Storytelling is a crucial part of growing a brand…
In this episode, Lisette Paras will share the importance of strategic and steady storytelling—and how brands can begin their storytelling efforts.
Lisette is the president and founder of Gravitate PR, an award-winning public relations firm that transforms high growth technology startups into category leaders.
- Why PR storytelling has become more personal
- Storytelling approaches for different stages of a company
- How to measure impact
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst.
In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about the importance of strategic and steady storytelling. Here to speak with me is Lisette Paras, who is the president and founder of Gravitate PR, an award winning public relations firm that transforms high growth technology startups into category leaders.
Lisette has extensive experience working with startups, post-IPO and global multinational brands, both in-house and at PR agencies. An Aussie expat, she started her career in Sydney, and led APAC PR campaigns before moving to the Bay Area. Lisette was recognized by PRNEWS for its Top Women in PR award in 2022. Lisette, welcome to the show.
Lisette Paras: Thank you. Thanks, Steffen.
Steffen: Now, Lisette, before we start talking about the importance of strategic and steady storytelling, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career? And what led you to founding your own PR company?
Lisette: Yeah, absolutely. And I am going to apologize in advance. I am as you mentioned, an Aussie expat but I sound very American these days. So if there’s anyone listening, that is Australian, I apologize for not having the accent anymore. But you know, I started my career in Australia. You know, I grew up there.
And you know, I always loved stories when I was a kid. I was one of those kids that was always reading a book while I was walking to school. You know, I’d always have a book next to me. And I always wanted, I love words. I wanted to be a journalist, actually, when I was first growing up and going to college, and I ended up my first job when I graduated was in public relations.
And you know, what I really loved, it was in a technology PR firm, and it’s been my career ever since. But what I ended up really loving about it was a chance to be exposed to so many new and emerging technologies. And that’s kind of like digging through, you know, understanding how all the kind of pieces fit together. Understanding who a company is, why they exist, what are the benefits, what do they do what makes them exciting and different.
And technology has always been an industry that’s rapidly evolving. There’s always something, a new technology or innovation around the corner. And so because of that excitement that I had in, you know, finding out about these various companies and getting them visibility and building up their brands and their reputation.
I mean, I did that for many years out of APAC a cross from earning markets in that geography. And then about a decade ago, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. And you know, through that I was exposed to even more exciting technologies with Silicon Valley being you know, at our doorstep here. And had a chance to work not just with a lot of global multinational tech companies, but also with some really exciting startups.
I took a number of companies through their acquisition. Took them through going public. And as a result of all of those experiences, decided that there was an opportunity for me to bring all of that together and start my own agency. So I started Gravitate PR about six years ago, and yeah, haven’t looked back since then. And, you know, continue to work with a variety of really exciting technology companies to this day.
Steffen: Perfect. Well, is there something special about PR for tech companies?
Lisette: Yeah, I think you know, PR is, you know, it’s very different, I think, to other disciplines like marketing and advertising. I think the one thing that I’ve really enjoyed about PR is that it is at the heart of it about storytelling. And really thinking about what are the right words and messages and narratives that can be used to convey, you know, what a brand stands for. Not just what their product is, and what the technology allows people to do.
But what is the real identity of a company? And how can you, you know, create the, I guess, overall, you know, perception of a company to have a deeper impact and connection with their audiences. You know, if you think about things like just even your mobile phone, everyone has a clear idea of like, Apple and like, you know, if you have an Apple phone, there’s a perception around that brand, compared to say, a Samsung or a different kind of device.
And I think at the heart of it, that is what PR is about. It’s about being able to tell you know, the story and the identity of a company. Use that to influence the perception that people have about it. And then, you know, allow people to then, you know, have ways that they can also convey what they think of, or what kind of thoughts that are evoked in their minds when they think about that company as well.
Steffen: And I think it’s really important to create a brand that stands for something, right. Because if you just are the product, that makes you easily exchangeable. So you know, someone else can come into market, undercut you from a pricing perspective, or has one or two more features. And all of a sudden, you’re no longer the number one choice, right. But if you build a strong brand, and I think Apple is a great example for that, right, then the price probably most likely becomes secondary, right? Because the features and everything else of the brand of the products is what excites you. It’s why you’re buying the products.
Lisette: Absolutely. And, you know, I come from the world of technology communications. It’s what I’ve done my entire career. And so, you know, when we’re working with companies, especially when it’s at the early stages, I think it’s fairly common that a lot of times, they’re started by very smart engineering brains.
And so they think about, you know, talking about their company in terms of what their product does, so their features or functions. But the reality is that when you sell a technology product, fundamentally, a lot of times there’s not necessarily a lot that’s different beyond that maybe being a bit stronger, or a bit faster, compared to their competitors.
So it is really important to build a deeper connection across your audiences. And it’s about, you know, how do you sell a story in a more cohesive, or a more emotive, memorable way that does resonate with the people that you’re targeting. And I think that right now, the art of storytelling is also changing, that it’s becoming a lot more personal, and a lot more informal.
And so today, you know, companies also have so many different channels, whether it’s through earn media, or social media, or content on campaigns, that do also offer a lot of opportunity, but also more breadth and depth to the way that they can also convey and amplify who they are.
Steffen: Sounds like that PR over the years has changed in what you have available to deliver that message to build that aura, the print message for company.
Lisette: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I think even a decade ago or so, when I moved here, I think that there was still the perception that, you know, PR is pretty much synonymous to media relations. I mean, I’ve always had the perception that that hasn’t been the case. Media relations is just one vehicle in my mind of getting a story out there.
Where you know, you may have something to share, whether it’s news, whether there’s I guess, a point of view on a topic, hot topic or trend, that you want to be speaking to, say, a journalist about and be able to get, say, a story in a publication where you’re quoted within that kind of story. But yeah, I think especially with the rise of social media over the years.
For example, a lot of execs are on there. I mean, sites like LinkedIn, for us, as a company that works with a lot of b2b technology brands. I mean, there’s an immediate kind of network there. And so, you know, there’s so many different channels that companies are using, and should be really maximizing, as a way to be highly visible and advance the reputation.
And ultimately, the ways that they’re thinking about how to tell that strategically, being you’re putting your brand out there, and ultimately to your audiences that then need to absorb that and come away with a clearer perspective on what your brand stands for, as well.
Steffen: Lisette, can you provide an example of where a company has effectively conducted storytelling?
Lisette: Yeah, like I said, I’ve worked with a lot of more b2b technology companies, you know, also some consumer based. But I’ll probably give you examples of companies that are probably fairly accessible to people when they first hear it. One of the companies that I actually really like is Chobani. You know, it’s a great consumer brand, the founder himself, he’s got an incredible story. His family owned a small dairy farm in Turkey.
Came to the US, he learned English. And, you know, over the years, he ended up buying, I think, like an abandoned yogurt factory up in upstate New York. But now they’ve got 20% of the US yogurt market. You know, and you think about, it’s like tubs of yogurt right. So there’s, it’s a very, you know, it’s a commodity in a hugely competitive market.
But they have been very clear about what their brand is about, and their values. There’s a strong emphasis that Chobani has built from the very onset of that. They’re providing better food beyond their product and doing things like being very clear that they’re not going to be using any GMO ingredients.
To doing things like supporting refugees through employment. And so there is a lot more to the story than just, you know, selling tubs of yogurt. There’s little narratives as well written on when you buy the product, I guess closer to home on the tech side, or, you know, they’ve got aspects of tech is, you know, Airbnb. I think there’s been a lot of literature about their brand, or even their rebrand. And they’ve focused on again, it’s, you know, having, renting a space when you’re in a new city. That’s at the core what they do.
But they’ve really focused in the last few years on capturing the idea of belonging or belonging anywhere. And so it’s to them, amplifying the idea of, you know, how they’re cultivating a global community that goes beyond needing to book a maybe cost effective space whenever you travel to a new location.
Steffen: So does storytelling apply to companies of all stages and sizes. So for example, early stage startup, even global multinational companies?
Lisette: Oh, yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, I think from my perspective, you know, companies are created every day, because they’ve identified an opportunity to exist, right. So the people behind them haven’t only come up with the idea, but they also have values and perspectives. Everyone does. And so even if a company is very new, there’s always an opportunity from the very beginning to start to develop those messages.
And so, you know, as a company evolves, of course, their stories are going to evolve and shift too, right. So, over time, they may grow into new markets, or they may pivot or expand into new industries. They may acquire companies, or they may offer more capabilities.
And so, you know, as all of the things shift, both on the business side internally, as well as what’s happening in their respective spaces, I think so does the breadth and the depth of the stories that they can tell. And you know, what exactly are the trends and issues that they can attach themselves to as well?
Steffen: Is there a different approach required when you work with an early stage company compared to a more mature multinational company, for example?
Lisette: Yeah, I mean, I think in some ways there are still the fundamentals that you’ve always got to apply, right. So when you think about what that fundamentally is, when it comes to messaging, you know, it’s very much being very clear about who you are, what you do, how you’re different. What challenges you’re solving for, benefits you deliver.
Why people want to buy from you, why you exist. And also what is your brand mission, your purpose and vision and values. They’re all very core questions, which can sound pretty straightforward. But it’s interesting, because sometimes I’ve conducted these sessions with senior execs within the company.
And you can have very animated conversations at times, because people get really passionate, even down toward choice about describing their brand. And it’s sometimes really interesting to see very divergent perspectives, from different people within the organization that we’ve obviously, you know, that’s why we’re all probably brought in to help gain alignment and provide that outside perspective on what actually makes sense.
So, you know, those fundamentals are still very much going to be the same whether you’re early in the stage of your company, or whether you’ve matured quite a bit. But I think it could be over time. You know, I think sometimes there’s a little bit of a nuance when you are at the, I guess, a brand building stage. And there isn’t that profile, there isn’t that awareness there, to when, you know, I’ve worked with companies like Intel was one of my clients for many years. And they’ve been around for a very long time.
And so it’s less about maybe building the brand, but more about how to evolve it or how to maintain the reputation of the company. And so maybe more I guess, assessing what still rings true to a company and how else you may need to shift it because the company naturally has also changed over time.
Steffen: Now you obviously are using channels to communicate the story of a brand and building who the brand stands for. But who within an organization needs to partake, take part in telling the story and in kind of spreading it out there and making sure that it is one story and that everyone receives the same message.
Lisette: Yeah, well, I mean, absolutely. The senior executive team need to really be bought into that right. So you know, typically for us, we can be working with the CEO, you know that the C suite, the co founders. You know, if there’s a CMO or you know, a head of marketing in some capacity, that is, they are very core to being part of that process, to, you know, align on what those messages and what those narratives should be.
And then, you know, I think it’s also really important that it’s authentic. At the end of the day, there’s a huge emphasis and I think, a deep awareness now, about how important brands are that they’re not just paying lip service out there, and also for their employees, right. And so I talk a lot about messaging and you know, some of the channels externally, but it’s also got to be something that people feel internally as well.
The biggest champions or advocates for a company or their own employees. And so people have really got to feel that if a company is saying that I know that we, you know, embrace innovation, or that we are very focused on providing an equitable opportunity for people, that that rings through across the board. Because if that really doesn’t exist, and you don’t have the proof points to back that up, or you’re not doing the things that match up to those words, then people will call you out for it very quickly.
Whether those are your employees or other stakeholders to the business. So while there is a core team that can align on what those messages are, and those narratives, you know, it’s got to then be cascaded so that everyone can really all rally around it. And that is an effective way of having that brand move forward.
Steffen: Interesting. Now, if a company hasn’t embarked on storytelling, so far, what will be a good place to start?
Lisette: I mean, I think there’s some fundamentals, like I said, you know, in creating those kinds of messages. So like the mission, the purpose, the vision, the values. But if they haven’t, I mean, I think that’s the first place. Creating a clear kind of architecture or framework for what are naturally going to be the 10 or so primary questions that you would think of asking if you’ve never heard of a brand before.
And so that’s the first thing you’ve got to get right. I guess the second piece of that is then starting to think about the types of stories that then it wants to tell to make an impact. So if you’ve got that kind of solid framework, you know, I think that I gravitate, we work with companies that will then also partner with us, and they trust us to identify the relevant stories.
But like, it goes beyond that. What are the issues and trends that are pertinent to your business? So you’ve got a unique point of view on that particular topic. So I guess as an example, for us, we’ve worked for many years with a company that’s in the technology hiring space.
And right now, there’s a lot of stories that are happening here, everything from volatility and hiring, because there’s a lot of layoffs happening right now as a market slowing down in tech, to a number of states in the country instituting salary transparency laws. Or questions about AI and what that will mean to the future of work and the future of jobs.
And so, we know that these are topics that are prominent not only for our client and that company, but are also front and center for their own customers and partners. And so if you haven’t, you know, embarked on the storytelling before, beyond coming up with the core kind of messages and the types of words that you want to convey, it’s also about what are the important topics that are at the forefront of the people that you’re looking to target?
Or get in front of? And how can you, I guess, be one step ahead in having clear perspectives, or data or takeaways that can help to move these stories forward, so that you can also be seen as an authority or a resource on these such topics?
Steffen: How important is it to look at your competitors, because if you’re trying to create a story, create a brand, you want to make sure that you don’t copy what is already out there. So how important is that to make sure that you understand your landscape, that you understand your competitors, how they display to each other and how you can differentiate yourself from them?
Lisette: Yeah, absolutely. It is important. Absolutely, to have a clear sense of what your competitors are saying. You know, and I think having a clear idea, a picture of what do they stand for? What are they talking about? How are they perceived? Where are they getting covered? Where is the strongest kind of engagement?
And that way, having I think a clear understanding of where you sit within your ecosystem allows you to then figure out what is the white space. If everyone in my you know, space is talking about x topic, and they’re all going in that direction, then clearly you don’t want to be just adding, you know, more to that noise.
I mean, you’ll probably won’t be very prominent and having getting much mindshare or getting much visibility. I think the companies I’ve just mentioned earlier that have got, you know, very strong perceptions of having a very strong brand, are ones that have been very vocal or taken a clear stance in something.
So that people, whether they agree with it or not, people associate that brand for having a very clear perspective. And, you know, that ultimately allows people to know what they mean, and gives people a sense of a more emotive connection to that brand as well.
Steffen: Yeah. Now, when a company has decided, okay, that’s kind of what I want to do. I need to kind of shape my brand, find stories that really allow me to connect with my target audience, with the people that I’m interested in talking to. How can they identify stories that they can tell to make an impact?
Lisette: Yeah, so I mean, I think there’s, it’s an internal and external piece. And I say that because when I think about the partnership that we have with our clients, it’s very much a two way street. So I think of what our role is on the agency side as being the outside in. Where we can provide values I almost say that we’re like the eyes and ears for the companies that we work with, the executives and the brands themselves.
Where we can do some outside research, we can read about what’s being written by analysts, by media, on social media. We can see where the trend lines are of the conversation. We’ve got some analytics that we can apply to know what topics are resonating, or what are the main stories of the day. And so those are things that we can feed into a client. I’ll give you a big topic right now, that’s obviously getting a lot of traction is around AI.
And so first, it was like, Chat GPT is this thing in November, and suddenly, it’s become the most widely popular consumer application. And now, you know, we’re seeing more stories about okay, now that this is popular, this is how people are using it. And now we’re getting questions about how do we regulate it? And what is the next step? What impact will it have? And so there tends to be kind of an art to stories whenever there’s a big issue and trend.
And so for us, our job has been, you know, to be able to get a sense of how can we get in front of those kinds of story arcs so that we can provide a perspective, and maybe something that is yet to be talked about, that people will ultimately want to know and care to read and learn more about, right. So that’s kind of coming from the outside in.
But the other piece is my team and I are not experts in the business, per se, but we’re experts in the storytelling side. But the clients themselves are experts in their own business. They’re on the front foot, every day talking to customers, talking to prospects, thinking about how to fine tune their product, how it can be superior to say to their competitors. And so you know, having that kind of Intel, as well is where we can meet in the middle.
And so whether you, you know, what are your customers saying? What are they most fearful about? Where did they feel that they could get left behind if they weren’t working with you? And so those kinds of insights allow us then to identify what are the stories. If we’re saying, look, the question right now is about AI and how to regulate it, and knowing that this is something that is going to ultimately change everyone’s lives, because that’s where things are going to be headed.
You know, where can we apply our own perspective on that topic, so that we’ve got something meaningful to say, that people will also want to know about. So I think, you know, being a very, I guess, prescriptive and very aware of how stories evolve, is a clear strategy to think creatively and clearly about how to also be part of that evolving arc.
Steffen: Yeah. Now, can a company’s storytelling change over time? Or should they change over time?
Lisette: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I don’t believe that any company is static. So just with the AI example that I gave you, that’s a clear example of how there is the need to have a storytelling or have a story evolve over time, because that’s one that’s quickly evolved in a matter of months. Right.
As another example, when you mentioned I think of companies like Google, back in the day, they had like, don’t be evil, right. And that was something that people thought and associated with Google. Clearly they’ve moved away from that. So that’s also been covered quite a bit. But certainly, I think they’re still, in my opinion, you know, are perceived as a company that embraces a culture of innovation where people shouldn’t be afraid to fail.
So they have done, I think, a great job over time of probably, you know, really chipping away at that kind of message. And being known for a company that does that. Because clearly, you’ve got to be a very innovative culture to get to where they are today in being so omnipresent and such a huge company all around the world.
Steffen: Now the last question I have, which is something that we from an advertising perspective, quite often are being asked by clients is like, how can what we’re doing be measured? How can we impact the measure? How can the impact of storytelling efforts be measured so that the client knows this was successful, or we’re heading in the right direction, we should do more of this, or not it’s really working well, we should maybe pivot and move in another direction?
Lisette: Yeah, so I think there’s a mixture of qualitative and quantitative approaches that companies can use to understand the impact of storytelling on their brand. And you know, just really how to understand the brand’s profile and reputation and leadership. What that impact has been through their marketing and their communications efforts.
I think the first one for me is just naturally coming from the PR side is in looking at things like media relations. The quantity and the quality of coverage, you know, has it been positive in tone as well, and, you know, have the messages and narratives that you’re looking to convey and amplify been incorporated in an article.
And also have reporters wanted to write about it? Have they found that interesting, because they think that the readers will also find it an interesting story. That’s the first way. Another way is to also look at just brand awareness. Whether that’s organic mentions. You know, not ones that you’re driving on sites, like on social media. Website traffic increases.
I think sometimes I’ll anecdotally say if you have never encountered a company or have heard of it before, the first thing that you’re typically going to do is do a search for them online. So how are you seeing what comes up? In terms of authoritative links and what kind of literature is showing up as well about your brand? Are you seeing that traffic also increase over a period of time as you’re investing in these kinds of initiatives? Audience engagement.
I think you aren’t necessarily the owner of your brand, your brand is something that other people understand and absorb and come to their own kind of terms and thinking around. So when you look at your own social media platforms, are people looking at your analytics there. Your own media channel. How much time are people spending on your webpages? What are your click through rates too?
And then also things like surveys. I think on the qualitative side, you know, if there’s an opportunity, having a chance to connect with customers, or without any kind of other focus groups to get input, like, what is the perception of what they think of you as a company? What words they would use to describe you? Would they recommend you as well to others? How does it affect their own kind of purchasing decisions, and those that are in their own network.
And then I guess the last piece is also around sort of sales and conversion. So if there’s any ways that a brand can attribute this back to any kind of content or campaigns that have affected customer behavior or acquisition, that’s another aspect to also think about and see how much you can really measure that. But that hopefully gives a, you know, a slew of a few different levers to consider in understanding the impact both in the quantitative and the qualitative side.
Steffen: Well, Lisette, thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your knowledge on the importance of strategic and steady storytelling. Now, if people want to find out more about you, about Gravitate PR, how can they get in touch?
Steffen: Perfect. As always, we’re leaving information in the show notes. Thanks, everyone, for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.
Voiceover: Performance Delivered is sponsored by Symphonic Digital. Discover audience-focused and data-driven digital marketing solutions for small and medium businesses at symphonicdigital.com.