Tag Archives: journalism

‘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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It all starts with a man who is bald

I have to be honest with you. I don’t like bald men. Where I am coming from (Hungary), bald men are associated with having sports cars, finger-wide gold necklaces, blond Barbie girlfriends and they are all empty-headed jerks. This is utterly prejudicial but frequently true.

So when Colin Byrne, CEO of Weber Shandwick, made his way onto the podium at the University of Westminster to lecture budding PR students (including me) on how diversity and challenging the status quo is/should be/will be in the heart of PR, my self whispered an *ouch!* inside reflecting on the shining boldness.

In 3 minutes I was drinking his words, I wanted to be him and I wanted to touch him in the hope of getting some PR genius-ity landed on my hands. Okay, maybe I didn’t want to touch him, but you get how I felt. He is everything what you would not expect from a bald man. He is cool. He makes PR cool. He makes baldness cool. He makes me cool studying PR. Maybe I go bald.

Seriously, I needed this. Previously I studied Film & Media with Journalism at the University of Stirling and I had brilliant teachers who planted in me the seeds of praising the Fourth Estate. I won’t bore you too much what that is; in a nutshell journalists operate as watchdogs over the powerful/rich to prevent them exploiting their position. It’s the journalists’ responsibility to get rid of bullshit and let people know about the truth. And so, in many of my journalist lecturers’ interpretation PR equals bullshit. PR has the power to manipulate and influence, so journalists have to guard society from those mean PR practitioners. This is of course a very bald account of the idea and it’s arguable (A LOT). Anyway, based on this sentiment which was deeply planted in me in Stirling, I was struggling to justify to myself morally why on earth I am attending a postgraduate course in PR.

Colin Byrne answered my question. PR is not necessarily about writing press releases, emailing and making calls to journalists in the hope of being able to suck up to them effectively enough to get your message across (or it shouldn’t be). It can also be about being creative, going insane in your head, brainstorming like you are completely out of your mind and so challenge the status quo. Instead of sitting down in front of your screen and type a release, go and place 2000 sunflowers in the City and put lights on the London Eye reflecting the mood of the nation. And that’s not arguable: that’s baldly cool.


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