What Does ‘Uncover the Story’ Mean?

The following originally appeared on Huffington Post

Friends and clients know my company, ASPR, has a tagline: Uncover the Story. In its simplest reading, this tagline is easy to follow. It means we are a public relations firm that stresses the importance of storytelling in all it does. But a trusted adviser recently asked me, “What does uncover the story really mean?”

Good question. Recently I attended a lecture where the importance of storytelling was shared. Research has shown that “stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts.” So now we have data to back up what we intuitively knew.

However, this is where the real trouble sets in. Most people are too scared and uncomfortable to really tell a good story. You know, one with a protagonist, foreshadowing, drama, a real challenge and then resolution. Hillary Clinton was afraid of telling stories about her dreams, ambitions and goals for the country; Donald Trump has more stories to tell than anyone wants to listen to.

As a reporter, I often had the unenviable task of knocking on the doors of family members who had tragically lost a loved one. It took me a few years to find a successful way to approach this assignment. I finally hit upon the right words: “I don’t like having to do this, but I have to report on your loved one tonight on the news. I’d like him to be known and remembered the right way, with your words. Otherwise, my audience won’t get the real understanding of who he was.” Almost always, the door would open, I’d be invited in and a story would be told.

Today, as a public relations consultant, I’m still asking those tough questions. One time I asked a client how much money he lost in the financial crash; I told him that detail was vitally important in order to build credibility for the story he wanted to tell. After questioning my sanity, he agreed to publicly share the number: $2.5 million. MILLION. Wow.

Indeed, my pushing made his op-ed one that POLITICO published and then I got CNBC interested in. Without this key fact, the author was just adding to the hot air. By inserting the fact, the readers got the point: This man meant what he wrote and he had the proof in his own balance sheet.

Uncover the story is really an investigative approach to PR, but it’s the only way I have found to get to the heart of stories that can make us cry, angry and motivated to create change.