PR’s Top Pros Talk… Telling Compelling Stories
Robin Verges, Senior Vice President, Rubenstein
How can communicators continue to tell compelling stories about their clients? Robin Verges, Senior Vice President of Rubenstein, shares how to use visual elements effectively to enhance your pitch. Robin also offers tips on building strong relationships with the media by building mutual trust.
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HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: ROBIN VERGES
DOUG: Rubinstein is known for telling compelling stories about its clients. So, Robin, could you start us off with maybe your top advice for PR people to help tell compelling stories about their clients?
ROBIN: The story is everything and the ability to tell it, but I think the top tip is, after you know what the story is, what’s the picture? What do you want people to imagine? Because you can tell a great story, but what you really want to do to grab people’s attention is to make them picture it.
DOUG: Yeah, and words can be used really effectively to paint pictures. Since a lot of media pitching is done via email these days, what are some advice you have for people in their email to be more effective with those pitches?
ROBIN: Well, I think probably to PR pros it’s no secret that you’ve got to get to the point very quickly. And so, a while ago, when you didn’t have so much email communication, you would have to either get your verbal pitch together in the fewest amount of words that could convey your story and the picture. You would have to do that with your headline, and now you have to do that with your subject line, like you’ve got to get to the evocative point in a few words.
DOUG: Robin, for you, it’s been helpful that you had your own background in broadcast media. So, how can visuals be used effectively to help get your point across in a pitch?
ROBIN: You took me right back to thinking about how you would storyboard a story, for example, for television, for news, or consumer. And it helps to think in, what do you see first and then what are the first four frames? And then where do you want to end up? So, I think mapping something out visually helps not only us understand the story better and be better able to communicate it, but we’re already communicating with our pitch target in a way that they understand too, for example, if it’s television.
DOUG: Now, sometimes and this would be more likely for print, because obviously for television there needs to be some visual, even if it’s a talking head at the most basic level. They want to know, does that person have experience, are they good on camera, will the audience gravitate to them, etc. and so forth? But sometimes you run into cases where you really just don’t have the visuals for a story. What are some of the approaches you take that can still make a pitch effective?
ROBIN: Well, I think that therein lies the task. You have to find the evocative visual. You have to find what communicates that story as close to instantly as you possibly can by conjuring up an image in the mind of the recipient of your pitch, your narrative, whatever it is. And we spend a fair amount of time thinking that through.
DOUG: I know some members of our media team have been able to build up relationships where they can actually speak to reporters early in the process and even get feedback on the pitch. How can you go about developing those kinds of relationships? It’s so important.
ROBIN: Well, I think the development of relationships really depends on mutual trust. I’ve had dozens of reporters tell me personally that they know if Rubenstein is reaching out to them, that we’re not going to waste their time. We actually have a story. That’s how you have to build trust.
There are other agencies that also have relationships with media that may not be necessarily based on that kind of trust. So, what we do is try to maintain that reputation because we don’t ever want to have someone not want to take our call.
DOUG: Yeah, and one misstep can really damage a relationship forever with the media so you have to be on guard. You have a passion for storytelling that we’re hearing about here. It’s also interesting in this time when employee engagement is so important, is storytelling play a role in that piece of it?
ROBIN: That’s a really interesting question. I think that it does, and I can say that in my case, and I think in the cases of people I work with there’s the kind of story that we even have internally about our own agency. It’s based on a few tenets that we get told early on and repeated often, and it’s to draw an ethical line in the sand but be proud of what you’re doing.
It’s not the story at any cost. It’s the story that works for the outlet and the client as well. So, those are kind of like internal folklore things that make people like to work at the agency and want to continue there.
DOUG: Robin, it sounds like what you’re talking about are some key elements in keeping employees long term. Can you talk a little bit more about that because it’s so important these days?
ROBIN: It is important, and I think that part of the success of Rubenstein is that there’s an opportunity for younger people to be mentored there. There’s an opportunity to do a variety of kinds of accounts there, to do things that may be outside of your comfort zone there, to get that experience, and to either move up in the company or move on to greater heights.
DOUG: Yeah, and I think it’s important to point out, when you talk comfort zone, it’s about new skill development as opposed to, say, not being comfortable with who the client is and what that’s about. I think that’s an important distinction. Some of the tips you were talking about earlier about the importance of visuals with media, does that also apply to internal engagement?
ROBIN: That’s a good question. I’m not so sure. I think that part of our collaborative process at work is that we might have an opportunity to brainstorm things and there might be various visuals that come up in that way, but I wouldn’t say that there is a concerted effort to approach things in that way. That’s the way I approach them, but I have broadcast media background, scripts, etc. So, I’m always thinking like that and it kind of dovetails with what works at the agency.
DOUG: Robin, we’ve been talking about the importance of visuals and helping you develop the story that your client will tell in pitching the media and making it visual, and even for internal communication and engagement. If you can maybe leave the audience with your last tip or thoughts about just the value of storytelling overall and maybe how that’s changing in time or maybe, it’s not changing.
ROBIN: I think the value of storytelling, it’s almost timeless because we want to have the opportunity to convince, sway, shape opinion, and by making the recipient of your communication come up with their own interpretation of what you’re saying. It helps it to be retained longer, accepted more. I personally think back to all the reading I did as a pre-K person with my parents, I just loved storytelling time. So, I think that it resonates with people.
DOUG: Great. Well, this definitely will resonate with people. Thanks so much for your thoughtful contributions.
ROBIN: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to talk with you. And you are a legend in the business, and I couldn’t be more delighted then to be part of this program.
DOUG: Great, that’s really sweet of you to say. I’m definitely going to tell my wife that you said that.