Two weeks ago I found myself heading back from Brussels to London and the Jubilee Weekend after the annual Sabre Awards and Holmes Report Think Tank.

Managed to stay sober enough the pick up the EMEA Consultancy of the Year Award from Paul at the end of a long but fun evening without falling off the stage.

A big theme at the conference, and most PR gatherings these days, was Storytelling. Now we are all storytellers – some of us in more ways than one – and really we always have been. But the presentation from my digital dynamic duo James Dot Warren and Mark Pinsent posed a twist. It is not about storytelling, because if you tell a story and no one is listening or likes it you are wasting your time. In the Engagement Era it is about “story listening.”

As Mark pointed out, in PR we traditionally told our story to a relatively small group of journalists and relied on them to retell it for us to our target audience.

This reminded me of my time working with Peter Mandelson on the overhaul of Labour’s communications in the run up to the launch of New Labour, one of Europe’s most successful and dynamic political brands post-war.

We had a problem. Much of the media was anti-Labour, following the wishes of Murdoch and other proprietors. We needed to tell our story directly, bypass the print media and take our story direct to the voters. Our digital channel then was television.

The other similarity between politics and modern brand engagement I picked up from the guys’ presentation was around the measurement of how stories are heard. They illustrated it with a quote from Obama, “I am a big believer in reason and facts and science and feedback.” Amen to that.

In politics, long before brands really got the hang of it, we were testing the soundbites and having folk dial up and dial down their responses to policies and the way politicians put them across, the language used etc. That’s why agencies like mine are hiring strategic planners and researchers, often from ad agencies. They always understood the measurement thing, but not always the listening thing.

I loved one of their phrases, “content with contact.” That’s what effective story telling – and listening – is about.

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