Leslie Lee’s “3 fairy tales and the lessons they hold for PR”

25 Jun

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Fairy tales are in vogue. 

TV shows such as “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm,” and the movie “Snow White and the Huntsman,” have given these age-old stories new life (for better or worse), complete with special effects and eerie soundtracks. 

No matter what lens you view them through, there is always something to be learned. They even have some PR advice to share. Take, for example, these three fairy tales: 

1. “The Tortoise and the Hare”

The Hare darted almost out of sight at once, but soon stopped and, to show his contempt for the Tortoise, lay down to have a nap. The Tortoise trod on and trod on, and when the Hare awoke from his nap, he saw the Tortoise just near the winning-post and could not run up in time to save the race.

Although the message of Aesop’s version of “The Tortoise and the Hare” was far more ambiguous as we know it today, this is the classic tale of “slow and steady wins the race.” The lesson illustrates something that we constantly remind ourselves and our clients: Those big announcements—such as a product launch or a rebrand—might be helpful as benchmarks for a board and fodder for a sales team, but they are not enough to drive a successful communications program. 

Rather, it is the steady stream of ongoing coverage and contributed content that springs from consistent thought-leadership efforts that will drive a successful PR and marketing program. As Beth Monaghan wrote in a post this year, “The launch is simply the first step in a long journey.”

2. “The Emperor’s New Clothes”

But among the crowds a little child suddenly gasped out, “But he hasn’t got anything on.” People began to whisper what the child had said. “He hasn’t got anything on. There’s a little child saying he hasn’t got anything on.” Till everyone was saying, “But he hasn’t got anything on.” The Emperor himself had the uncomfortable feeling that what they were whispering was only too true.

Hans Christian Andersen’s story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” perhaps the earliest recorded version of the suddenly-naked-in-front-of-your-high-school nightmare, is often cited as a cautionary tale about the nefarious power of “spin.” 

Two weavers come to town and manage to convince everyone that they can make the finest clothes in the land. But here’s the catch: The clothes will be invisible to all who are too incompetent and stupid to see them. 

So successful are they in their “spinning” that every courtier, and even the emperor, are forced to feign admiration lest they earn the label of imbecile. Finally, however, as the emperor proudly struts his stuff through the city, a child from the crowd cries out the truth and suddenly the illusion is broken. All that remains is the embarrassed emperor, fully in the nude.

It’s true that those weavers present the epitome of bad “spin”—using the power of persuasion as a con trick. But there’s a related lesson: Make sure your story is grounded in reality. Even if you’re a savvy “spin doctor,” you will be exposed one day if you’re not working from fact. 

For this reason, we often recommend to our clients that they ground their communications programs in data. Start with the raw materials, the actual data and facts you know, and build the story from there. That way you can be sure that you won’t be challenged.

3. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”

Mirror, mirror on the wall —who is the fairest of them all?

The story of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” often focuses on Snow White traipsing around with Dopey and Doc. While there are plenty of lessons to be learned from her—don’t accept food from strangers, for example—there’s an important PR strategy lesson in the queen’s story. 

Chanting into her mirror day after day, the queen became obsessed with comparing herself to others in the land, pursuing this obsession to the detriment of everything else. Maybe if she’d spent less time worrying about her beauty rankings, and more time governing her kingdom, she could have become a successful and popular queen—an achievement which no doubt would have made her much “fairer” in the eyes of her subjects.

It is vital to stay current on what your competitors are doing: The messages they are distributing and their traction in the media—not to mention keeping close tabs on claims they may be making in their own PR communications. 

But focusing too heavily on an “us vs. them” mentality in your communications program can lead you down the rabbit hole (to mix in another story) into petty one-upmanship. Rather than reacting to competitors, focus on your core objectives and thought leadership. Ultimately, it will enable you to outshine your competition through value and creativity.

Leslie Lee is an account executive at InkHouse Media + Marketing, where this story first appeared. Follow Leslie on Twitter @LSL713.

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