Archive for July, 2008

If A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words … Part II

My last post lamented the lack of quality video earmarked for a B2B audience.

Which isn’t to say business videos are a complete wasteland.

There’s an eclectic blog called Valley Zen – promotes itself as the intersection of Zen and technology; I thought that was Nolan Bushnell’s dream with Chuck E. Cheese’s – that showcases a video interview with VC Tim Draper from Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

It’s good.

No, make that darn good.


It certainly doesn’t hurt to be comfortable in front of the camera. But there’s more going on here than a relaxed demeanor.

For starters, this isn’t your garden variety story from another VC headliner on why I’m rich and you’re not. Instead, you’ve got Draper kicking off the interview with his eyes closed and arms extended uttering the mantra: “I’m now at peace with my Zen.”

Very Californian.

From there you get to know a little more about Draper, his philosophies and how he defeated a cape buffalo in Africa.

Just as important as the storyline, no one is taking themselves too seriously. When was the last time you watched a dour guest on Oprah?

On the production side, it doesn’t hurt to have the professionals from Localfilms as your crew. Yet, there are lessons for the novice videographer such as breaking up the video in sections with stills and varying the camera angles.

Of course, if you’ve got dull people pontificating on a dull topic you’re going to end up with a dull video.

As my daughter would say, “Duh.”


If A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words, What’s The “Value” Of Video?

When YouTube debuted, I remember thinking what’s all the fuss?

You obviously don’t want me reading tarot cards at the local county fair.

Universal McCann’s study on social media on video traction shows that more than 80 percent of Internet users watch video online:

Universal McCann Study

With that said, I don’t know if anyone predicted that video would transcend the short-term gratification of youth and become a mainstay of business communications. Virtually every media product – from The New Yorker to The New York Times to EE Times – now showcases video.

The state of video creation today reminds me of the early days of desktop publishing when PostScript and the laser printer essentially put the tools of the designer, typographer and printing press at the disposal of the masses.

Not a pretty picture.

You see the same dynamic with business videos as everyone jumps on the bandwagon.

Like the early days of desktop publishing, most people don’t have basic video skills much less the ability to tell a story through video.

Back to EE Times (targets an engineering audience), take a quick look at a recent video in which the reporter Mark LaPedus interviews an executive from Global Unichip Corp.

I venture to say the only people who watched all 399 “scintillating” seconds were Global Unichip employees.

I know LaPedus, and he’s a damn good reporter. No doubt the powers that be at EE Times have charged their reporters with creating videos but have neglected that one small detail called training.

On the positive side, compelling videos in the business realm are finding their way to various media platforms. And thanks to increasing demand, there’s a huge opportunity for those who can package a compelling yarn on video.


Transforming The “Engaged Reader” Into A Journalist

The concept of reader engagement championed in the blogosphere is now making the rounds in the traditional publishing world.

BusinessWeek serves as a good exhibit A.

MediaShift captured changes afoot at BW in a far-reaching post that included an interview with the big cheese himself, EIC John Byrne.

On the topic of reader engagement Byrne shared:

“We have had a very rigourous, very lively reader involvement on the site for a long time. In any given month, roughly 15,000 people participate in conversations on our site, but they are largely hidden from view. You have to either go into a blog and see how people are responding, or you have to go into a forum to see how people are exchanging views, or go to the end of a story to see the comments on it. We want to elevate those conversations and make them more apparent to everyone that these conversations are occurring …

“This is about elevating our conversation and giving credence to the rhetoric that everyone has, that the web is a dialogue and not a lecture. The truth is that very few people are delivering on it, having reporters actively engage with readers or elevating comments and saying, ‘This is as important as any story we have, any video we have, any audio we have.’”

Byrne went on to say:

“Time spent [on the BW Web site] is not as important to me as making a contribution to the site. I look at it as input and output. In any given month, we probably publish 800 to 1,000 stories on the site and get 15,000 comments in. So that’s about a 15-to-1 ratio and I want to triple that by the end of the year. So for every story we put out, I’d like to have 45 contributions from our readers.”

If BW inspires readers to pontificate with posted comments, no one can argue the virtues that come with such engagement.

John ByrneSo far I’m with you, Mr. Byrne.

But here’s where things go off track.

BusinessWeek is now looking to its readership to generate genuine editorial content as part of its engagement mantra.

Under the banner, “What’s Your problem? You’ve got workplace issues. Together, we’ll find answers,” the book is looking to readers to contribute essays, photos and even videos about the challenges that come with coping in today’s workplace.

Can the average Joe write compelling content?

Can people who don’t write for a living storytell in a way that captivates?

I’d say not likely.

And if you’re a grizzled reporter – or even an ungrizzled reporter – how do you feel about the arrival of amateur hour?

I’m guessing mixed feeling to say the least.

It will be interesting to see how this workplace content comes together starting August 14.

In the meantime, Mr. Byrne’s July 11 blog post hypes a new milestone at BusinessWeek: A column by an everyday reader cracked the top five most-read stories.

Ironically, the post didn’t generate one reader comment (as I put this view to rest), so reaching utopia in the form of a 45:1 ratio of user comments to story just took a hit.


That All Important First Graph

Take a look at the following opening paragraph in a recent Economist article:

“The porters at Trinity College, Cambridge, were puzzled by the faded, handwritten letter. They did not recognise the addressee’s name, and opened the envelope. Inside was a note which appeared to suggest a meeting; perhaps even a date. But that meeting probably never took place. The letter had been posted in March 1950 – and had been lost in the mail for 56 years.”

It sounds like another round of postal service bashing. After all, 56 years to deliver a letter takes “slowness” to a new level. Instead, the mini story kicks off a piece on a new technology that uses the satellite-based
Global Positioning System.

The opening paragraph in a recent story in BusinessWeek goes even further:

“It’s an ordinary day on Pete Ferrell’s 7,000-acre ranch in the Flint Hills of southeastern Kansas. Meaning, it’s really windy. When he drives his silver Toyota Tundra out of the canyon where the ranch buildings nestle, the truck rocks from the gusts. Up on top of a ridge, surrounded by a sweeping vista of low hills, rippling grass, and towering wind turbines that make you feel like a mouse scampering underfoot, Ferrell carefully navigates into a spot where the wind won’t damage the doors when they’re opened. Then he points to an old-style windmill, used for pumping water, which was erected by his father decades earlier when the ranch was in the throes of a drought. “That’s the windmill that saved us in the ’30s,” he explains, his voice growing husky with emotion.”

This is the type of stage setting you’d expect in fiction complete with the “voice growing husky with emotion.” Triggers an image of Lauren Bacall on the big screen.

Lauren BacallToday’s business and trade journalists – including those from the technology sphere – are increasingly charged with bringing an entertainment dimension to their writing.

Yet, it can be a revealing exercise for a company to step back and examine the content being developed to crack these targets particularly the all-too-elusive business media.

Facts and figures. Check.

Product features and benefits. Check.

But the elements that constitute good storytelling are often MIA.


About This Blog

Moby Dick Book CoverBusinesspeople tend to associate storytelling with fiction.

Yet, the same elements that make a book such as “Moby Dick” a compelling read - good versus evil, care for the characters, humor, etc. - have a place in the business world. Whether it’s a potential customer evaluating your product or a journalist probing your latest news, communicating information in a more entertaining fashion increases your likeability quotient.

And customers, journalists, job candidates and even gadflies gravitate toward companies they like.

Unfortunately, this concept around storytelling is counterintuitive to many business executives, particularly those coming from engineering orientations where science rules the day. I’m not suggesting you need to lose an appendage to a large mammal before anyone will notice you but the ability to build some drama in business communications is a means to capture attention.

That’s the idea behind this blog: To look at the art of storytelling through a business prism.

No doubt, most blog postings will draw from the media world – defining media as any from journalists to an individual with a virtual soapbox since the words are right there in the public domain to scrutinize. But this blog will strive to tackle the bigger challenge of communicating to the outside world in a more entertaining fashion.