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The Art Of The Anecdote

19/10/2016 13:07

The definition of a good PR is often a good storyteller. When I say story, I mean it in the literal sense rather than a tall tale or spin. A story or anecdote done well can convey a message and entertain. Done badly it can be the most mortifying and dull experience. Here are a few thoughts on how to keep attention rapt.

1.Be self-depreciating. You need to be able to laugh at yourself. No one wants to continually hear how brilliant and clever you are. In the telling of this anecdote, the PR is more Mr Bean than Clint Eastwood. Here follows an example of this approach.

Three days into my first job I was asked to take journalists to review The Who at Wembley Arena. I told the critics to meet me at Oxford Circus Tube Station at 6pm. No expense was spared when it came to publicity in those days. I honestly think some of them thought I had a private train laid on! It was a terrible journey with journalists getting crushed in rush hour crowds. Sensing disaster and using my initiative, I offered them all interviews with the band.

I made my way down the labyrinth of corridors followed by irritated writers and knocked on the dressing room door. "Hello I'm Alan Edwards from the Press Office..." Someone told me to F off. I knocked on the door again. "Hello I'm from the Press Office. Again, told to 'F off'. I then saw a member of the band flying through the air as a fight broke out. I took the hint and F'd off. I went home that night and thought I wasn't cut out for PR. But I'm still working with The Who after all these years, so must have got something right!

2.Lift the curtain and take people behind the scenes. Give them an insight and a glimpse into the machinations of well known events. For instance, I was working with Spice Girls during the departure of Geri. She was leaving and I chose the wrong time... to go.

We were gathered in a lawyer's house where the girls were working on a media statement. At one point, I went to the bathroom, lifted up the lid and put my mobile on the top. You know what happened next. It slid gently down and in. All was lost.

I had about 10 minutes before I was scheduled to issue the statement. I couldn't really admit that I'd dropped my phone down the toilet so I slipped out the back door and ran down Fulham High Street in an absolute panic. I stormed into the first mobile phone shop. Instead of taking pity on me they decided to exploit the situation for all it was worth and charged me £600 for a replacement. I sprinted back and was just in time to ring round the story.

3.Don't lie. There is no art in it, no skill in it and as a good PR you don't need to do it. And you WILL be found out. But I do think it's fine to embellish a fun story. As the lead singer of punk group The Stranglers, who I repped in the late 70s put it during a recent TV interview "What started out as a few policeman attending a gig quickly become a riot attended by 30 cops and a load of vans when Alan spoke to the press" .

4.Knowing who's in the crowd in advance can be useful. Sometimes a bit of banter with a journalist is a very good leveler and disarming. You'll notice the White House press officers seem to be very adept at this in press conferences.

5.You need to tailor what you say for who you are saying it to. If it's a conservative gathering you might not want to be too risqué. Use judgement. Don't be boring but don't think you're Frankie Boyle.

6.There's name dropping and name dropping. When Jose Mourinho talks about famous footballers he's referencing people he works with not people he aspires to be or to know. We've all meet those who drop names out of a sense of insecurity. You need some kind of real connection with the names you mention. My job has meant I've been lucky enough to work with many interesting and talented people and I sometimes have to remind myself that all the stories really happened!

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