PR, Storytelling, and Saturday Night Live

Cedric Brown Avatar

Eddie Murphy in costume for Buckwheat scene on Saturday Night Live. (Screenshot from
Eddie Murphy in costume for Buckwheat scene on Saturday Night Live.

As an improv comic I always knew there was something special drawing me into public relations.  Sure, improv is a great space for me to get a few laughs out of my random moments.  However, last night I was reminded of another similarity between the two when I attended professor Bill Jasso’s Public Relations Principles and Practices course for my master’s program at Syracuse. Both improv actors and PR professionals are judged primarily on one thing: the art of storytelling.

Think about it: When you’re storytelling as a PR professional, you’re advocating for the work your organization does so that it builds a favorable reputation with its audience. Similarly, actors (comedic or not) tell stories on behalf of the characters they portray, using their talents to convince you that they are who they want you to believe they are.

The sweet art of storytelling consist of three components:

  1. Protagonist – One of Eddie Murphy’s most memorable characters from Saturday Night Live is Buckwheat, a singer with an obvious speech impediment and infectious smile. PR professionals have their own Buckwheat (the client) that they’re in charge of finding a unique characteristic to engage their audience with.
  2. Conflict – Naturally, Buckwheat, with his unique speech impediment, has a challenge pronouncing some very common songs. Buckwheat’s challenge would be much more serious, if it weren’t so entertaining. Meanwhile, the challenge PR professionals constantly face is finding ways to keep their client relevant in a world that constantly pulls our attention spans elsewhere.
  3. Resolution – After trying (and failing miserably) to enunciate several songs, the audience is forced to come to the conclusion that Buckwheat just has speech issues; however, the audience is okay with that because Buckwheat offers tremendous entertainment value. On the other hand, PR professionals have a wide array of results they can achieve for their clients. Ultimately though, it’s up to them to define success for the stories they have to tell.

In the end, PR professionals are nothing more than Eddie Murphys, Wayne Bradys and Jim Carreys representing organizations. Each have stories to tell and it’s their responsibility to persuade the audience to believe they, or their client, offers credibility – and hopefully, entertainment value.

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