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Telling the story of Manchester’s Small Shops

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While many aspects of public relations may have changed over the years, the basic premise remains the same – good PR is about telling stories. Whether it’s the story of a company, a product or a service, the foundations of PR lay in connecting with audiences through good storytelling. 

Our Account Manager, Sarah Tulley, shares her recent work harnessing the power of storytelling for a campaign with our client, the modernist, below.

When the modernist team came to us and asked if we could promote their new photography book, featuring independent shops of Manchester in the 1980s, I must admit, I wondered if it might be a bit niche for most audiences. 

However, after one look at Small Shops, I quickly realised not only what a gem of a book it is, but that behind the images was a compelling story to tell. 

The book features the work of amateur photographer, Brian Lomas, who took the images in his native North Manchester’s areas of Moston, Blackley, Newton Heath and Harpurhey almost 40 years ago. Despite being within many of our lifetimes, these black and white photographs capture a time and place that already seem like a lost age.

At High-Rise, we wanted to tell the story of Small Shops in an engaging way, boosting book sales and raising the profile of the modernist at the same time. To achieve this, we approached our strategy with storytelling at the front of our minds. 

Ⓒ Brian Lomas / the modernist

To do so, we considered the different elements of our narrative – inspired by Microsoft’s Chief Storyteller, Steve Clayton and his ‘P’s’ of storytelling

People: Every good story has a person at its heart. In this case, Brian, who has lived in North Manchester his whole life, and is a self-taught, amateur photographer whose work had never been published until he introduced himself to the modernist team. Brian’s story gives Small Shops a human element that audiences can connect with. We also recognised when chatting with him that with his own natural talent for storytelling, he would be a brilliant interviewee for local press. 

Places: Environment and setting are important – a good story will take you to a particular place. Visuals are helpful here (and Steve Clayton also highlights another storytelling ‘P’ – pictures). We were able to use the perfect storytelling tool of Brian’s photographs, which capture a particular place and time in such a captivating way.

His work highlights the unregarded parts of the city, buildings that might come and go with little or no fanfare but mean something to the people who have used them. There’s a sense of nostalgia – looking back at the ‘good old days’, before supermarkets and large chains took over our high streets. The independent stores of Small Shops have quirky details – old signage, old fashioned tills and traditional weighing scales – and looking at those details transports you back in time. 

Process: Instead of just telling a story about the product, talking about the process it took to create it can bring the product to life. 

Brian took his photographs on a Rolleiflex camera, shooting straight on, in monochrome and with cold, flat northern light. We knew this style of photography and the story of how Brian went about producing the images would appeal to the creative community.

Product: PR is often about selling a service or product – in this case, a book – but it’s important not to focus on that alone. A good product doesn’t necessarily make a good story – but the reason behind making that product can be captivating. 

Using a considered approach to storytelling, backed with the strong visuals of Brian’s photographs, we targeted local, national, broadcast and trade media outlets, taking into account each different audience and shaping the story of Small Shops in a way that would resonate with them. 

The resulting press coverage included an interview with Brian on BBC North West Tonight, alongside feature coverage in The Observer, Manchester Evening News, The GuardianNorthern Soul, About Manchester, Creative Boom, and others – with many outlets making use of Brian’s wonderful photography to illustrate the story. In total, our coverage has had a hugely successful reach of 3.75 million

Ⓒ Brian Lomas/ the modernist

The stories are there for every brand or business – it’s our job as PR professionals to uncover them and bring them to life in a way that will connect with the right audiences. 

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