BRIGHTON — The way Elizabeth Luke sees it, the role of PR versus other marketing disciplines is quite clear cut: to make clients famous.

“We are working to really find and craft and fine tune storytelling so there is something to be famous for,” said Luke, who leads brand communications for Pinterest. And it’s those kinds of stories that grab journalists’ attention and, ultimately, resonate with consumers.  “I don’t know that there is anything other than earned media that makes it that powerful,” she said.

Luke’s comments were part of a discussion at PRovoke Media and ICCO's first hybrid event, Cannes Condensed, 'Stop telling and start selling,' which explored the shift in PR from being about doling out bits of information to selling the stories that have real meaning — as well as benefits for companies and consumers. Jesse Hamlin, Avalara’s VP of brand marketing, also participated in the session, which was moderated by Hotwire's chief strategy officer, Chris Paxton.

Hamlin echoed Luke’s sentiments, saying that selling “uniqueness” and “memorability” are core to her world as an in-house communicator as well as PR as a whole.

She noted, though, that as a B2B company — and one that makes tax management software to boot — moving beyond “the boringness of our space” comes with its own complexities, including achieving the goal of driving sales.

In turn, Avalara addresses its storytelling in three steps — laying out a problem (i.e., doing taxes is hard), introducing the company’s category (help exists) and brand awareness (Avalara is the solution).

“We spend a lot of time and PR and comms at each of those layers,” Hamlin said, noting that the approach starts with educational PR. And if Avalara can get customers to stick with those stories through the first and second layers, the third will come naturally, she said.  

Hamlin said digging deep into the business, investigating inner workings, and integrating information is essential to selling stories, and ultimately forming relationships, with journalists. From there, however, it does get easier. “Once you have established that level of rapport it is largely for us an inbound motion, where journalists are coming to us.”

Luke stressed the importance of stories having a news angle. “If it’s not innovation, if it’s not record-breaking … we are not going to be able to cut through,” she said.

“Nobody wants to watch a show about a bunch of good things happening,” she said. “Compelling work is all about tension. So being able to get as close to the tension as the business is comfortable with, and as close as IR will allow us to …. is incredibly important."

Watch the full session here: