Looking back on this year’s European PR Congress, which is held annually in Kyiv, Ukraine, it is probably best to describe the event and what took place as a “getting back to basics” exercise. After spending so much time discussing proof points, collecting hard facts and segmenting audiences, we finally came back to a few central questions: HOW should we communicate? And following that, HOW can we deliver the key message to the hearts of our listeners?

To some surprise we realized that instead of overcomplicating everything and searching for even more sophisticated tools we needed to go back to basics. Once there, we must ask ourselves how we usually communicate in a relaxed setting and with the closest people. Instead of squeezing as many points as possible and press our ideas into our listeners, what we usually do is tell a story. Short or long, funny or sad – it doesn’t matter. The important point is that the story engages and revolves around people and not things. Although this is a simple concept that many understand, we often forget about it and tend to overcomplicate when we are in “business mode.”

Each speaker at the Congress supported the idea that storytelling is one of the most powerful and effective tools in communication, but each approached it from a different angle. Umberto Pieraccioni, IE School of Communications professor, spoke about storytelling in the digital age. He argued that having over 63% of internet users who visit social networks daily, spending around three hours once there, definitely means that we are living in the midst of a digital revolution. Thus naturally, new conditions require new approaches to storytelling.

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First of all, it requires a 24/7 dialogue with target audiences that should involve traditional media, social media, as well as the web and forums.

Umberto also discussed three core capabilities in social media that PR practitioners should keep in mind while creating stories.

Firstly, he introduced the concept of content management. This refers to the creation of relevant and interesting content to provoke reaction and get participation from target audiences.

Umberto gave an example of Alitalia (“who is not very successful financially but does a great job in social media,” as he put it). The company has both a fixed editorial plan for social media, but also seizes each ad-hoc opportunity to be relevant and timely for their followers.

The second important aspect in “digital storytelling” is community management or, in other words, growing the audience base and connecting with it. What is crucial here is to jump in the streams of discussions in real time and start PR stories. With proper monitoring of the discussions around the brand, a company can turn potentially damaging statements by others into positive media stories providing that they react quickly and in a proper manner.

Another example from Alitalia: after a negative comment about the flight experience on Twitter, the company immediately apologized and offered compensation. The client, who also turned out to be an influential Twitter user with many followers, couldn’t help admiring the swiftness of Alitalia’s reaction and customer service.

And, finally, the third capability is profound analytics. You need to know your audience in terms of:  how many participate, why they participate, who your brand advocates are, and who drives sales.

Amid fierce discussion about the best tools/applications and gadgets to use in social media PR, Umberto argued that “It’s not about technology, but rather about management and culture.” So again, no need to overcomplicate and reinvent the wheel, but rather to take a step back and begin by asking yourself some honest questions.


Anna Jueterbock

Master in Corporate Communications (2011)

IE Business School