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  • Writer's pictureKate Wilhelm

What Makes for a Good Story?

The news moves so fast these days, it’s often difficult to keep up. A push notification pops up on your screen and as quickly as you can refresh, a half-dozen new stories and opinions have posted before you even get to the details behind the first headline. It’s impossible to keep up.

But there are some stories that resonate, no matter how you curate your feed or the size of your filter bubble. Most of them have one thing in common – they tell a relatable story that makes you feel something.

I’ve written before about the keys to managing your reputation and its importance in striking the right tone for your audience. One of those keys is authenticity, and that is reflected in those stories that make an impact – they are authentic. When something comes from the heart, it creates a deeper connection with the audience. It is not jargon laden or staged. It is natural and just flows.

The key to a story connecting is often that it evokes emotion. And it focuses on people. Simply put, we all care more about people than we do about things or faceless brands.

These stories take many forms today. They may pop up as a viral video on social media, or may be a multi-part series in the newspaper. But when they tug at the heart strings, they usually break through. They allow people to connect with your values, your programs and your goals through the eyes of an interesting story teller.

So how do you produce these moments? If you think you’re unable to create that human connection, just look a little deeper. People are the center of everything we do – sometimes you just have to ask the right questions.

At Ceisler Media, we aim to help our clients understand that in today’s media landscape the best way to break through is not to solely put out statistics or a dry and technical press release. Save those for the board room or as background for a reporter.

Rather, we encourage clients to look at their story through the eyes of a reader or viewer. We ask the questions and frame the story so it is compelling – and focused on the people impacted by the news.

Take, for example “Open Call,” Walmart’s national initiative seeking to find American products to place on its shelves. We had plenty of statistics from Bentonville, but this time, we had something even better – we had the local story of Ed Hipp.

Mr. Hipp has been in the meat-producing business for more than 40 years. He applied to Open Call and was given the chance to move forward in the process of getting his products sold at Walmart.

Why did it resonate and why were we able to secure the coverage? Because it was about a 70-plus-year-old man from North Philadelphia who never gave up on his dream. Mr. Hipp created a new recipe for sliced smoked turkey Canadian bacon, and ended up having the opportunity to sell it to one of the world’s great retailers. We were able to show reporters that this was more than a corporate do-good story – it was the story of a humble, hard-working man who also advocates for minority businesses.

Mr. Ed Hipp

Corporations are not the only ones that need to humanize their story to break through. As a firm that specializes in issue advocacy, people are at the heart of the causes and coalitions Ceisler Media represents. In fact, it is the people who will be affected that we most often rely on to carry the message.

Through our work across the Commonwealth on immigration reform, we created a video series that ran on Facebook that included the story of Wasi Mohamed – a Muslim community advocate who felt compelled to act after last year’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Mr. Mohamed used his experience over the years to encourage people not to live in fear and to break down biases that polarize our society.

We were proud to help tell the story of the gathering of World War II veterans of the Battle of Okinawa who were meeting in Philadelphia for their 49th reunion. In speaking with reporters, we didn’t focus on corporate executives who would be on the Battleship New Jersey – although they were part of the event. More so, we shared the story of the surviving soldiers, their history, their service to our country and how they are the last of what is deemed, “The Greatest Generation.” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Buzz Bissinger, whose own father was a descendant of the division, will soon be publishing a book on the story of these men.

Whether it is Walmart, a coalition supporting immigration reform or a gathering of World War II veterans, we at Ceisler Media put in the time to figure out how the story resonates with everyday people. That allows your message to break through a constantly cluttered space.

Let’s agree: A good story, one that creates a connection or a sense of hope, is the kind we need more of these days.


Kate Wilhelm is a Director in Ceisler Media's Philadelphia office.


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