Storytelling at a Massive Scale



Posted: In: Blogs, Industry Insights & Trends Musings

Telling an early-stage startup story is fairly easy…

Co-founders Jane and John Smith raised $20 million for their AI-powered application that does X, Y, and Z. They employ a team of 50, have 1,000 customers, and have earned more than $2 million in revenue to date.

You get the point — there’s a template of sorts for sharing startup news.

But what if your job is to shed light on a global company that is the tech behind the tech? This is the PR challenge some gargantuan companies face, and startup PR folks can learn a lot from them. Let me explain…

Earlier this year, I was interviewed for Mashable’s Small Business video series, which was intended to highlight AirPR’s outlook on everything from leadership to fostering innovation.

In my usual rush to prep, I attached my microphone to my collar with a teeny piece of strategically shaped adhesive, used Scotch Tape to hold the mic wire inside my dress, and jotted some stats I wanted to remember onto a few Post-it Notes.

Later, I discovered that all of those items were designed by 3M. That little piece of adhesive I’d used to secure my mic is called 3M Adhesive Transfer Tape, and it’s also used to attach your car’s gauge graphics to your dashboard, your metal nameplate to your office door, and a billion other things you’d never think twice about.

Yet when most of us think of 3M, we think of a paper or tape company instead of a science company that is, quite literally, the glue that keeps our product-driven world together.

Qualcomm is another company that’s practically everywhere without us even realizing it. Its technology drives the brains and internet connectivity of your mobile phone. You’ve probably never heard of them, though, because it’s not like you receive a brochure about the science behind your smartphone when you pick one up at AT&T.

These types of ubiquitous companies impact our lives on a daily basis in thousands of unseen ways, but they get a fraction of the buzzy headlines that are usually reserved for the hot-to-trot startups with outspoken CEOs.

So what can young startups learn from the less-touted global companies that are changing the way the world works?

For starters, they can study what it takes to tell a story for a global brand; because if you understand how to do this, telling a single story in a way that’s actually attractive to journalists will be a piece of cake.

Storytelling at a massive scale

When asked to explain what 3M does in a nutshell, Paul Acito, vice president and CMO of 3M, said, “(We) use science and tech to solve problems and make your company, home and life better, easier, and more complete — no matter where you are in the world.”

To help show the breadth and depth of 3M products, the company launched a dozen videos meant to explain how “3M applies science to life.” One of the videos shows how self-sharpening, precision-shaped metal grains enable a metalworker to get to dinner with his family sooner than expected (thanks to technology). “Yup,” says the video’s protagonist, “I’ll be home in time for dinner.”

The series bridges the gap between abstract scientific concepts and applications to everyday life. The products span from the brightness enhancing film on your phone screen that helps the device stay bright without draining your battery to the material used to make IV dressings more comfortable.

“We all know that successful disruptive companies like Uber are going to be recognized,” said Acito. “They’ve shifted how people view mobility. That’s a pretty simple, but compelling story to tell. We have compelling stories to tell too. It’s just that we have 55,000 of them.”

Generating press for behind-the-scenes brands

Ready for another challenging one, PR pros? Take a spoonful of Qualcomm, the company responsible for the wireless technology powering your mobile device (a.k.a. tech that’s used by virtually every person with a smartphone on the planet). Again, the company doesn’t get the street cred’ of some of the flashier technologies it helps fuel.

“Qualcomm flies under the radar because we’re not consumer facing,” said Angela Baker, director of corporate social responsibility and social impact for Qualcomm Wireless Reach, a wing of the business which brings wireless tech to underserved communities. “The irony is that nearly every consumer uses and is positively impacted by our technologies without even knowing. Our inventions may not always be visible, but people feel our impact everywhere, making life simpler for seven billion people,” she adds.

If you didn’t catch it, “seven billion” is roughly the current population of the world.

What might the world look like without the company you represent?

For instance, a morning without Qualcomm or 3M would look a bit like a half-done puzzle. Hypothetically, your microwave keypad may not work so you couldn’t warm up that day-old coffee. When you accidentally cut yourself while shaving and need a bandage, you’d have to search for another remedy. And forget calling in to let your boss know you’ll be late, because your smartphone won’t work without Qualcomm and 3M.

What might the world look like without the startup or company you represent? Who would be at a loss because of it, and how can your PR campaigns better answer the vacancy of those needs?

At the end of the day, even if you have thousands of products to tout to billions of people, the best storytelling is always rooted in human stories and how technology makes lives better. That’s the simple science of PR, whether you work for a startup or big brand.

This article originally appeared in Inc. Magazine