Media Profile puts storytelling at the heart of PR

By Megan Haynes

WITH THE BARRIERS BETWEEN CONSUMER and brand eroding (not to mention the rise in native advertising), storytelling is becoming an important aspect of integrated PR campaigns.

So Media Profile has been beefing up its content creation skills in-house, while also looking for opportunities to put storytelling at the heart of the push, says John Thibodeau, VP at the 31-year-old agency. And the approach is working, skyrocketing the Toronto-based shop to the podium as this year's PR Agency of the Year. The shop picked up Gold this year, up from its Bronze in 2015.

Over the past year, Media Profile has been working with a team brought in solely to focus on content creation. The team — a creative director, web designer and videographer/motion graphic designer — work with the agency on a full-time basis, while also maintaining their own clients on the side (its a model the agency also uses in Quebec).

Since bringing them on board, the shop has significantly upped the amount of content created internally, Thibodeau says, adding that they've produced content for nearly half of their clients.

He says the agency also works with a "curated" network of freelancers around Canada that specializes in all areas of content creation, from animation and voiceover work to actors and set designers.

Media Profile has also prioritized basic content creation skills as necessary for new hires, he says, with the expectation that anyone who enters PR these days needs to have video editing, graphics and web management skills. The shop has also increased training for existing staffers.

In addition, Media Profile is going outside its walls to create content, increasingly working with influencers and exploring paid media options, such as native ads.

Thibodeau points to a recent Honda execution (one of the winning case studies) as an example. The brand wanted help selling the full suite of Honda products, he says. Unlike other car makers, Honda is unique in that it not only sells cars, but also ATVs, boat engines, lawnmowers and power tools.

As a result, it can be difficult to create a holistic picture of the brand, he says. Based on that background, the agency found the one place people are most likely to use all the different Honda products: the cottage.

"The brief was basically, 'Let's tell the totality of the story in a way that's compelling and interesting,'" Thibodeau says.

The brand invited eight independent journalists and their families up to the Honda-run cottage, where they played with various products, from the Honda-generated lights to the Honda-run boat.

The brand also sent up a Cottage Life reporter, as part of a paid branded content deal with the magazine, for the same experience, Thibodeau says. The published content included videos that had the reporter and his family playing with ATVs and lawnmowers under the Honda banner, and generated more than 4.3 million impressions, including a quarter of a million YouTube views, two million social tweets, and 300 new followers for the brand (from a single weekend).

"PR used to be one thing: pitching stories to reporters/editors," he says. "Now [it's the] same idea — but it means helping clients tell stories in so many more channels, which means [we need] so many new skills."