In 2012 Annual Conference, 2012 Conference - Tuesday

2012 General Session C: Storytelling, Media Relations, Reputation; Mickey Nall, APR, PRSA Fellow

By: Samantha Scott, APR

A longtime PR practitioner, Mickey Nall has been with Ogilvy + Mather for 17 years. He’s worked in the profession for 29 years. Starting out on a typewriter, Mickey started by stating that social media is the “trend that changed everything,” but explained it’s really not a trend at all, but a new form of communication that isn’t going away.

So, in PR, we have four big opportunities to use this form of communication to be storytellers, practice media relations and monitor our brands – together.

Four Big Opportunities:

  1. Focus on your reputation
  2. Create your own content (good writing)
  3. Become a storyteller / truth teller
  4. Employees become advocates

1. Focus on Your Reputation

What are the companies you most admire? Why? Most likely, it’s because they deliver on their brand promise, consistently. As David Ogilvy coined, “Brand is the promise an organization makes to its stakeholders. Reputation is how you live up to that promise.” If marketing owns the promise, PR owns the reputation. We must focus on this as one of our goals as practitioners.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is like a tree, reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” It’s only by careful effort, focus and support that a brand can focus on their reputation and protect it. PR can’t – and shouldn’t – do it alone. We should empower our best ambassadors, our employees. They have a right to their own voice.

2. Create Your Own Content

Content. Content. Content. As Mickey said, it’s just good writing. Content is just the buzzword for developing good writing and materials. As PR professionals, we must become our own media company.

Content isn’t just text and it’s not just brochures or news releases. Facebook, blogs, social media, newsrooms, etc. are all channels for content. The content, or material, is multi-media, made up of good writing, photos, video, etc. Consider a research report that stated “Large companies spend 18% of their total marketing budget on content marketing.” What are you doing? How much of your marketing budget is focused on creating content?

According to Mickey, “You have to create the media coverage.” The days of waiting for a journalist to call or cover your company are gone. He charged us with becoming “the citizen journalist for your company, your brand, your issue.”

Part of being a citizen journalist and creating content is knowing the different types of content and determine the appropriate mix for your company, or at least analyze your current mix.

  • Owned Content: Channel a brand controls
  • Earned Content: Word-of-mouth
  • Paid Content: Brand pays for content (advertising)

We should allow users/consumers, actually invite them, to help develop the content. They provide images, feedback, ideas, videos, etc. that can be part of the brand’s content. Mickey’s example was Ford and their recent vehicle launch that leveraged consumers’ input from various social media channels. People love to share on social media and love to see their photos/video/input used. Do it!

3. Become a Storyteller / Truth Teller

Today’s communications ecosystem has evolved just as the channels have. According to Mickey, there are some key points to keep in mind about this communication ecosystem.

There are millions of messengers – do you have enough “friends”?

  • Isn’t there always room for more friends, fans, followers, brand ambassadors?

There are billions of narratives – are you sufficiently differentiated and relevant?

  • How will you stand out? How will your company’s message be heard above the noise and why does either matter?

Authenticity is the price of entry – where is your truth located?

  • Authenticity is based in truth, but if your brand’s truth is buried in the company annual report, it won’t be heard. It should be in the community/social media.

The “story” is crowned kind of persuasive techniques – can you tell one?

  • Communicating on behalf of a brand without its “story” will land of deaf ears. What’s your brand’s story? Where did it come from? What’s the personal side?


Neuroscience is changing the way we make decisions.

–       Read Jonah Lehrer’s “How we decide”

–       Check out Mental Notes: Bring psychology to Web design


Mickey’s Secrets to Storytelling

The ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ in creating effective narratives

  • Use images and supporting material to engage

Reorganize impediments to great storytelling

Getting to the heart of the story

  • Why should I care?

Making the abstract concrete so the audience ‘gets it’

  • What’s THE message and how do you want the audience to receive/understand it?


Where did the company come from? What’s the goal? Why is it important? Where is it going? As PR practitioners, we must communicate our company’s story in a way that the audience can get their arms around. The President of Nike tells the foundation story from being a mid-level runner who sold shoes out of his trunk. People can get that. It’s harder to grasp a multi-billion dollar company with international sales and hundreds of products.

4. Employees Become Advocates

The PR team should help employees create their content not hinder them! A great example is Best Buy who encourages their employees to be active in social media. From floor level staff to executives, they understand they must be part of the social media conversation.

Get employee buy-in by supporting them, rewarding them and/or celebrating them.

Example: Citizens Bank created a micro-site and made/celebrated their employees as heroes. It shared REAL employees’ stories doing REAL things. It rewards the employees and supports the brand positively.


Graphics are often easier and faster understood. Some resources Mickey recommended:

–       Prezi – alternative to PPT

–       Brainshark – video presentations with voiceovers, track who visits and how many times if posted online

–       Infographics – visually share complex info that becomes easier to understand


Mickey Nall, APR, Fellow PRSA, is managing director of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and is a member of Ogilvy PR’s global management committee. He has developed communications programs for United Way of America; U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention; Coca-Cola and General Electric. Nall has a master’s degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Florida. He was FPRA President in 1989 and is the 2013 Chairman & CEO of the Public Relations Society of America. Nall and his wife Janice live in Atlanta.

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