Archive for December, 2010

Top Storytelling Techniques Posts From 2010 (Part II)

top posts of 2010

Yesterday’s post highlighted half of my list of favorite posts from 2010.

Here’s the second half of the list. 

7) Aligning PR with Storytelling for the Happily Ever After
We got the SlideShare religion this year. 
Using the medium, we walk the viewer through the power of storytelling techniques in building content for public relations.
8) I Think They Missed the Picture, Literally

Looking to diversify from mailing labels, Avery Dennison creates what are essentially big-boy decals for cars.

But the story missed the most obvious visual to bring the story to life.

Like an actual car showing off the new look?

Geez, the story is not about Rudy Widjaja, Nita Riady, James Hartono, and the rest of the local execs. It’s about dressing up cars.

9) 10 Ways Communicators Must Evolve

As part of the #444PR series, this post examines what it’s going to take for tomorrow’s communicators to be effective.

The profession still resists the point, ”lose control”:

I don’t mean rush the stage at a Lady Gaga concert.

I’m talking about giving up the old-fashion quest to control the message.

In spite of all the blather about “engagement,” many practitioners still adhere to a control and command mentality.

And it’s not just about the message.

It’s time to let go in transforming employees into communicators.

If you prefer, there’s a SideShare version of the post.

10) Reuters EIC: The Conversation About the Story is as Important as the Story Itself

I still don’t understand why the blog post from David Schlesinger didn’t garner more attention.

Here you have the head of Reuters, one of the largest news organizations in the world, telling the troops that he’s charging the social media hill.

There’s poetic sensibility in his words:

Knowing the story is not enough.

Telling the story is only the beginning.

The conversation about the story is as important as the story itself.

This is a far cry from the days of Walter Cronkite telling everyone what to think Monday through Friday at 6 p.m. From Schlesinger’s perspective, the journalist takes on the dual role of reporting as well as pulling in other relevant information from others who may or may not be professionals.

11) Nancy Duarte Talk Shines Spotlight on Storytelling

Nancy was gracious enough to take the stage at the Agency.  

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.”

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

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.

Nice touch by our ace photographer Carlos Mangandy to capture Nancy in a pose similar to Martin Luther King Jr.

12) Where Did Journalist Julian Assange Get His PR Degree?

Lost in WikiLeaksMania, Julian Assange has shown the PR savvy of a seasoned pro.

With dot-connecting analysis, we shared with the world how Assange maximized publicity.

Typical PR thinking would have shotguned a news release out to the world with a pointer to the digital treasure trove of governmental pillow talk.

More is better.

That’s not how Assange maximized the communications impact.

He did just the opposite.

He created scarcity, not abundance, by offering access to only four publications: Le Monde (France), El Pais (Spain), The Guardian (the UK), and Der Spiegel (Germany).

Yes, the irony is rich.

Thanks for tuning into this forum, not just today but throughout the year.

Without further adieu, we turn our attention to 2011. 

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Top Storytelling Techniques Posts From 2010 (Part I)

2010 top posts

It’s been a good year for Ishmael’s Corner.

Readership is up and WordPress still doesn’t charge.

No question, Steve Farnsworth’s invitation to participate in the #444PR forum (answer four questions over a four-week period) along with Paul Roberts and Todd Defren proved to be the biggest boost to bringing more folks to the site.

Reflecting on the past year, I’ve highlighted my personal favorites.

Here’s the first half of the list:

1) Open Letter to Toyota Customers Hits Pothole

Toyota dominated the business headlines for several weeks, never quite able to hit the right communications note to diffuse the crisis.

Its open letter to customers set a tone that I dissected in what was the most-read post in 2010.

The second line can only be described as Clintonesque:

I am truly sorry for the concern our recalls have caused, and want you to know we’re doing everything we can – as fast as we can – to make things right.

Notice that Toyota stays away from apologizing for an accelerator that seems to have a mind of its own. Instead, they’re sorry — no, make that “truly sorry” — that they caused heartburn from implementing the recall.

This type of language gamesmanship causes the customer to check out before getting to the part that matters – that Toyota is going “to make things right.”

2) Storytelling 140 Characters at a Time … Not

I conducted an experiment in micro-storytelling, reworking the first graph of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” into a tweet stream.

No nomination for a Pulitzer was forthcoming.

Nonetheless, an excerpt follows:

Here’s another proof point- the boy always goes down to help the guy carry his coiled lines.

If it’s pathetic, it’s not functional. If it’s functional, it’s not pathetic. That’s my deep sea thinking for the day

I saw the sail … pathetic #tiger.

I agree with @ernest- saw the boy help carry the gaff and harpoon and even the sail furled around the mast.

Pathetic but functional #rachelray.

3) Essay Makes Case for More School, But Student Writing Skills Seem Just “Fine”
Everyone criticizes the American education system for not keeping pace with the rest of the world.
Refuting this claim, I shared writing from actual high school essays.  

“Long seperated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.”

On one hand, you shouldn’t feel like you’re taking the SAT to figure out a love story. On the other hand, the ambiguity pulls you in because you can’t be 100 percent sure when the lovers will actually collide.

4) The Wall Street Journal Prints Lame Name-calling Article

No one can ever accuse this blogger of only depending on the kindness (content) of others.

The Journal deemed Google poaching a Sun employee who had criticized Apple in his personal blog as worthy of an article.

This prompted my own digging. 

“It’s a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers,” Mr. Bray wrote on his personal Web site. “I hate it.”

Perhaps with Madoff fading into the background, The Journal has a surplus of investigative bandwidth.

Can you imagine?

A company criticizing a competitor.

5) Storytelling in Warren Buffet Shareholder Letter

I’m hoping there’s a correlation between Warren Buffett’s gifts to make money and storytelling.

His 2010 shareholder letter provided the fodder for this post:  

Long ago, Charlie laid out his strongest ambition: “All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there.” That bit of wisdom was inspired by Jacobi, the great Prussian mathematician, who counseled “Invert, always invert” as an aid to solving difficult problems. (I can report as well that this inversion approach works on a less lofty level: Sing a country song in reverse, and you will quickly recover your car, house and wife.)

I just tried this with a Merle Haggard tune and it works, a sad reminder that no matter how many times I played the Beatles song “I Am The Walrus” backwards, I could never make out “Paul is dead.”

He’s right.

6) Storytelling in Social Media and Traditional Media

This post came in second to the Toyota customer letter in terms of popularity.

After speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing on storytelling, a Chinese magazine interviewed me on the topic. This post encapsulates my answers.

The vast majority of people have been programmed to think business is serious so their communication must be dry and boring and, yes, serious.

On the positive side, if you can create a personality, it literally becomes a differentiator in this sea of sameness … which is where storytelling comes in.

Storytelling can become a powerful tool in creating a company’s personality.

I’ll share the remaining six tomorrow.


The Bursting of the Cupcake Bubble, Take Two

My predictions for Silicon Valley in 2011 highlighted the bursting of the cupcake bubble.

Yesterday, Kara’s Cupcakes showed up on our door step with a box of cupcakes and a note that read:

Here is a little piece of the bubble before it bursts. Enjoy!

How can one not be impressed with their sense of humor and ability to move on a dime at the grassroots level.

Thanks to the art direction and photography of my wife Heather, here are a few pre-bubble photos of the cupcakes.

Now, an aerial view.

And a tighter shot, again from above.


But there’s something deeper going on here.

The unexpected.

It’s not just storytelling that benefits from the unexpected.

The unexpected in life can inspire, amaze or simply prompt a smile.

Even the unexpected in a mundane form – taking the garbage cans to the curb on Wednesday night without being asked – can cause an unspoken “wow.”

I’m thinking a little more unexpected in the world would be a good thing.


UPS Again Shows Storytelling Chops

UPS continues to apply storytelling techniques

I talked about the communications savvy from UPS earlier in the year.

By applying storytelling techniques to a topic that typically falls under the dull category, UPS secured a feature in The Wall Street Journal entitled “UPS Thinks Outside the Box on Driving Training.”

I am a sucker for puns.

Lest you think this was a one-off success, check out the Bloomberg Businesweek piece called “Squeezing More Green Out of Brown.”

A terrific anecdote kicks off the story:

UPS managers are efficiency freaks. The company, for example, tells drivers to avoid left turns because they take longer than rights.

Who says that high school geometry class won’t come in handy in real life?

The story goes on to explain that UPS is outfitting its trucks with telematics systems that will monitor over 200 variables including how often and hard those UPS drivers step on the brakes.

I’m guessing screeching to a halt doesn’t go over well at the UPS HQ.

Why does UPS craft a story about internal operations?

Because the communications team recognizes the act of transporting a package from point A to point B isn’t going to crack a heavyweight business publication.

And you don’t find the UPS executives putting the kibosh on the efficiency story saying, “Tell me again how this type of story will bring in more customers and cause current customers to increase their spend.” They recognize any communication that shows the company’s smarts ultimately flows as goodness into the brand.

It’s also worth noting that UPS crafted the story with a strong visual element.

It’s not exactly an infographic but more sophisticated than the infoart found in USA Today.

Let’s call it ”story visualization.”

The next time an UPS driver stops by our office, I’ll be looking to see if the ignition key is properly dangling from his or her pinkie finger (another efficiency technique).



Top Five Predictions For Silicon Valley In 2011

I write a column on Silicon Valley for a tech publication in Korea called The Electronics Times.

The editor asked me to take a shot at predicting what will happen in Silicon Valley in 2011.

Here’s what got edited out of the column (apparently storytelling techniques with a touch of levity don’t resonate overseas):

The Cupcake Bubble Hits the Fan

The rubble from the dot-com bubble is still etched in our minds.

More recently, the subprime mortgage fiasco wreaked havoc in Silicon Valley and across the U.S.

Next year, we will witness the bursting of the cupcake bubble.

That’s right.

The proliferation of cupcakes simply isn’t sustainable.

With thanks to my crack research team, check out the following back-of-the-envelope chart: 

cupcake market

Sure, the number of target buyers has bounced back to 2007 levels, but supply has gone berserk.

Assuming 10 percent of the target buyers like cupcakes enough to pay for premium – no sure bet – they’re going to need to average roughly 1.5 cupcakes per working day to consume capacity.

Unless the cupcake makers can somehow tap into more of a mainstream audience, there’s no way affluent Silicon Valley buyers can support so many merchants in a niche space.

Spat Between HP and Oracle Escalates

It’s easy to watch the friction between HP and Oracle and call it petty.

No doubt, Larry Ellison took great delight in hiring Mark Hurd after HP gave him the boot. But this battle goes much deeper than the executive personalities.

Oracle wants to be in the hardware business. By acquiring Sun, Oracle entered one of the few hardware segments that still produces decent profit margins: storage systems.

HP wants to be in the software business. They’ve always coveted IBM profits derived from software and how software feeds another high-margin business, consulting services.

If I was Larry, I would regularly sweep the humble abode – including the koi pond – for listening devices.

TechCrunch Experiences Seller’s Remorse

If you read the TechCrunch “backstory” you’ll find one “little” item conspicuously absent … the AOL acquisition.

I’m guessing TechCrunch’s branding strategy doesn’t include touting AOL ownership.

I know AOL CEO Tim Armstrong said at the announcement, “We’ll try to be as hands-off as possible.”

But everyone always utters the “hands-off” words after consummating the deal (except BusinessWeek, which knew the iron fist of Bloomberg would soon descend).

It’s only a matter of time before the AOL mahogany-row-ites offer their “suggestions” on how to increase organic traffic.

Warren Buffet Makes Silicon Valley Investment

Mr. Buffet has shunned Silicon Valley because by his own admission he didn’t understand technology.

But after playing enough bridge games with Bill Gates and grasping the difference between ASICs and FPGAs, he’s ready to make the plunge. 

Plus, after investing in Chinese auto and battery company BYD, Silicon Valley companies seem like treasury bonds. 

Woodside High School Offers Blogging Class 

It all started with a blog called “Good Morning Geek” penned by a 12-year-old boy. 

A Woodside High parent gets wind of GMG, e-mails the link to her mahjong posse, and within 48 hours a firestorm ensues. 

How can a kid who’s not even in high school churn out cogent posts on topics ranging from the benefits of Tumblr to coding on Android while our kids think WordPress comes from a winery started by out-of-work journalists? 

That’s how Blogging 101 ends up being added to Woodside High’s English curriculum in 2011. 

If you’ve got your own predictions on Silicon Valley for 2011, jump in. 

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