PR moves fast, faster than many of the companies we work with realize. It moves at the pace of industry trends, viral videos and random comments from influencers that shock the system. And to be successful, you have to have your listening ears on all of the time. I know that might sound like the advice you received from your fourth grade teacher Ms. Markindale, but it is worth a reminder.
You need to listen for context and content, to understand how a story might fit within a developing narrative and when it won’t fit at all. We often forget to listen, especially if we think we already know what the story is or should be. But good stories rarely follow the linear line that we often map into our head. Market needs product, company makes product, people buy product, people are happy. Sure, there are stories just like that but would you want to read them?
To be effective, we have to find the non-linear aspects of a story and help the reader find their way along this non-traditional path. To do that, you have to listen. You have to listen to understand what the original market need was, who were early adopters, what they found valuable about the product, how your client brought the product to market and so on. You have to dig deep sometimes because these are story arcs that your client might not be prepared for or have at their fingertips. But if you listen, and can weave this narrative, then you’re telling a story that other people will listen to and often retell.
Sometimes these non-linear story ideas come up when you least expect them. They come up during a conversation with the sales team, on an analyst briefing or maybe at a dinner with executives. They might appear as an anecdote or funny story that pops up on the way to a punch line, or they might come because you listened and were the person that connected A to D to F to get to Z.
But you can’t do that if you don’t listen. If you’re in meetings or at events and you let your mind wander, check your e-mails or social networks, if you don’t actually engage with your good listening ears, you might as well not be there in the first place.
When you’re able to create these non-linear story arcs, imagine how different that will be for a reporter that has gotten 50 slate pitches that start with “my company is launching a new tech product and we’d like to brief you!” It is likely to raise your chances of a reply and hopefully a conversation with your client.
My final point on listening is this: listening means you’re engaged and active. It makes you better at your job and a more vital part of your team. It is what will help you move from being a part of the tactical team to the strategic team. It will be why people hire you and why reporters take meetings with your clients. It is what makes you valued.