Whether manufacturing complex medical devices or making ice cream, every brand has a story to tell. PR professionals have the fun job: We get to help organizations discover and tell their stories to the audiences they care about. But successfully getting at the heart of these stories takes an organized, deliberate approach.
Strategic story mining interviews with a cross-section of company employees will reveal valuable industry insight; uncover stories, anecdotes and themes to build key messages around; inform Q&As; and differentiate the brand position. Here are a few considerations for selecting the right people, setting the right expectations and asking the right questions to lead effective story mining interviews.
The Right People: Uncovering the most compelling and differentiating stories within an organization doesn’t happen by talking to the executive management team and the marketing communications departments alone. When you put together the participant list for story mining interviews, think diversity. Include subject matter experts from across divisions, departments and geographic locations; new employees and employees with a longer tenure; younger workers and older workers; front-line workers and management. These different perspectives will help paint a much clearer and more genuine picture of the organization.
Stepping outside management can also help uncover organizational challenges, issues and skeletons in the closet you may not have learned otherwise—or that management might not even be aware of. They could be issues that could catch your spokesperson flat-footed in interviews—issues you can now help them anticipate. On the flip side, talking to front line workers often reveals unexpected, heartwarming, colorful anecdotes and examples that can lend authenticity to the brand position. Give as many people a voice as you can.
The Right Expectations: Talk to your client in advance and make sure they agree to honor privacy in these interviews. Let participants know their responses will be anonymous, and create a warm, comfortable environment for the sessions where participants can speak openly, candidly and confidentially. Let participants know in advance what to expect during the interview, share your goals for the session and explain how the information they share with you will be used. When everyone involved has clear expectations, the end result is much richer.
The Right Questions: Provide participants a list of questions in advance to serve as starting points for the conversation and to spark dialogue. Having a list of questions in advance can also help lessen any anxiety among participants. Listen to and learn from your participants, but don’t go easy on their answers. Be ready to provide a positive push back, to dig deeper and ask for examples and clarification. PR professionals should come into the interview representing the marketplace, not as an insider. Challenge participants to answer, “So what?” and “Who cares?” Putting responses through this filter helps break through jargon and makes answers more market facing and human.
A thoughtful, up-front approach to story mining is foundational to telling a brand’s story. It can make all the difference when it’s time to develop genuine, concise key messages and a rock-solid story platform. So don’t just skim the surface—dig in.
Kris Oleson is an account director at Beehive PR (www.beehivepr.biz), a strategic PR boutique specializing in classic, digital and specialty PR services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with Beehive PR on Twitter at @beehivepr.