Whether PR Dream or Nightmare, Emotional Stories Stand Out

Recently I wrote on this blog about what kind of news people share online. Research has shown that news that  evokes emotion engages people so much they want to share it with others.

GSK's CEO Andrew Witty

Earlier this year, not long after the Haiti earthquake, GlaxoSmithKline’s CEO, Andrew Witty, was the subject of a lengthy front page New York Times article with the headline, “Ally for the Poor in an Unlikely Corner.”   The  article links Witty’s earlier years working in Africa and Asia tothe company’s support for improvements in healthcare for the poor.   If you read the article in print, you’d notice that the Times edited it down for the web and left out mention of Witty’s trip to Haiti after the earthquake. According to the article, he worked right alongside the doctors, Red Cross workers and, of course, CNN anchors.  The reporter concluded that Witty went to Haiti because he’s genuinely concerned about the earthquake victims and wanted to see how his company could help. Unlike most other executives, he wrote, Witty is a man of action, not just words.

The article also reports on GSK’s commitment to sell malaria drugs for no more than five percent over the cost of manufacturing them, and credits Witty with establishing this and other corporate policies designed to help those who have a hard time helping themselves.

I  don’t know how the Times article originated. Perhaps a CNN anchor in Haiti mentioned to a Times reporter that Witty was there. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in GlaxoSmithKline’s corporate communications department or at its PR agency didn’t think, “Hmm, Andrew Witty is headed for Haiti – that might make a great angle for a profile piece in the New York Times.”  A communications professional with good media relations know-how may have planted the seed of the story idea. I see nothing wrong with that, and I’m not implying that Witty’s trip to Haiti was done for PR purposes. I don’t doubt that he was genuinely concerned and wanted to help.  GlaxoSmithKline could simply write news releases to tell the media about its programs to help the poor. But no news release could have the same impact as a personal, emotional feature story, written by someone outside the company. The article must have generated considerable public goodwill and admiration for GSK.

Because we’re bombarded with stories and information all day every day, thanks to the Internet and 24-hour news, it’s difficult for a company to get – and hold – people’s attention.  It’s our job as PR professionals to deploy the maximum creativity and know-how to find the corporate stories that will stand out in the news so much that people will not only remember them, but will even want to share it with others.

As a brief aside, the BP crisis has certainly captured and held everyone’s attention and created content hour after hour for the news industry. The devastating impact of the oil gushing into the Gulf on wildlife and people has made this a very emotional story that people, in this country at least, will not forget for a long time.

– Lucy Siegel

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