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Catriona MacLeod

Published on

May 22, 2018


marketing, PR

We can’t deny, we humans are very emotional creatures. Emotions can make us react, think and feel a whole range of things. According to Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions, there are 8 primary emotional dimensions – surprise vs. anticipation, anger vs. fear, happiness vs. sadness, and trust vs. disgust – and these can be combined and mixed in various different ways. But all of these emotions are derived from a subjective experience.

Stressed Girl

As experts in the communications field, it’s our job to harness these emotions and choose what we want to stir in people in order to share a message, and a way of doing this is through storytelling.

But before we dive into how we can do this, it’s important to understand why storytelling is so essential.


Stories have been told since the dawn of human time, through cave markings dating back to 35,400 years ago, or fairy tales stemming from books written centuries ago. We teach our children through nursery rhymes, we spend hours watching Netflix, and we fascinate over people’s lives playing out on social media.

But the reason we’re drawn to stories is because of the way they make us feel. A good book can transport us to a completely different world, and a film can inspire us to take certain paths in our lives. They allow us to live different experiences, shape our decisions, and develop our morals. This is because of the emotion they create – they allow us to feel empathy from a truly sad story, or happiness and aspiration from a powerful story.

Brain Activity

It’s also been found that stories affect our brains in different ways, and when listening to a story, various parts of the brain are engaged.

  • Neural coupling – Stories activate parts of the brain that allows the listener to turn the story into their own ideas and experience.
  • Mirroring – Listeners will not only experience similar brain activity to each other, but also to the speaker.
  • Dopamine – Dopamine is released into the system when it experiences an emotionally-charged event, making it easier to remember, and with greater accuracy.
  • Further brain activation – When processing a story, two areas of the brain are activated – Broca’s and Wernicke’s, which are both linked to processing human language. But a well told story can engage many additional areas, including the motor cortex, sensory cortex and frontal cortex.

Girl with lights

This brain activity increases the chances of memory and engagement, and it’s commonly known that people forget facts but remember stories – for example, the ‘story method’ is used to help with memorisation by students cramming for tests, and when treating Alzheimer patients. This is because stories allow us to digest information more easily as they’re connected to emotion, which spurs a response in the brain.

But how do we harness this?

Tell a story

In the communications industry, we should be natural born storytellers as it’s our job to tell our client’s story. This means being creative and using methods which will inspire that.

There are many different storytelling methods, and one I was first taught and use day to day is the Simon Sinek method of storytelling, which begins with the ‘golden circle’.

  • WHAT (What do you do?) – Every organisation knows WHAT they do – these are products or services they sell.
  • HOW (How do you do what you do?) – Some organisations know HOW they do it – these are the things that make them special or set them apart from competition.
  • WHY (Why you do what you do?) – Not many know WHY they do what they do – WHY is not about making money. WHY is a purpose, cause or belief. It’s the very reason the organisation exists.

In everything we do, we need to start with the ‘WHY’. What is the company’s purpose? People don’t care about the product, they care about the problem it’s fixing and the solution. The problem is what is going to stir emotion, and a company’s ‘WHY’ is the solution to that.

The elements

Alongside the ‘WHY’, comes the need for basic elements to telling a company’s story. Again, these are methods which I have been coached in and now follow adamantly, and this ensures that every time we come to a pitch, a campaign, or any new idea in general, we can ensure that it’s creative:

  • DRAMA – It is up to us to find the problem that our client solves. A bad news element will create emotion and make people care about what we’re saying. It’s up to us how severe, but we are ultimately providing the solution to the problem.
  • RELEVANCE – The story needs to be highly topical and tied to some kind of event. This could be through the news agenda, through an actual event, or by creating our own event through a story that demonstrates new data.
  • RELATABLE – A story needs to have some kind of relatability to the audience in order for them to care enough to listen.

By using the above elements, we can be creative to our full potential.

Cup of coffee


Any of us that have picked up the phone to a journalist with ultimately a piece of sales material know that they don’t want to hear a marketing pitch. You will not get a good response – which is not only damaging to the agency, but also to our clients who we’re speaking on behalf of.

It is therefore up to us to educate those we work with on the need for creativity in order to get results. If we don’t do this, we’re not doing our jobs right. We’re consultants – it’s our job to consult!

Being creative is a large part of why most work in communications, and storytelling is the crucial way to inject creativity into everything we do. By following these methods, we can ensure we’re getting the most out of both our minds, and the time we put into our hard work.

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