‘But what’s the story?’ and my most stressful class as a journalism student

(Please don’t look at the end of this post before you read the whole writing! Great, now you are scrolling down. Please don’t! Just read!)

Yesterday it was #WorldStorytellingDay (it’s rather unbelievable that there is a day for nearly everything – it is probably nothing to do with PR people *wink, wink*).  Storytelling has become a buzzword which is probably in connection with the proliferation of digital and social platforms that facilitate storytelling majorly. The rise of social media and the migration of traditional media online have fundamentally changed the relationship between brands and their consumers. They are now more connected and they share a more intimate bond than ever. Consumers now expect brands to entertain them and to be able to feel part of the brand’s story. A brand is not just about products and services any more. It is a media company. It is a whole different world with stories, conversations and a range of visual content.


I learnt the importance of storytelling during my undergraduate studies when I studied journalism in Stirling. We had a tutor who had a 100% no-bullshit policy (excuse my language). He was very strict and very bald with no sense of diplomacy at all – but he knew what he was talking about. Although most of the people were dreading to go to his classes – some left early crying-, I actually loved them. I loved how he pushed us harder and harder, how he challenged us and how good enough was not good enough. Because when you finally got it right, you got it very right and you knew it was a hard-earned and well-deserved recognition from him. Everything I know about storytelling is firmly based on those tutorials.

University of Stirling

University of Stirling

One day we spent an entire 2-hour class with him repeating ‘But what’s the story?’ He was first teaching us to write a lead based on the inverted pyramid model and then he put an Excel table in front of us with myriads of figures – and he asked again, ‘What’s the story?’ Then he put on BBC News with a really high volume to make it even harder to concentrate, make sense of the figures and come up with a story. ‘But what’s the story? But what’s the story? But what’s the story?’, he continued asking, dismissing all our ‘non-story’ story ideas. I think, this was the point when someone started to cry. Eventually, I managed to come up with something that triggered the casual reply of “Hm, that might make a story, actually”. This remark meant that the most stressful – but most inspiring – class of my Stirling career was over as we found a story. That class planted the seeds of storytelling in me. I learnt how to shut the noise out (let that be data noise or BBC News) and how to see the forest from the tree, namely how to make a story. It developed my sense of what a story is and what a good story and a bad story is like.

Although there are many types of stories, as a news story is different from a bed time story that is different from a brand story, the fundamentals are the same:

  • Have a point.
  • Entertain.
  • Get the audience involved in the story (emotionally or otherwise).

According to my Consumer PR tutor, there are five kinds of narratives that can never go wrong catching attention:

  1. The before and after story
  2. The discovery story
  3. Telling secrets story
  4. The 3rd person testimonial
  5. The Us vs Them Saga

All of these can be and are used by brands to catch attention and bond with consumers.  For example, the latter one is well illustrated by Domestos that has a brand story of ‘us against bacteria’.

The story is a powerful one with Domestos being the hero who will save you from the mean bacteria.

Now answer honestly: which part of this blog post did you enjoy the most? Where were you the most drawn in? I bet it was where I am writing about my extremely stressful class with my crazy no-nonsense tutor. How do I know? It was a story.

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One thought on “‘But what’s the story?’ and my most stressful class as a journalism student

  1. […] runner up is Zsuzsanna Matyak. PR very often is all about ‘what’s the story?’  Bear that in mind and […]

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