The “Brainy Communicator” says science will drive the future of storytelling

The “Brainy Communicator” says science will drive the future of storytelling
November 13, 2016 Anne Fulwood

In this communications century, where technology has taken the lead role, where anyone can access any amount of information anytime, anywhere, with one click – it is a huge challenge for professionals in communications, marketing and public relations to find new ways to be relevant and effective.

Like any business, disruption is the driver. Adapting to changing circumstances, facing the challenges and finding new ways, will be the key to survival.  The rise of populism is having a huge impact on political agendas (look at Brexit, the USA election – more below), people have lost trust in the big institutions like government, banks, the judiciary, and geopolitical forces are changing spheres of influence across the world.

What is required is new thinking, leadership and a new point of view on how to cut through and deliver effective communications and storytelling in the 21st Century.

Christopher Graves, the Global Chairman of opr, has always had a keen instinct for the zeitgeist and an eye to the future.

He’s here in Australia in the coming week, to share his award-winning insights into what he believes will drive future success for all of us in the business of communications in public relations.

It is all about the science.  Over a six-year period Graves did a huge amount of research work, to deliver his recent international award-winning paper:  “Brain Behaviour Story”.  He won the WPP Atticus Award, which honours original thinking in communications in the past year, and was dubbed “The Brainy Communicator” by the Business Times of Singapore in 2015.

No longer is public relations a ‘social science’, says Graves.  He argues, and backs it with evidence, that PR has not kept pace with scientific discoveries in behavioural economics, neuroscience and narrative theory. Put simply, it is the science of human behaviour, how the brain works, and how we tell our stories in this century.  Old science must make way for modern scientific thinking.

Getting back to basics, and taking a scientific approach to our business of communications – which underpins all that we do – lies at the core to future success.

As Graves says, more than ever before we need to be keen observers of what’s going on around us – culture, trends, current events, political movements, consumption. What are people – our clients – interested in and how do we get our message to them?

The stunning example for social scientists – argues Graves – is the extraordinary US election campaign which has propelled Donald Trump to the White House.  Perhaps Trump’s team triggered a “fight or flight” response in people, which is hardwired into our brains, after painting a picture of America under siege.

His campaign pushed buttons in Americans that will give social scientists mountains of material they can study for decades ahead!  While Trump might have misrepresented key issues or made ‘false claims’ during the campaign – many people still voted for him, and in winning numbers, as it transpires.

Says Graves: “People tend to accept arguments that confirm their views and discount facts that challenge what they believe.”

Bring this insight back to our world of PR, and what it takes to get traction.  “You might have produced an award-winning creative solution,” says Graves, “but did it win the hearts and minds?  Perhaps in this communication era, where technology has taken a leading role in so many ways, we have overlooked the art of the story….and there is a science to it.”

Keep in mind too, that Christopher Graves has strong storytelling credentials. He held executive roles with Wall Street Journal TV at Dow Jones in New York, was a Vice President of CNBC Asia and Europe, and Managing Editor of Dow Jones Consumer Electronic Publishing and the Far Eastern Economic Review before joining opr in 2005, to become Global Chairman in 2014.

According to Graves, five forces are reshaping the PR Industry:

  1. Hacktivism OR brandjacking – the takeover of a company message/image and making satire out of it
  2. SoMoClo – the confluence of social media location-based marketing, coupled with mobile technology, cloud computing and big data.
  3. Sharing Economy – as the sharing economy rises (think Uber, AirBNB), what does this mean for branding? Is it a product, a service or a community that I’m branding?
  4. Behavioural Science in the PR industry – much of what has been done in communications has been based on intuition and creativity. The big new force is the body of research around neuroscience, human behaviour, social psychology, and narrative theory.
  5. Content creation and marketing – a very important force, which must account for the first four forces. It cannot be advertorials masquerading as editorial content. Graves says content in the future is more like news – it can be short form, or medium form written. Not all of it has to be long form.

In conclusion, it is all about the narrative and the science behind it, in order to reach and engage with the audience.  What impact can a good story have on a business?  Or, for that matter, on a political campaign?

There is no doubt there is an art to all communication but, back it up with the science, and it can be a force for the future of 21st Century business.

Christopher Graves, “The Brainy Communicator”, is showing us the way.