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#PR – Ask the experts: Gavin Esler, author of Lessons from the top


Written by Paul Stallard

NEW Esler credit Jeff Overs
I have written a few post recently about some of the books that I believe all PR professionals should read. One book in particular I have heralded and told everyone about is Lessons from the top by Gavin Esler.

The book looks at the power of storytelling. Great leaders have always understood the power of stories. Through the stories they tell, the most successful leaders educate, persuade and bring about change and in his book Gavin provides examples and gives tips on how to emulate some well-known leaders.

I love this book. It is well written and I simply couldn’t put it down. If you haven’t bought a copy – drop everything a buy one now!

Thankfully after approaching Gavin, he agreed to take part in one of my #PR – Ask the experts interviews. So after having interviewed global superstars, prime ministers and presidents of the United States he had the tables turned on him by a PR pro from Reading :o)

I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did conducting it.

Paul Stallard: Hi Gavin, please can you introduce yourself and what you do.
Gavin Esler: I am a writer and journalist, the author of five novels and two works of non-fiction including most recently Lessons from the Top, about how leaders tell stories to make others follow them.

Paul Stallard: I believe that PR is a big part of the storytelling mix, and that impacts on everything.  Do you think that this is improving as companies are becoming more aware of getting this right, or it’s actually getting worse because there are so many things now that people have to think about?
Gavin Esler: PR does not have very good PR. There are reasons why people are very suspicious of what they are being told and they resent sometimes the idea that paid professionals are involved to tell stories, when of course what they should concentrate on is whether the stories are actually true.

Paul Stallard: Do you think that businesses do enough to understand what their story is? For example, you talk about the three types of story – who am I, who are we as a group and what’s our common purpose? Why is it so important to understand these three points and do you think enough businesses actively do so?
Gavin Esler: Many businesses do not even understand that they HAVE a story. One businesswoman told me she certainly did not have a story. After five minutes I discovered she had started from nothing with one good idea and now runs a successful business which experts to Europe – all by the age of 40. She was astounded when I pointed out that is not only a story, but a good story.

Paul Stallard: Is there a piece of advice you’d give a PR professional?
Gavin Esler:
Tell the truth, but be aware that everyone shapes the truth to his or her advantage. You only have to read CVs of job applicants to understand that.

Paul Stallard: In your book you talk about the importance of being authentic when telling a story. In fact, you say this is more important than the truth. Why is this?
Gavin Esler:
Take a great story: “I am just a grocer’s daughter from Grantham.” Brilliant characterisation of Margaret Thatcher in half a dozen words – but by grocer’s daughter she was not serving in Lidl. There is nothing false about the story, but what is most important is she made it seem as if it authentically summed her up – when in fact she was much more complicated than that.

Paul Stallard: Who is the best storyteller you have met and why?
Gavin Esler:
There are so many of them I have not got time to list them, but Thatcher, Clinton, Blair, would be on the list – and Dolly Parton and Angelina Jolie get a mention in the book too.

Paul Stallard: What tips would you give to ensure that people remember your story?
Gavin Esler:
Thinks of a STAR moment – Something They Always Remember. It’s up to the storyteller, not me.

Paul Stallard: What makes a good leader?
Gavin Esler:
All kinds of things, but if they have no followers they can’t be a leader. And they won’t have followers if they can’t communicate. The best way to do this is through stories. As Jesus, among others, noticed.

Paul Stallard: You also talk about the importance of confronting the things people are thinking about you. Why do this and give the issue more noise in the media against not rising to the bait and ignoring it?
Gavin Esler: Because people already have a pre-story in their mind about you before they meet you. Some people might call it a prejudice. That’s why Dolly Parton is such a good story teller. She knows everyone looks at her figure and painted face and therefore she defuses the potential for criticism by saying: “It takes a heck of a lot of money to look this cheap.” If you ignore the bad stories about you they will persist, not die.