers? What journey are they going on? The main character of the story you're telling should develop as they encounter the challenges that unfold.


Where and when does this story take place? Why is now the right time? For a startup, getting the setting right means articulating why now is the perfect storm in which you can succeed. Perhaps your time is now because of a change in technology which for the first time means your business is viable. Or you could be destined to set-up an online furniture startup because furniture has always been in the family business, and now's your chance to take it in a new direction.


Every story needs a story arc. This is the framework in which your character develops. A character must move from one place -- either physically or emotionally -- to another. What series of events have you gone through to get to where you are? In a story, any of these events should reveal something about the character. If you're telling a story about your customers, this might be the story of how their lives have changed thanks to your brand.


What's the conflict that must be resolved in this story? Did you decide to quit your job at the stifling corporate behemoth in order to start your company, or were there people who said you couldn't do it that you've managed to prove wrong? Either way, the character needs to face this conflict and come to a resolution that leaves them in a better position than before.


The theme is the overall message of the story. The journey your character goes on must reveal something about them. The theme of your story will be conveyed by the events that happen in your plot, and the way you or your customers react. Common business themes may include the growth in visual social media, the rapidly growing use of smartphones, and the outsider achieving success startup success. The theme of your story will differ depending on your situation and the type of company you're building.