Archive for November, 2010

BusinessWeek Blurs Line Between Advertising And Editorial

The concept of advertorials is not new.

I’m sure if the early publishers of the Bible accepted advertising, we would have seen pitches for flint stones packaged as psalms.

Fast-forwarding to today, it stands to reason that the never-ending economic pressures on publishers causes them to wade further into the gray area in exchange for revenue.

Still, the November 22-28 Bloomberg BusinessWeek issue crosses the line in my view.

Take a look at the full-page ad from the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) - conceivable that the government agency, Ministry of Economic Affairs of Taiwan, threw in a few dollars – that appeared in BusinessWeek.

For a larger view, click here.

Yes, I can see the word “Advertisement” in 18-point type at the top of the page.

But why would you allow an advertiser to mimic the editorial package of the annual Interbrand study with its very own Interbrand study? More to the point, why would you allow an advertiser to take a shot at deceiving the readership that the content comes from BusinessWeek journalists?

Perhaps BusinessWeek figured designing the lines justified left and right instead of BusinessWeek’s customary ragged right would keep the reader from straying into delusions of journalism. By the way, I wonder if BW forced TAITRA to set its own type. Those word gaps are unsightly indeed.

To the credit – or discredit depending on your point of view - TAITRA crafts sophisticated copy using the quotes from Julian Barrans, MD of Interbrand Singapore, to make subjective claims like:

Such encouraging progress clearly indicates that Taiwan’s top brands are now becoming real challenges on the world stage.

Ironically, TAITRA presents the Interbrand study in a more journalistically true state on its website:

Note TAITRA doesn’t include the companies’ logos or the puff company descriptions.

Back to the big picture -

Great business storytelling should be both authentic and transparent.

I have nothing against storytelling in ads.

Heck, some of my best friends are ad copywriters.

And I’ve made the point in a previous post that advertising gets the power of narrative more than other forms of communications, including PR.

But I also think media properties should make it easy for the reader to understand if information comes from a journalist, a third party or a paid source.

This is getting tougher to discern, particularly online.

What do you think?

Much ado about nada?

Would welcome hearing your perspectives.


Putting A “Face” On A Company

Everybody knows technology rules Silicon Valley.

That’s why Larry Ellison chastising HP plays out locally like “Desperate Housewives.”

That’s why you can find memory chips next to beef jerky on the way to checkout counters at stores like Fry’s. 

The engineering mindset that permeates the Valley often finds marketing, much less storytelling, to be a superficial concept. By engineering logic, the buyer will simply choose the best product based on a defined set of attributes.    

Of course, it’s not that simple.

Intangibles come into play.

It doesn’t matter whether the company sells digital music players, servers or FPGAs, the buyer likes it when he or she feels there are actual people behind a company name.

That’s one of the greatest strengths of social media. Communication platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and others enable a company to engage with the world beyond its office corridors in a way that wasn’t possible before.

Social media helps put a “face” on a company.

It’s interesting to look at one of the most technical companies in the world, Intel.

The company’s R&D investment last fiscal year came in at $5.7 billion. Few companies can match Intel when it comes to sheer number of technological advancements.

Now consider the foundation of Intel’s outbound communications for many years revolved around the “Intel Inside” campaign.

And what precisely was inside?

An esoteric microprocessor with certain features and a benefit that typically focused on speed; i.e., our chip makes computers go fast.

This approach works as long as you’re the fastest chip in town. But what happens when the competition surpasses Intel in the speed game or a new game emerges such as power consumption?

That’s why you see Intel devoting more time and resources to building the Intel brand. As part of this brand-building effort, Intel is striving to humanize the company – to put a face on the company – through its people.

The best example of this surfaced last year when Intel created the campaign that spotlighted its scientists. Called “our rock stars are different than your rock stars,” the videos show Intel scientists getting rock-star like-treatment walking into rooms with guitars pulsating and fans fawning.

The video that attracted the most attention focused on Ajay Bhatt, the brains behind the invention of the USB port on PCs, which became a YouTube sensation.

In fact, the viral nature of the video caused Bhatt’s fame to rise to the point that he appeared on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien (before Team Coco moved to TBS).

Here’s a second example of Intel humanizing the company through its people that hasn’t gained the notoriety of Ajay Bhatt and his science posse.

Do an online search on Genevieve Bell who spearheads Intel’s social science effort and you’ll find an avalanche of articles. This is a person who before Intel was teaching anthropology at Stanford.

genevieve bell fortune

Why is Intel making a concentrated effort to build her public profile?

Again, it comes back to putting a face on the company.I do think campaigns like the one from Intel remind others it’s not ONLY about the technology.

And in the case of Bell, Intel gains the second benefit of showing its right-brain side through Bell’s mission to bring the human element to technology. 

I’m not ready to say Silicon Valley and tech companies have jumped on the “let’s-share-our-humanity” bandwagon (cue up the kumbayas).        

People count too.


To Not Storytell Deprives Readers Of The Ability To Understand

storytelling to help understanding

If you’re a communicator or care about communications, the Nieman Journalism Lab should be on your radar.

The media property does a terrific job of probing journalism from all directions.

A Friday article, Covering a Crisis More Like Molasses than Quicksand, that looks at the challenges for journalists in covering a “never-ending” crisis caught my attention.

Think BP in the Gulf.

A crisis without an end is a story without an end.

And a story without an end isn’t really a story.

OK, just wanted to show my college philosophy class on Nietzsche and existentialism wasn’t a waste.

The point is, deeper in the post Andrea Pitzer, editor of sister site Nieman Storyboard, offers a perspective on storytelling with relevance to all types of communications:

… simple storytelling — the ancient art of weaving together characters and plots and excitement — can be crucial … Narrative is really how people understand public crisis.

Pitzer goes on to say:

Study after study has suggested the power of story not just as an artistic product, but as a cognitive function. Narrative buys people’s attention, allows them to retain complex information longer…

And the clincher:

… if we don’t consciously weave disparate facts into a recognizable arc of action — “we are in some way denying them the ability to understand.”

What an interesting way to package the value proposition of storytelling: The absence of storytelling denies people the ability to understand information.

P.S. In preparation for the panel discussion that resulted in the covering-a-crisis post, Pitzer penned the piece, “Statistics and Storytelling: The Grudge Match.” Beyond terrific writing — “But even if we concede the existence of a buffet of empty-calorie narratives …” — it’s a thought provoking post worth saving in the storytelling file.


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Nancy Duarte Talk Shines Spotlight On Storytelling

It was standing room only at the Agency’s “Playing Field” yesterday to hear Nancy Duarte share her wisdom on how to create a presentation that grabs the audience by the scruff of the neck.

Most communicators know Nancy from her breakthrough book, slide:ology.

She recently published book No. 2, resonate, which dives into the type of content that truly engages an audience.

Through exhaustive research – speeches, screenplays, Greek tragedies, etc. – Nancy discovered all of these powerful stories follow the same framework, moving back and forth between “what is” and “what could be.”

nancy duarte what is what will be

It’s the gap between the two scenarios that creates interest and even drama.

The thinking is similar to our storytelling techniques in which we contrast “what was” with “what is.”

The part of Nancy’s talk that I thought was particularly insightful involved analyzing the 2007 Steve Jobs presentation that launched the iPhone and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous I Have a Dream speech.

You know how ESPN basketball announcer Hubie Brown will break down a sequence from a Lakers and Celtics game during a stoppage in play? That’s essentially what Nancy did with these two communications.

Very cool.

The same way our clients must translate complexity into an understandable narrative, Martin Luther King Jr. had to address incredibly complex societal issues.

nancy duarte martin luther king

As Nancy explained, King partly accomplished this through metaphors:

America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

with the payoff later into the speech:

So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

There’s a reason 47+ years later the King speech resurfaces in discussions.

One final point from the talk -

Be brave, allowing your passion to flow to the audience.

By the way, Nancy’s presentation did grab the audience by the scruff of the neck.

P.S. Yesterday also caused me to reflect on our own visual storytelling. As you know, we’ve embraced SlideShare, with our Aligning PR with Storytelling for the Happilly Ever After deck securing over 7,000 views (between the first upload and the contest version).

What you probably don’t know is Stephanie Phua, who interned in our Singapore office, designed these decks. It turns out that Second Chartered Bank is conducting a contest to find the “World’s Coolest Intern” and Ms. Phua has made the final 10. If the bank defines “coolest” as having a passion for social media, being relentlessly curious and open to feedback, then Stephanie deserves ice-cube status.  


Storytelling in a News Release: Are You Fit for a Phone?

I’m convinced that storytelling in news releases increases syndication.

While the wire services don’t track this type of data, our own experiences support the premise.

Apparently, Gold’s Gym agrees, applying storytelling techniques to a news release distributed yesterday with the headline:

Are You Fit Enough For Your Own Phone?

Gold’s figured out announcing yet another discount on membership fees or the latest equipment to build those deltoids wasn’t going to register on the media’s radar.

Instead, the release sets up the problem tied to mobile-phone mania with no mention of Gold’s:

It’s become a ubiquitous part of our culture: People everywhere hunched over tiny screens, cramping their hands to type on miniature-sized keyboards or tilting their necks to listen to a call. All you have to do is look at the multi-tasking driver next to you on the highway and it’s easy to see that Americans are addicted to their smart phones. Now it turns out our addiction may be taking a physical toll.

From there, they bring in Dr. Eric Plasker, a chiropractor, to pontificate on horrible conditions such as “Blackberry Thumb” and what’s called “Cell-bow,” which occurs when a person damages a nerve in the arm by bending their elbows too tightly for too long.

I think this is also the ailment Guy Fieri on the Food Network deals with from what he calls the “hunch,” the same bending of elbows to stabilize sandwiches before indulging.

Moving along.

On the negative side, I can’t say the melodrama works for me:

The stats are staggering … Americans spend 6.1 billion wireless minutes chatting on the phone each day; that’s equivalent to 11,600 years of talking within a 24-hour period.

Really … 1,600 years?

But the idea of explaining the problem over four paragraphs before spotlighting the payoff, Gold’s “Fit for the Phone Workout” works.

I also appreciate the attempt at levity in the news release:

The goal is to help eliminate these pesky mobile maladies … one smartphone user at a time.

Last, the release outlines several exercises that can be done at your desk or on the go to fight “smartphone-itis.”

Looking at the past 24 hours, the syndication coverage is already flowing with media ranging from Wireless and Mobile News to WTHR in Indianapolis.

Sure, most of the coverage comes from pure syndication, but there is a human element at work as well.

The key lies in telling a story with broad appeal that the media property can rework in a few minutes. You can see an example of this in the Wireless and Mobile News lead graph:

People hunching over tiny screens, cramping their hands to type on miniature-sized keyboards or tilting their necks to listen to a call, are stressing their bodies.  Gold’s Gym offers exercises to help. 

Kudos to Gold’s and its communications team for brains over brawn (couldn’t resist).

P.S. Appreciate Judy Radlinksy in our Silicon Valley office flagging the Gold’s news release.


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