The Storyteller

“You are a storyteller!” These words came from someone I believe knows what they are talking about, just the other day.

I had never looked at myself in that way. I have always loved words and to play with them. If they are nicely and cleverly put together they can entertain, they can bite and they can educate. They can even change someone’s point of view all together if they are strong enough. I have also always liked writing but thought of myself as an amateur who is just doing it for fun. I have always felt like I need more tutoring in the art of telling stories, get someone more knowledgeable than me to tell me HOW to do it. At the same time, I wonder how much exactly can be taught without people losing their personal touch when writing.

writing-power

After he told me I was good at telling stories I started thinking about it and I did come to the conclusion that it is somewhat right and that I have been doing this from a very early age. Stories and words are something I have used as an escape from a very young age. I have also used them to entertain myself and others.

Hiding from the dark

I am from Iceland. It can be extremely dark there and during winters we hardly get any daylight, we get dusk and then darkness again. For someone who is afraid of the dark this is horrid!

As a child and teenager I was very afraid of the dark. When I was a kid we used to have school before or after lunch. As me and my brother had school after lunch, we had to walk ourselves to an activity before school at a very young age. It would be dark and cold, and it was quite a long walk for small feet. I couldn’t stand silence. In the silence my head would go all over the place and I would imagine shadows being something they weren’t, I’d imagine all the worst I had ever heard, and I would imagine any noise I heard being something gruesome. Therefore, I would let my brother choose a story for me to tell him while we held hands and walked to our “before school activity”. Once I had told him the story of Red Riding Hood so often I could do it without thinking (and therefore had space to think about all the horrible things in the dark while spurting it effortlessly out) I came up with a different idea. I had to challenge myself if this walk was supposed to be bearable. I asked him to tell me what kind of a story he wanted to hear and name at least one character he would like me to include in the story. After that I would make up stories about bunnies on great adventures, dragons with toothache and more. This way I had to think, I had to be creative to make sure he was interested, and I had to make sure they were long enough to last all the way to the “before school activity”.

12

I used the same approach when walking alone in the dark, going home from a friend’s house or from an afternoon activity. I often had to take a dark path that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and seem to have no end to it, my heart would start racing as soon as I got close to it. I would therefore have conversations with myself, in a way. I would do a roleplay without dolls or toys as I would just imagine them in my head and then do their voices and conversations. I felt ashamed of this as I was old enough to realise this looked very weird to anyone who would walk past me. But it worked. I took myself away from the dark into a magical place where I could be anyone doing anything, and believe me, they were never surrounded by darkness!

I have always had a vivid imagination.

My attempts to be a novelist

Three times I have started or finished my own “books”.

My first attempt was when I was around 8 years old. I had a 4-year-old niece and I had just realised I could draw pretty good pictures and produce good stories. I loved my niece like a little sister and enjoyed making her happy. I got lined A4 paper out and my pencils. I wrote a story about a girl star. An actual starshaped girl. I cannot remember the story anymore but she must have gone on a magnificent adventure. I remember she had gloves on and I coloured all the pictures and the story was quite a few pages long. I remember how excited I was after I finished it and walked across the town where I lived to give it to her.

My second attempt was when I was a teenager. In Iceland most teenagers get confirmed. When they get confirmed they get presents. The year I got confirmed PC’s were the go-to gift for parents to give to their teenagers. Most of my classmates got computers and could connect a lead to their computer to go onto the internet. That was huge at the time! While they were online they would go on chatrooms and talk to strangers. I was not allowed an internet lead, my parents didn’t think teenagers should be connected to the internet. I didn’t care! I was in heaven as there I had my very own typewriter! I had often written short stories and poems but my hand would get very tired after a few pages. Once I got the computer I started writing. I wrote a story about teenagers. It was a spooky story and very much a teenagers story where I would describe the clothing they would wear and there would be a lot of drama and love. The story involved a ghost of another teenager who had been murdered. Once I finished a chapter, I would bring it to my friends to read. They got very excited and encouraged me to keep writing. I never finished it but got close to 100 pages and enjoyed it. I probably then started chasing boys myself and put it aside!

HGt9

My third story came about when I was around 20 years old. I worked in a kindergarten and sometimes we needed something to catch the kids attention and get them to have some quiet time. I would get a marker in hand and stand by the whiteboard. I would then tell them the story of Króki the space crocodile. I would make it interactive and they would raise their hands to fill in where I asked them to. They loved seeing the story come alive in front of them. When I was 24, again, I worked at a kindergarten and brushed the dust of my friend Króki. I would adjust the story to each class, whether it was 2-year olds or 5-year olds etc. Once the headmistress walked in and was in awe, she said she had never seen a class of thirty 4 – 5-year olds sit so still, quiet and ready to raise their hand in order to get their part in. She was adamant we had to take this story further. After work I hardly touched the ground as I felt so appreciated and flattered. I told my boyfriend at the time about her words and he said: “No YOU GUYS are not doing anything with the story!

I replied with: “What?”

He said: “YOU should do something with YOUR story. Don’t let anyone else take credit for it!

I didn’t have the drive to do it alone nor the belief in myself therefore, I didn’t do more with the story for the time being. Soon after I thought to myself, I should probably get my head out of the clouds, I wasn’t an author, I was just an amateur that could keep little kids amused for a short period of time.

When I was 27 years old, I did my equivalent of A-levels. I was a single mum with two young kids. I bought old furniture and did them up. I ran the household, raised the kids, was a top student and therefore felt equipped to do anything and felt like nothing could stop me. Therefore, once again, I brushed the dust of Króki. I got a pencil and paper and wrote the story and drew pictures. I sent it to one publisher and held my breath. I got a rejection, but I was damn proud of myself for actually having the courage to send it in. I should have sent it to more places but one rejection at a time!

45667856_506083856525932_6050188737587970048_n
This is an actual picture of Króki the space crocodile

Escape and outlet

While I was in school, we had to learn poems. We had to handwrite them and decorate with pictures, then we had to learn them by heart. I loved that. I could cry over a beautiful poem, I could laugh over naughty play on words and I could wrestle with elaborate poems with a unique use of words and phrases.

It wasn’t until I was 13 that I realised I could write my own poems. That one didn’t need to be William Shakespeare to write poems. It helped when I got a teacher that challenged the rules and form of poems. Told us to break them. Said that, in itself was art. I realised I didn’t have to follow all the rules or even make things rhyme. That was a huge breakthrough for me. Poems became my outlet and escape. I expressed the hardship I went through in poems. I also wrote about teenage drama. Poems became something I used when I hit walls or something really difficult happened in my life. That way I could sleep. If I went through any sort of trauma I would go to bed and my mind would be racing. If I reached for a pen and a piece of paper, however, I could take all the emotions and thoughts and put them on the paper in the form of poems and then go to sleep. Some of them are full of self-pity, but they did the job they were intended to do at the time.

poetry-pencil

When I did my equivalent of A-levels I had Icelandic teachers that taught us about Icelandic literature. One of the things they covered were poems. I told them I had bunch of poems I had been writing from the age of 13 up till then (I was 27 at the time). I asked it they wanted to read them over. I had always kept them locked for no one to see except my closest friends and family. They were happy to! I had all the poems on one file on my computer and sent it to both of my teachers. Later the same night the horrible realisation dawned upon me! I should have gone through them before I sent them! Two of the poems were very offensive, full of rage poems about my ex, where I listed all his faults and made cruel fun of him and his manhood. When I spoke to them a few days later they told me how much they liked the poems and that it was unique to see a collection spanning such a long time and very interesting to see how I developed from a teenager to a young woman. They never mentioned the outburst poems about my ex.

Blogs, articles and Facebook statuses

For a few years I blogged, in Icelandic and just about my life in general. I also blogged about things that touched me. But it was just a blog that described the mind of a 22 – 24-year-old woman. Unfortunately, I can not access these blogs anymore as I would love to read them, and then probably hide them forever as I am sure they are cringeworthy now!

I also did a few blogs while I lived in the Middle East describing my life and thoughts there. I did it in Icelandic and then translated them into English below. They were mostly an attempt to be funny and sometimes provoking.

I have also written A FEW articles and then long notes (in the form of articles) on Facebook.

We should not take our gifts for granted

So, I guess using written words, expressing myself through stories, poems, blogs etc. has always been a part of me.

Nowadays I feel like it is a bit of a challenge though. Both to find something to write about but also to find the time to write. I should probably do more of it as it liberates me and gives me pleasure.

41J4b4Zm-tL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_

My brother keeps encouraging me to write stories, but I feel like I don’t have anything to write about. Like I don’t have the imagination anymore. That it left me as I grew up. He has proposed to do it the way we did it on our long, dark journeys as kids, he comes up with a concept or an idea and I write around it. Maybe one day. I do love losing myself in the world of writing.

I didn’t think it was something special, I didn’t see it as a gift. I thought it was something anyone could do but now I know better. When I reflect, I recognise my friends often come to me and ask me to put things into words for them “because you are such a good writer” they say. They tell me they do not worry about me if I have to deliver a speech or do a written creative assignment as they say: “You with a pen can conquer anything”.

Therefore, after being told I am a storyteller, after thinking back and thinking about kind words from family and friends I realise it is not a given, it is not something everyone can easily do. I should utilise my talents. I WILL find the time. For the time being this blog will be my practice and my muse.

the-dream-of-the-poet-or-the-kiss-of-the-muse-1859-60-oil-on-canvasbal155451

What is the worth of a good reputation?

“If I was a CEO I would never pay my PR practitioner less than my lawyer, I would pay him even more!”

These words came from a friend of mine back in Iceland. She’s a law student, a mother and works as a team leader in a big production plant in Iceland.

As many people don’t really understand what it is a PR practitioner does they don’t understand the value they bring to a company. It can be hard to measure the financial value they actually bring, however, when a company doesn’t have someone to integrate their communication and respond professionally when a crisis hits, they can really feel the impact of not having someone trained in the profession at hand.

When I conducted my interviews with the PR practitioners in Iceland for my dissertation it blew me away how varied their job was. They were training CEO’s and spokespeople in how to speak in public, at interviews etc. and how to react when facing challenging questions. They were writing news releases, they were planning social gatherings for their costumers’ clients as even though they are not event planners as such. The whole look and execution of events has to echo the message they’re trying to send out.

An example of someone who would have benefited from some PR training is Barilla’s chairman in 2013 when he said on Italian radio: “I would never do a commercial with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect but because we don’t agree with them. []. Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role. If [gays] don’t like it, then they will not eat it and they will eat another brand.”

Barilla’s slogan: “Where there is Barilla, there is a home” Became a target for a play on words for those offended by the comment. Posts like: “Where there is my home, there is no Barilla” and “Where there is Barilla, there is homophobia” surfaced on social media.

5.blogg_1

One person commented this on the company’s Facebook site: “I’m Italian, I’m gay, I’m married legally to a man, I have three adopted children. I had Barilla pasta for dinner last night. Today, tomorrow and forever more I will choose another brand of pasta. Good bye Barilla! You lose!”

My brother is gay. He made sure I knew about this. Therefore, it’s safe to say it hit the company at a larger scale than “only” through its gay customers. People conscious of human rights also boycotted their products.

2 months after the comments Barilla pasta was on 25% discount in the main supermarkets in my home country, Iceland.  However, it is hard to find evidence of how hard the comments actually hit the company as its privately owned and didn’t reveal how the boycott hit their sales figures. But it’s not only sales figures one has to consider, it also has to do with the brand and the brands reputation.

Barilla did bounce back and learned from their mistakes. Only a year later they featured a gay couple in an advert, they were donating money for gay rights causes and expanding health benefits for transgender workers and their families. All very positive, however good news seem to travel slower than bad news and until I started researching the case further for this blog post I hadn’t heard about this turnaround. I only heard the negative news back in 2013.

5.blogg_2

Another company that could have hugely benefited from having integrated communication plan is United Airlines. This is a case I covered in my dissertation as it shows how by not responding a relatively minor event can spiral into something huge.

What happened was that the musician Dave Carroll and his band flew with United Airlines. When arriving at their destination he noticed that airport staff unloading the plane threw bags between them, including the bands instruments. Once Dave got his Taylor guitar he discovered the neck was broken. For 9 months he tried contacting the airline to get some compensation, he tried many different ways of communicating with them but had no luck. After getting nowhere he wrote the song “United breaks guitars”. He uploaded the song onto YouTube and when this is written it has been watched 18 million times. He wrote two more songs about his experience and went onto radio and TV to talk about his experience. On YouTube people have written comments about the songs and their own experiences with the airline.

( You can see the video here )

If the company had responded and shown some empathy, things wouldn’t have had to go this far but with social media and power of the masses things can quickly spiral out of control.

In both cases there are other companies however that seem to be quick to realize opportunities, companies that are indirectly connected to the crisis in question.

Barilla’s competitors Bertolli Germany responded to Barilla’s crisis by publishing an advert which they had published 2 years prior, which featured a gay couple. They also posted a picture with the caption: “Pasta and love for all” on their Facebook site.

5.blogg_3

While United Airlines didn’t seem to realize how important it was to respond to their customers’ needs Taylor guitars did, even though they weren’t prompted. They compensated him by giving him a new guitar and they uploaded videos onto YouTube about their repair services and on how to travel safely with their guitars.

This shows that having a communication/marketing team on their toes can hugely benefit a company as they will seize the moment and grab the chance of positive publicity when it presents itself. As these two examples show, it doesn’t even have to be expensive, just seen and acted upon!

So, going back to the beginning of this post, I believe my friend hit the nail on the head.

A good PR practitioner is worth their weight in gold. If they listen to the market, are responsive, creative and on point they can in many cases avoid major upheaval. At the very least respond to it in the most efficient way. They will also be able to spot potential opportunities when a crisis hits someone else.

5.blogg_4

Being a PR student in the shadow of the professions questionable reputation

Oh, the controversy of Public Relations!

I have 10 siblings, in that group I have two siblings with a university degree. I come from a line of hardworking working-class people. From generation to generation I believe the elderly always hoped the younger ones would be able to make a better life for themselves. Not merely live from pay check to pay check, and sometimes not even that. Therefore, my grandparents and parents have tried their best to push us towards education. They want us to be able to enjoy the jobs we do as well as life.

large_graduation-owl

My brother holds a Bachelors degree and Masters degree. He’s 1 and half years younger than me and very close to me. He has always encouraged me to study. Understandably, when I made the decision to do my Bachelors he was the first one I called, for support you see.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: “I’m going back to school!”

Him: “Really? That’s great news!”

Me: “Yeah, I just enrolled this morning!”

Him: “Fantastic! I am so happy for you!!”

Me: “Thank you!”

Him: “So what is it in?”

Me: “Media and Public Relations”

….at this moment I got the feeling that if he would have stood in front of me, he would have spat in my face.

Him: “What the fxxx!! Bloody unprofessional bunch of people! Got no morals and are ready to say what ever as long as they get paid for it!!”

Me: “Hey, I’m still me and my ethics won’t change overnight….”

Him: “These people are spin doctors and twist the truth to serve their clients!!”

Me: “Well…I just wanted to share this with you. I’ll start next month…”

'Are we talking about political reality, media reality or the real reality?'

And that’s where we left it. I didn’t manage to tell him I was in it for the media side of it as I wanted to become a journalist or a news reporter. The public Relations side just came with the course. Once the news broke out within my family I continually met voices that echoed my brothers opinion and my standard answer was: “I’m in it for the media side”. Whenever Public Relations practitioners were working for corrupt politicians or companies with a bad reputation I would be poked and told that was going to me. As time passed I got to the Public Relations part of my studies and to my surprise I loved it! I liked the sound of the buzz around the occupation, the thought of meeting a lot of people, the fact the tasks can vary and so on. Therefore, it became harder to answer people when they told me I was a future spin doctor.

swear-to-spin-the-truth_resize

In my Public Relations class we were told to tell the truth and tell it quick. That sounded pretty ethical and to me it felt like that’s how it should be done, but maybe not everyone practiced in that way.

Due to all this I decided to calm my own mind and shut up all these negative voices (hopefully) by writing my final dissertation on ethics in Public Relations. It was called “Ethics and Public Relations: where is the line?” This is the dissertations abstract:

“This dissertation covers the ethics of Icelandic professionals working in the field of public relations. It covers what kind of values they follow when facing ethical issues at work. It examines whether those values are formal or informal and whether they follow them when facing an ethical crisis. To achieve an answer to those questions in this dissertation it is based on theoretical content such as philosophy, peer-reviewed articles and other material that concluded my findings. Additionally, it is based on interviews with four professionals in the field of public relations and their attitudes towards ethics at work.

The findings indicate that public relations professionals in Iceland work by informal and personal values. It differs whether they actually follow through with those values when it comes to it as half of the participants said they would, while the other half either said the liability rests on the shoulders of their company directors or that when it comes down to it, ultimately the client pays for a certain service.”

In short, it varies. Some follow ethical guidelines, mostly their own, as there doesn’t seem to be many formal rules for the profession in Iceland. However, there is an association of Public Relations practitioners in Iceland but only two out of the four practitioners I spoke to knew of its existence. None of them knew that the association had a set of ethical rules. Two of them said they wouldn’t lie but they might not tell everything if it wasn’t necessary. They all agreed however, if you lie and practice spin you won’t survive in this profession for a long time. Especially not in a country as small as Iceland as news travels fast and as a Public Relations practitioner your reputation is everything.

When I told my family that I was going abroad for further studies in Public Relations I met with nothing but positivity and support. It’s a field that many do not understand and to be fair, Hollywood hasn’t done us any favours. My family now understands that the profession doesn’t make a person unethical and that it rests with the person itself as to how they practice.

we-love-public-relations