This week’s report ‘Listen to Patients, Speak up for Change’ from the Patients Association, is a perfect example of the power of stories. Lobbying and PR organisations often feel the need to prove an argument with statistics. And there is a place for stats although sometimes it all gets a bit silly. Need to launch a new product? Want to sell some insurance? Let’s commission some research.
[It has long been a ‘trick’ of PR agencies to produce ‘a new survey’ in order to get coverage. Journalists know this is what is happening but the research often is interesting or quirky or fun. And it is run on merit. So here is one on Christmas spending, designed to promote discount vouchers and here is one that shows it is a good idea to spend money on cold weather tyres.]
But here is an alternative. It is from a lobbying organisation rather than a commercial one but it illustrates the principle.
The Patients Association appear to have taken a strategic decision not to ‘waste’ money on detailed statistical research to prove that the NHS repeatedly fails elderly (or not so elderly) patients.
Instead it has put time and effort into organising and publishing 17 horrific stories mostly from the families of NHS patients who have seen their loved ones die in pain and without dignity or kindness. They are detailed and harrowing. And while NHS managers could have argued over the methodology and detail of statistics, there is really no countering the awfulness of these accounts. The result of this piece of work was widespread coverage yesterday. To capitalise on this PR win, the association has also launched an appeal for donations to a patients helpline. Good luck to them, it is important work.
The lesson for anyone looking to win publicity, whether for selling or lobbying purposes, is to find and organise your stories. Stories are also useful for persuasion and leadership inside organisations: Steve Denning has written a number of books on the subject.
This is so often underestimated by our clients. In fact when we go hunting for these stories in media training or message building sessions, many organisations do not have them: they simply have no official channels for gathering them. They mostly do have satisfied customers: customers who’s home was refurbished by an insurance policy, or who are so delighted with customer service that they tell their friends. But large organisations don’t have a file marked ‘very happy customers’.
Or they should employ former journalists as official story tellers.