Archive for June, 2010

Visual Storytelling via the InfoGraphic

I got the SlideShare religion because the platform simplifies the blending of words and visuals in storytelling.

But there are a number of ways to bring visuals to the fore, such as the infographic.

I was particularly impressed with the savvy displayed from a company called Infegy in creating an infographic on the vuvuzela, those pesky horns providing the “lovely background music” for World Cup matches.

 vuvuzela infographic

Adam Coomes, Infegy’s president, came up with the idea after watching the World Cup and seeing how the humble horn had garnered such attention in the news, blogs and tweets.

“That’s when I realized that it would be a good idea to get some official numbers about what people actually think about the vuvuzela,” explained Coomes. “Someone with no prior knowledge could spend five minutes reading the infographic and have a general idea of what a vivuzela is and its impact within the social media realm.”

No question, Infegy gets it right on multiple fronts:

  • Storytelling brings together history, numbers and anecdotes
  • Pursued a topic with a public profile that has spiked.
  • Professional-grade design thanks to Ben Stock Design.
  • Delivers levity; i.e., averages 127 decibels, that’s seven times more intense than a chainsaw (not to mention the difficulty of getting a chainsaw through security).

Plus, the company recognized that building an infographic solely around numbers from monitoring social media would come across as too self-serving and lack the verve of a multi-faceted edition.

The reward came in the form of pick-up by various online media properties, including Mashable.

One final point -

You might have noticed the infographic highlights that the data came from socialradar (product), not Infegy (company). It’s hard enough for a startup venture to build one brand, much less two, but we’ll save this story for another time.



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BP Crisis Brings Exxon Along for the Ride

exxon bp logo

The BP oil rig explosion just hit the two-month milestone.

At last count, I was one of 10,332 writers (my horseshoe-far number) who weighed in with a perspective or two on BP’s crisis communications.

Make that 10,333, with the BBC highlighting BP boss Tony Hayward’s gaffes.

A byproduct of BP’s PR nightmare involves the resurrection of the Exxon Valdez tanker spill that occurred more than 20 years ago.

Using the Factiva database (global version), we pulled up the number of articles that mention the Exxon Valdez crisis up to its two-month milestone. We also captured the number of articles on the BP crisis that included the Exxon Valdez spill, again using the two-month period from point of accident.

You can see how the data plays out below.

exxon coverage with bp

Graph source: http://www.hoffman.com/v3/images/exxongraph.jpg

For ExxonMobil brand stewards, this must make for a sobering read.

There have been almost twice as many articles mentioning the Exxon Valdez thanks to BP’s “gusher” than during the equivalent period when the Exxon accident actually happened.

Now, it’s true that the Exxon Valdez mainly serves as fringe fodder in the BP stories. Still, there’s a negative halo effect from the words “Exxon Valdez” being recounted 6,134 times in association with the BP tragedy.

Furthermore, as one rakes through this coverage, it becomes apparent that the BP crisis provides a reason for the media to dust off the Exxon Valdez story with a new peg for standalone attention.

That’s what The Guardian did under the headline “Exxon Valdez, and Still Waiting in Alaska“:

I just tripped across this interesting interview with lawyer Brian O’Neill, who has for two decades represented 2,600 Alaskans who made claims for damages against Exxon over the Valdez oil spill.

Those who subscribe to the escrow-fund-as-shakedown thesis might bear O’Neill’s tale in mind. Exxon fought the claims in court for nearly 20 years:

CNN: Did anything surprise you once you started representing the fishermen and taking on Exxon after the Valdez spill?

O’Neill: I thought that — like a lot of people think now with regard to BP — that Exxon would want to settle the case relatively early and move on and I was surprised a number of times with the fact that this was World War III to them, and they dealt with it that way …

For those counting at home, put this one under the negative sentiment category. 

That’s why ExxonMobil is going on the offensive by starting a blog (two categories: safety and miscellaneous) and flying CEO Russ Tillerson eastward to throw BP under the bus during testimony before the Energy and Environment Subcommittee last week:

Sticking to this system has required us to make some difficult decisions. We do not proceed with operations if we cannot do so safely. The American people have shown their support for deepwater drilling – but they expect it to be done safely and in an environmentally sensitive way.

Equally revealing, ExxonMobil is proactively reminding the world it spent $180 million trying to drill the world’s deepest offshore well before walking away from the unfinshed job because it was too dangerous.

Think about this for a moment.

ExxonMobil is bragging that it flushed 180,000,000 “Washingtons” down the drain.

I think it’s fair to say that the ExxonMobil communications team has figured that if they’re going to be pulled into the BP debacle, it behooves them to tell their 2010 story. 



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Has Anyone Seen My Anecdote?

help a reporter out

We’ve talked about the star power of the anecdote in storytelling.

Here’s yet another example.

Sarah Needleman at The Wall Street Journal sent out the following query on HARO:

I’m seeking small-business owners who struggle or used to struggle with reprimanding employees for poor performance or bad behavior. But I need more than just someone who can speak generally — I need an owner who can offer an anecdote that illustrates this problem. Maybe an owner was uncomfortable giving a stern talking to an employee who chronically came in late and then other employees started coming in late. Maybe an owner didn’t want to take sides between two fighting employees and one ended up quitting, resulting in a sudden staff shortage. The anecdote doesn’t need to be earth-shattering, just a real example of how hard it can be to be the tough guy or gal in a small work environment.

In short, she wants to ensure her story comes across as real through ”an owner who can offer an anecdote that illustrates the problem.”

Fast-forward to the actual article “Tough Love Isn’t Easy to Give” and those anecdotes come in the form of five companies:

  • Just Salad: Didn’t confront a poor performer who eventually got the ax
  • America By Mail: Too soft on a single dad who wasn’t doing the job
  • 2 Hound Design: Ignored a micro-manager who spied on employees
  • Tyler Barnett PR: Employee kept calling the big boss “buddy” and “pal”
  • Trye & Associates: Receptionist continued to break rule eating at her desk

It’s revealing to look at Needleman’s original query that zeroes in on business owners “who struggle.”

That’s what creates the mini drama.

Personally, I’d like to hear more about the receptionist who preferred to dine in during ALL office hours.

Was she sneaking in a couple Bonus Jacks in her purse to nibble on throughout the day?

Did she offer snacks to her colleagues (perhaps reducing the company’s take from the vending machines)?

How did she respond when scolded that she shouldn’t pick up the phone with her mouth full?

And how the heck does a receptionist end up spilling coffee on the guts of a phone system, ruining it beyond repair?

I suspect there’s another good story waiting to be told. 



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Aligning PR with Storytelling for the “Happily Ever After”

I noted earlier in the month that we got the SlideShare religion, using the social media site to tell our story through an unconventional credentials deck.

After evangelizing SlideShare as an ideal platform for storytelling, it occurred to me that we should develop a deck on the power of storytelling in business.

So that’s what we’ve done.

Taking a mix of pop culture, levity, science, and our experiences nudging clients out of the corporate-speak box, we’ve created the following as a primer for storytelling in business:

I attended the Innovation Journalism (InJo) conference last week, which was titled “Storytelling in the Time of Creative Destruction.” Between the speakers, workshops and informal dialog in the corridors, I came away with the impression that there’s still a sizable gap between what journalists need and what corporate communicators provide.

Hopefully, this presentation can be a resource.

We’d love to hear your input, including the perspectives of any storytelling disciples if this post reaches beyond the communications community.



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“Storytelling in the Age of Creative Destruction” Conference: Krishna Bharat From Google News

innovation journalism logo

The Innovation Journalism (InJo) Conference at Stanford kicked off yesterday.

Gathering 100+ journalists, academics and the like to scrutinize the telling of the innovation story makes for a lively dialog.

The opening session featured David Nordfors, founder of InJo, interviewing Krishna Bharat, the creator of Google News. Dubbed a “fireside chat,” I’m pleased to report both participants passed on the cardigan sweater (and no one lit the Duraflame log).

Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Putting Google on this stage struck me akin to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao keynoting an ACLU dinner.

But everyone was cordial if not downright polite.

Bharat started by sharing how the 9/11 tragedy served as the catalyst for Google News. He realized it took considerable effort and time to gather a cross-section of stories on the attack. That backdrop gave rise to Google News.

Nordfors tried to nudge Bharat out of his comfort zone and Timothy Dickinson from Rolling Stone probed about Google’s responsibility to the business of journalism. While Bharat stayed on script for the most part, I thought there were a few comments that offered hints on where Google is taking the platform.

One quick caveat – I did not record the session and my note-taking is not industrial grade. I’ve done my best to capture Bharat’s words.bahrat google

Bharat: Journalists should worry about creating content and leave it to others to get the content to the audience.

My Take: By leave it to others, I wasn’t sure if he meant a publication’s businesspeople or companies like Google. Regardless, journalists do worry about this issue since the online distribution of their content has undermined revenue generation and pink-slipped so many of their compadres.

One element that doesn’t get a lot of discussion is the more experienced journalists end up in the line of fire because of their higher salaries. During my morning workshop, Peter Lewis who many may remember from his Fortune days but is now a Knight Fellow in Journalism at Stanford, mentioned that CNN cut their entire science staff. As a result, the media property is forced to cover a crisis like the BP oil spill with generalists.

Bharat: Once you intersperse hard news with everything else, it’s tough for a publication to distinguish itself.

My Take: Google believes the hard news biz will go the way of auto manufacturing; i.e., a few deep-pocketed publishers with scale will own the space. I got the sense that Google anticipates the bulk of consolidation in the publishing industry has yet to occur. Now there’s a sobering thought.

Bharat: The process for purchasing journalism needs to become easier and simpler.

My Take: This one perplexed me. I’ve never been stumped by a publication’s subscription form, this from a person called “mechanically declined” by his brother. On the other hand, I got the vibe that Google aspires to become the PayPal for digital content.

If you’re interested in a deeper look, Mark Glaser interviewed Bharat back in February in the MediaShift story “Google News to Publishers: Let’s Make Love Not War.”

You can track the conference through Wednesday on Twitter at #injo7.  

One last point to share on Day 1 of the conference -

Nordfors explained that his program has been renamed the Stanford Center of Innovation and Communication.

The name change recognizes that the ecosystem surrounding innovation and communicating to the outside world encompasses a range of players, including PR.

After the dust settles from the conference, I hope to get time with Nordfors for an interview on his program and the general topic of storytelling.



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