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Lights, Camera, Write! Bringing Hollywood Storytelling to PR

Published on November 15, 2019, at 11:00 a.m.
by Colton Stock.

Expert tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) finds the trail of a murdered woman in the beginning of “Wind River” (2017), a film written and directed by Taylor Sheridan.

A woman, wounded and bleeding, runs through a seemingly endless expanse of snow in the dead of winter. Red blood stains the white snow as she runs desperately until finally collapsing near the forest on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Photo by Alin Rusu on Unsplash

The next morning, expert tracker Cory Lambert discovers her frozen body and recognizes her as 18-year-old Natalie Hanson. After an autopsy and careful investigation, it is revealed that she experienced blunt trauma and sexual violence, dying from exposure in the sub-zero air.

However, the medical examiner is unable to confirm the death as a homicide, preventing any further FBI investigation. Cory does everything he can to track down the girl’s killer, seeking leads throughout her hometown. In the end, he discovers her killer and brings him to justice in the expansive, snowy forests of the reservation. This is the story in the 2017 film “Wind River,” praised for bringing the heart-wrenching issue of sexual violence toward Native American women to light.

At the end of the film, a title card states that missing-persons statistics are kept for every demographic group except for Native American women, whose exact numbers remain unknown.

Native American women are raped and sexually assaulted at a rate of four times the national average. They are also 10 times as likely to be murdered than other Americans.

These statistics are powerful, but on their own they won’t change the issue. Coupled with the brutal, unrelenting story of “Wind River,” they are not just unforgettable: They are tragic. You want to do something about them. That’s what good storytelling does.

Stories make us care.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

As a public relations professional, you can’t just merely inform people of an issue and hope it makes a difference. You need to make them care and show how they can make a difference. This is only possible through storytelling.

Most public relations campaigns make the same mistake: They’re focused on raising awareness, rather than effecting change. As noted by a 2018 Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Such campaigns typically have one of three kinds of results: They reach the wrong audience and therefore have little to no effect; they cause backlash; or, in the worst cases, they cause harm. The science of communications argues against” using this method.

Poet and writer Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Storytelling is the best way to get your public to feel — and once they feel, they won’t forget. Think about the last time you saw a good movie. Do you remember every single detail from the plot? Every line of dialogue spoken? Every move of the camera? Probably not. But I bet if you truly liked that movie, you remember how you feel. That same feeling can be brought to your public relations work.

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