What I’ve Learned Along the Way: Storytelling Still Matters in an AI World

Blog, News, Vicki's Column

An apparent buzzer beater by the home team to win a back-and-forth game by a point. Only the ensuing celebration leads to a technical foul as the clock still showed time. Free throws reverse the outcome. Only the referees botched the call, awarding two free throws instead of one.

Having spent 30 years as a sportswriter, I’d love to tell that story — victory, defeat, emotion, disappointment, all packaged up neatly in the final 1.2 seconds of a basketball game.

Readers didn’t feel any of that in the statistics-heavy press release issued that night that told us who the leading scorer was, how many rebounds he had and who else on the team scored in double figures. The story was automatically generated through artificial intelligence that turns data into narrative spit out through software.

Artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t new but it’s becoming increasingly relevant in marketing and public relations. AI can churn out press releases and website copy at a clip no writer could match. It can automate pitches to media. The bot can even gather and compile data that can be turned into website copy.

AI is efficient. It’s not what we’re about at Consociate Media.

We’re storytellers — authentic storytellers who rely on words, expressions, context, photography and videography to share stories. These aren’t drive-by stories. They’re fully developed through talking and listening and writing and editing.

Each story is as unique as the storyteller.

As a young newspaper reporter, I approached every interview with a list of questions, anxious about filling uncomfortable silence. I wrote notes and made occasional eye contact. Sometimes it felt like a Q&A. Admittedly, often I forgot to closely listen.

As a rookie, I didn’t realize listening was a skill. It’s actually my favorite part of what I do at Consociate Media, where as a Writer and Digital Media Strategist I get to learn about the people, passion and purpose, the why behind why they love what they do.

I can deviate from the script because there is no script. It’s genuine conversation, not an interview. Returning to my sports writing days again for another example, I recall being tasked with an athlete-of-the-week story, a seemingly routine assignment. I chose a Western Branch High School basketball player who had a monster game a few nights earlier.

When I asked her about her mindset that night, she mentioned struggling to overcome the aftereffects of her chemotherapy appointment the day before.

Suddenly I had a whole other story to share that wasn’t about points and rebounds.

One of my favorite conversationalists these days is Patrick Duffeler, Founder of the Williamsburg Winery. Patrick tells remarkable stories with wit and wisdom fueled by his marvelous memory for the smallest details.  I find myself far better educated on a variety of subjects after one of our in-person chats.

History, wine, his storied motor racing career and his special affinity for trees are treasured topics. In talking about innovation at the Williamsburg Winery, he mentioned the process of constantly trying to improve soil quality in the vineyard. His own Black Forest at the winery has served as a testing ground — one successful experiment enriched the soil so much that ferns began to sprout. Ferns tend to do best in acidic soil with the help of a shaded canopy, he told me, a tidbit I remembered during my recent bucket list trip to Switzerland. Hiking a portion of the Alps, I spotted an abundance of ferns thriving in the unspoiled conditions on a shady part of the mountains.

I smiled, thinking how pleased Patrick would be to see such a splendid site and marveling at how a conversation held thousands of miles away was so fresh in my mind.

AI can write, but it can’t think. Nor can it feel. Only humans do that. I certainly don’t doubt the uses of AI in public relations and marketing, such as SEO optimization and analytics to better target your intended audience.

Yet nothing resonates with people more than genuine stories rich with relevant details, including telling quotes that do more than restate what’s in the sentence before them.

Today I listen more than I talk.  I value building relationships that I cherish — connections that are both personally enriching and professionally vital to copywriting that isn’t churned out.

It’s crafted. Thoughtfully. Carefully. Passionately.

No bot can match that.

Vicki L. Friedman writes for Consociate Media after spending the majority of her career in sports writing, journalism and professional communications. She is a mom to two grown sons, Harry and Ben, and three Japanese chins. Consociate Media is on the 2022 list of Virginia Business magazines Best Places to Work.