As Blue Planet II comes to an end and we say goodbye to cosy Sunday evenings at home watching baby turtles gently cruising through turquoise waters lapping against white-sanded shores, we can look back on this season and reflect. With David Attenborough’s soothing vocals narrating the hidden lives under the water, overlaid with Hans Zimmer’s atmospheric orchestra, it was like a mini-break, providing a comforting contrast to the snowy weather outside our windows. I may even re-watch season one.
Upon reflection, the show has reminded us not just of the beauty of the ocean, but of the simple and powerful beauty of storytelling. It offered us more than just a glimpse under the sea. For that you can visit an aquarium or even go snorkelling. Blue Planet II has told its audience stories. Stories about the lives of ocean dwellers. Of the challenges facing turtles, whales, dolphins, sea birds and fish. And storytelling has huge potential to engage audiences.
Some Blue Planet II scenes have had a protagonist. The puffin for example, fishing far out at sea for a fish to return home to its hungry chick. Out of nowhere comes an “angry” Arctic skua, with wings twice the size of the puffins. It swoops in to steal the prey out of the puffin’s mouth. The overlaying dramatic music that could be straight out of Lord of the Rings. The puffin evades the skua’s attack, and we witness the moment the puffin makes it back to its nest and offers its chick the fish alongside uplifting music. A happy ending for this puffin.
But do we see the skua returning home to its own hungry chick, without any fish to provide it from the day’s hunt? No, because in this scene, the skua is the antagonist and the puffin a protagonist. And the same goes for other Blue Planet II scenes. Seals chasing tuna in the Gallipoli islands? Freshly hatched baby turtles being plucked from the beach by sea birds? The BBC knows a chase between a victim and its prey makes for an exciting story. And we so often root for the victim.
As nature goes, the victim is interchangeable. Orcas chasing seals, or seals chasing tuna? We will root for anyone if we know the circumstance. The victim does not even have to be “cute”. In Planet Earth II we clutched the end of our sofas as scaly baby iguanas were chased by snakes. Who knew we would root for an iguana? BBC Earth did.
And often in Blue Planet II the antagonists have been us. Environmentalists in the past have struggled to engage consumers with environmental issues that are viewed as too conceptual, scientific or not immediately visible. BBC Earth knows the power of storytelling, that it goes a long way to engage human empathy. With 14 million Blue Planet II viewers, what impact on recycling or plastic use will this have now we have witnessed the true cost of our reliance on plastic?
As PR professionals it is worth keeping in mind when pitching – what is our story, and how is it engaging? Often, we pitch stories that are technical or scientific. We can learn from Blue Planet II’s storytelling techniques and think; how can we make our stories more relatable? How easily can journalists and readers engage with them? Is there a protagonist? Mark Zuckerberg is the protagonist of Facebook’s story – how is the CEO we are working with the protagonist of his company?
It is easier said than done. But remember, if millions of people can empathise with just a scaly baby iguana, they can probably get on board with your story too. Ask yourself, am I telling this story right? How would David Attenborough tell it differently?
By James Gillies, Account Manager at MWWPR