What the Pulitzers Tell Us about Successful Storytelling Strategies

The Pulitzer Prizes for journalism were announced this week, and the winning stories represent a variety of different angles, techniques and tools that provide good ideas – and more than a little inspiration – for public relations and marketing communicators.

Breaking news:

The big winner in breaking news was the Denver Post, for their use of “journalistic tools, from Twitter and Facebook to video and written reports, both to capture a breaking story and provide context,” in their reporting of the movie theater shootings in Aurora CO.

The lesson:

A review of the Post’s response to the tragic event reveals a comprehensive approach that did a variety of things well – it delivered information quickly, created a hashtag around which people could coalesce, told the across platforms, and did a great job managing the extremely fast-moving story.

So what’s the lesson here for brands?  I’m going to step away from the obvious (but relevant) crisis communications parallel, because the real lesson here, in my mind, is how effective communications can be when an organization makes full and specific use of the myriad channels available to us today.   The Post blended channel-specific content and interaction with a heavy dose of the human touch.

Investigative & explanatory reporting:

The New York Times garnered awards in the investigative and explanatory reporting for long-form pieces on Wal-Mart’s use of bribes in Mexico and the business practices of Apple and other IT companies in Asia, respectively.

pp nyt infograf

This infographic is a small component of one of the rich elements the Times used to illustrate this story. Click on the picture to access the full presentation of assets.

The lesson:

It’s no secret that we’re living in an age of radical transparency. News travels fast and sways opinion immediately.  However, there is still plenty of interest in the deep dive.   Even though we may spend a lot of time whipping together blog posts, case studies and social status updates, there is still interest in the nitty-gritty – and from a brand standpoint, those are the details that can influence a potential customer.   Brands shouldn’t shy away from developing longer-form, meatier content.

Feature writing:

The New York Times racked up another win in this category, for a reporter John Branch’s “… evocative narrative about skiers killed in an avalanche and the science that explains such disasters, a project enhanced by its deft integration of multimedia elements.”

A snippet from the NYT story "Snow Fall."  Click the image to access the entire experience.

A snippet from the NYT story “Snow Fall.” Click the image to access the entire experience.

The lesson:

The winning story the Times published looks nothing at all like a traditional newspaper story.  “Visually compelling” doesn’t even begin to describe it.   The presentation is immersive, and encourages the reader to delve deeper into the story by embedding an array of interesting multimedia components that do more than illustrate the story.   The take away for brands is the sheer effectiveness and stickiness a variety of good multimedia elements can create.   Utilizing a variety of multimedia elements has another benefit too – in addition to presenting the set of content holistically, chances are good the content elements can stand alone and create their own gravitational pull and traction in and of themselves.

Here’s the complete list of Pulitzer Prize winners.  Clicking on each winner’s name will enable you to access the winning story and related materials, where you’ll undoubtedly find even more ideas and inspiration.

Want to explore new ways to tell your brand’s story?  We’d be happy to chat with you about creating a video or a designing multimedia distribution strategy that will increase discovery of your brand’s messages.  We’d love to hear your ideas, and help turn them into reality. Contact us for more information.

 Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the e-book “Unlocking Social Media for PR.”  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik .

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