The power of a backstory

Posted on 3rd October 2018 by Claire

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Companies often underestimate the stories that they’re sitting on. Often the backstory, or the ‘why’ isn’t considered public information or of interest to those outside of the company. Yet it is these stories – the reason that the company comes into being – that offer the most in terms of insight, interest, advice and angles for the press.


There are 100s of amazing and famous back stories that we’re all familiar with. From the tech world, there’s Steve Job’s and Wozinak’s humble beginnings from their garage, which went on to inspire 100s of other kitchen/garage/back-bedroom-based start ups. Author J. K. Rowling’s own story of writing the first Harry Potter book in a café because it was warm and she couldn’t afford to turn the heating on at home is well documented and even Ultimo founder Michelle Mone who overcame poverty and a lack of education to become a multi millionaire. All of these inspirational stories make great headlines.


A strong backstory however doesn’t need to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs – rather the power lies in the ability to engage the audience and not necessarily to inspire them. Backstories are widely used in character development for actors for example. Even when those backstories aren’t shared with the audience, the actor uses the characters’ past to build a stronger presence on screen or stage. And this is the same approach to story telling that we take at Skout when foraging for stories with clients. The first place we look for a great story is how or why the company was created.


Skout itself is a great example of this. When Rob, Skout’s founder and MD – as I’m sure you’re all aware 😉 – established the agency it was because he wanted to do PR his way – to build genuine, honest stories and campaigns that were so desperately needed in B2B eight years ago. Now story telling is everywhere.


Backstories can often provide the cultural values of an organisation especially if the founder is still involved. We recently started working with global retail installation company 100% Group. The founder Dan Williams has a great backstory – he’s a third-generation business owner following in the steps of his father and grandfather. And 100% remains a family affair, with Dan’s brother Will also taking on a role at the company. When we undertook the foraging process with 100% recently, it soon became clear that the employees really valued working for a family business because of the supportive, listening, problem-solving environment it creates.


So how can you use a backstory to deliver great campaigns? In PR it’s about understanding the role the backstory played in developing the product or service that you’re taking to the press. Was the product created to overcome a specific challenge or market problem that the founder was impacted by? If so, they’ll be able to talk about the frustrations and challenges faced by customers better than anyone. Or was it their technical knowledge or expertise (think James Dyson and his reason for inventing his first Dyson vacuum cleaner) that can deliver a product that’s clearly market leading.


A while ago we worked for a law firm who’s leading divorce lawyer was herself divorced. So amicable was her separation that she and her second husband often spent family events together with her ex-husband and his new partner including Christmas! Her own experience of divorce was so aspirational that her back story became a great selling point.


Often in our B2B role we focus solely on business-to-business communications, forgetting that we’re still selling to humans. By adding a personal and very human element to your organisation’s story – through it’s backstory – you can create something that’s very powerful and engaging to those audiences you’d like to reach.



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