Archive for May, 2011

Speaking of Storytelling

I took the “story” on the road during the month of May.

As a closet introvert, I make a conscious effort to push myself beyond cubicleland.

Here’s a snapshot of how May played out.

UnGeeked Elite in Chicago (May 12)

Cd Vann has created the “uncola” of gathering. The speakers are charged with leading a discussion, not pontificating via a slide presentation.

I spoke on building brands through storytelling.

The session proved be extremely interactive … thankfully because I followed Cd’s instructions and kept my visuals to a bare minimum.

I particularly enjoyed the discussion on how the “About Us” section on web sites is a wasted opportunity most of the time. Rishi Tea, a company with a compelling story, served as an exhibit A (with the permission of the social media head in attendance).

Innovation Journalism Conference at Stanford (May 23)

This year’s conference included a communications track for the first time.

I moderated a panel on “paid media vs. earned media vs. owned media.”

To say the sparks were flying might be an overstatement but the topic definitely offered fodder for varied takes.

As I shared during the intro:

You have journalists acting as communicators, promoting their stories through Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. You have communicators acting as journalists, churning out newspaper-like copy. You have companies supplementing – some might argue bypassing – third-party media in creating their own media properties that reflect many of the same tenants of their objective brethren. Take Red Bull for example and its decision to publish and sell a magazine called the Red Bulletin.

Kudos to panelists Fredrik Winterlind, VP of global marketing at Black & Veatch; Sarah Granger, social media innovator and consultant; and Tom Foremski who’s built Silicon Valley Watcher into a must read in the tech sector.

While not on storytelling per say, there was a consensus among the panelists that if the content is good, the source takes a back seat.

Storytelling Workshop (May 26)

We’ve been conducting storytelling workshops for corporations for several years.

I think it’s fair to say they advance the story.

But the session last week was unique, tag teaming with Pete Lewis who spent a number of years reporting for the New York Times and Fortune.

Blending the journalist and communications perspectives added a fresh dimension to the curriculum.

Along this line, journalists don’t want to talk with executives who parrot the party line and communicators are striving to help executives embrace conversational language.

I have a theory that stiffness of language increases as the executive moves up the corporate ladder.

Simply evolving an executive’s style to embrace conversational language and talk like a “human being” often constitutes progress.

No comments

The Old “Smog-eating Building” Story

There are certain storylines that never go out of style.

David slays Goliath.

Greed isn’t good. (Sorry, Gordy.)


Variations of these themes serve as springboards to business stories all the time.

While I don’t think it’s going to become a classic, Alcoa deserves credit for coining a phrase that demands attention:

Smog-eating building

One doesn’t typically think of a building as an action hero.

While the phrase didn’t make the news release, it dominated Alcoa’s owned media in the campaign.

I can imagine the dialog between Alcoa’s communications team and the engineers going something like this: 

Engineers: It’s critical that we explain how this technology breaks down organic matter.

Communications: Right. We’ll absolutely do this, but let’s find a way to package the story so the average person can relate to it.

Engineers: Why do we care about the average person? It’s not like he’s going to stop by Home Depot and say, “Hank, give me 300 aluminum panels and make it snappy.”

(Engineers can’t completely muffle their chuckles.)

Communications: True. But this announcement offers a way to showcase Alcoa’s innovation to all audiences including the average person … who does by the way stop by the Home Depot to buy products like our Mastic Brown Aluminum Gutters conveniently offered in a 10-pack, I might add. Look, I don’t want this to come off as negative, but it’s not like we’re churning out innovation after innovation in aluminum panels. We need to really milk this one.

Engineers: OK. (Uttered in a begrudging tone.) What do you have in mind?

Communications: We came up with the perfect phrase to kick off the story: “smog-eating buildings.”

Engineers: That’s just great. And let’s design a poster with Godzilla on the top of the Empire State Building battling the nasty carbon monoxides of the world.

Communications: Now, that might be stretching the metaphor too far. (Missing the sarcasm.)

Engineers: Are you crazy! No way. Even if we liked the phrase – which we don’t – it’s technically inaccurate.

Communications: Technically inaccurate?

Engineers: Exactly. Think about what constitutes a building. Windows. Two-by-fours. Steel beams. Sheetrock. Bad art. To imply that the ENTIRE building eats smog would be a gross exaggeration.

Communications: Anything else?

Engineers: Look, I don’t want to come off as negative, but every word in your phrase is technically inaccurate.

Communications: Let’s hear it.

Engineers: We’ve already established that it’s not the building. It’s the aluminum panels. Plus, the panels don’t eat anything. Eating implies the mastication of food for nourishment. In our case, free radicals infiltrate the molecules of organic matter and break them down into harmless particles. Does that sound like a meal to you?

Communications: Got it.

Engineers: Even the word smog isn’t right. Smog is one form of air pollution produced by the photochemical reaction of sunlight with hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. We go beyond smog … like diesel fumes and bird poop.

Communications: That’s good to know. We won’t use the phrase on the data sheet. But we are going to move forward with the phrase for other marketing purposes.

Alcoa’s reward for applying storytelling techniques to an announcement on aluminum panels:

Coverage in publications ranging from Forbes to Fast Company to even USA Today.

I don’t think aluminum panels have enjoyed such a high profile since Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito in Tin Men.

No comments

Q&A With Amy Tenderich, The Voice Behind One Of The Top Healthcare Blogs, Part II

amy tenderich blogAmy Tenderich highlighted her gonzo journalism style in the first half of the interview yesterday.

What I particularly like about her blog is the eclectic mix of content shared with a conversational tone.

As Amy puts it, her philosophy for attracting readers is simple -”Fresh content gets attention.”

I ran the first part of the interview yesterday. Here’s the second half.

Q: An advocacy theme comes through loud and clear on your blog.

A: You can go to any website and read about a drug for diabetes, but you don’t really know the effects until people use it over a period of time. For example, there’s a drug called Victoza for Type 2 diabetes that was approved by the FDA last year. The dosage is tricky. Our site has become the default user forum for Victoza. I did a post called “The Jury’s Still Out on Victoza” that got over 600 comments and continues to get comments today.

Note: If you plug “Victoza” into Google, the post comes up fourth, showing the power of content relevance (and perhaps that those Google algorithms put a premium on posted comments).

victoza search

Q: It’s not practical to respond to over 600 comments.

A: There’s no need to. The conversation takes its own course driven by the community. I do read all the comments and will weigh in if someone specifically addresses me.

Q: It must be satisfying to make this type of difference.

nick lozarA: It’s a great feeling. We’re there for each other. For example, a marine was diagnosed with diabetes and was going to be kicked out the service. He fought the process through education and eventually won. This type of story inspires others.

Note: U.S. Marine Nick Lozar penned a guest post with this opener: “The United State Marine Corps. The few. The proud. The diabetic?”

Q: After doing this for so many years, do you ever have days when it’s tough to come up with a topic for a post?

A: Are you kidding? Every morsel that goes into your mouth matters. There’s the social side to diabetes. There are the drugs. There are the gadgets. The complexity around diabetes means I never run out of topics.

Q: I love the conversational tone in your writing.

A: From day one, I imagined myself sitting across the table from another person and talking. That’s the way I write.

Q: The realness of your posts can certainly get one’s attention, like your recent post called “Losing Control.”

A: It helps to periodically vent.

Seven years into this thing, I think I am officially experiencing diabetes burnout – in the form of food rebellion, that is.  My numbers have been crap, and I am feeling disgusted with myself. Sound familiar, anyone? …

I am SO TIRED of watching people around me enjoy pancakes, cupcakes, French Fries, pasta – even something as supposedly healthful as crab cakes, which I can never order in restaurant as they are always doused in flour.  When is it my turn to enjoy yummy foods again? When I’m dead? …

It’s a big fat guessing game, and I am tired of it. I suppose my current attitude is simply: Why try? I know that’s not sustainable; I’m struggling to ‘get it together’ again.  I hope y’all don’t mind my venting, but I figured it might do somebody some good out there to know that we PWDs are all riding the same roller coaster. {insert rebel yell!} 
                    Losing Control
                    ”Diabetes Mine,” March 4, 2011

Q: Do you see social networking evolving from generic platforms like Facebook to social networks based on special interests? Because that’s really what you’ve created.

A: I think so. If I wasn’t friends with you in high school, why would I want to be friends with you now? Plus, people don’t want their aunts, uncles and business colleagues hearing a stream of talk about their diabetes. That’s why specialized social networks work well in health care.

Q: After putting your heart and soul into the blog for so many years, was it tough to sell the property?

A: I had been consulting to Alliance Health Networks since 2008, so we knew each other. The trust was there. They had a blueprint for expanding the community called Diabetic Connect, which I started running as the community manager. But back then they wanted my input on what they should do. What they shouldn’t do. They listened to me, which again built the trust.

Q: What’s ahead?

A: I mentioned Diabetic Connect. It’s all about how we can serve our audience. For example, we created what’s called the “DiabetesMine Design Challenge,” which is a contest for designing a new diabetes gadget or Web app. It’s a $25K innovation competition thanks to support from the California HealthCare Foundation and IDEO Design. I’m also speaking at various forums like the Medicine 2.0 Summit at Stanford in September. And I think there’s an opportunity to consult in areas like how the smartphone could be applied for diabetic care.

Q: No rest for the weary.

A: That wouldn’t be fun. 

Forget the blurring of the lines in social media.

The lines completely disappear on Diabetes Mine.

You find the fundamentals of good journalism on Amy’s site.

She’s not afraid to take on big-time pharma with hard-hitting stories (10 Reasons Why The Actos Pre Diabetes Study is Dumb).

But she’s hardly objective, bringing a strong POV as an advocate for diabetics.

And her touch points and knowledge make her a natural to consult in the space.

To try to categorize Amy’s work misses the point.

Given her following, clearly she’s delivering something valued by her readers. 

No comments

Q&A with Amy Tenderich, The Voice Behind One Of The Top Healthcare Blogs

diabetes blogTaking liberty with lyrics from a Rod Stewart song, “every blogger has a story.”

By interviewing brilliant bloggers who don’t have Scoble-like notoriety, I hope to share what’s behind their distinctive voices and followings.

I’ve run Q&As with Max Swisher, the 12-year-old who started Good Morning Geek, and Millie Garfield, who’s still going strong at 85.

For my third interview, I spoke with Amy Tenderich who started Diabetes Mine in 2005 after learning she had Type 1 diabetes. By 2007, she landed on Forbes’ must-read health blogs list and earlier this year achieved what many bloggers would consider utopia, selling her property to the Alliance Health Networks.

If you want to see the mantra – blog about your passion – in action, check out Amy’s posts.

Amy was kind enough to talk with me about her blog, the voice she puts forth and a new tag line for the Marine Corps. 

Q: Considering you started your blog in 2005, you were a pioneer in bringing social media to health care.

A: When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I turned to Google, searched on “diabetes foot care” and got millions of hits. What does this mean? That I can’t wear sandals? I wanted to use the Internet to connect with other people and get a reality check on what the doctors were telling me. Unfortunately, there was no way to find like people. That motivated me to start the blog.

Q: Your first post triggered many comments. That must have been gratifying.

A: I didn’t know what to expect. But it provided immediate feedback that I might be onto something. Today, there are over 800 blogs just on diabetes, so I feel like I’ve been part of this healthcare revolution.

Q: Was there a particular post or event that propelled the blog to the next level?

A: When I was featured in The Wall Street Journal. Laura Landro at The Journal writes a column called “The Informed Patient.” She did a story on patient blogging that included me. That made a huge difference in our visibility.

Q: I’m sure the Journal article caused a spike in traffic.

A: Definitely.

Q: Has SEO played an important role in building your audience?

A: I don’t know squat about SEO. My philosophy is simple: Fresh content gets attention. I try to offer fresh content every single day.

Q: Consistently writing every day is going to stockpile some great content.

A: I agree. We’re planning a site re-design so it’s easier to search archived content.

Q: When you reflect on the blog, is there anything that has surprised you about your audience?

A: I thought the details would bore people, but that’s not the case. We consistently get feedback that they want detailed information.

Q: Can you pinpoint one element that’s your “secret sauce.”

A: I’d say its gonzo journalism. I put myself in the story starting with my very first post and this continues today. Plus, I go in with a critical eye and ask questions of the establishment. 

Q: Was this tough to do.?

A: Not at all. I felt like I was set free to tell my story. No one was going to tell me where I have to add an exclamation point.

Q: After reading your blog, I can see you also bring a strong personal dimension to your storytelling.

A: Absolutely. The whole idea is to make the blog personal.

Note: Check out Amy’s Thanksgiving post from a couple years ago.

Don’t worry. Be happy.  Enjoy the day! (And the long weekend!)
That is my 7-year-old’s artwork, btw: Mr. Scarecrow.  Does he look bummed, just because he might be missing a functioning brain?  No Sir.  So no bemoaning your dead pancreas today People, OK?
Hey, if nothing else, be glad you’re not an astronaut;  if you thought we PWDs had food troubles on this feast day, check out their plight.
Warm holiday greetings to all…
                     Happy Thanksgiving!
                     “Diabetes Mine,” November 26, 2009

Q: I also like the levity you bring to the topic.

A: It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so yes, I want to be informative. But living with diabetes is crap, so let’s have some fun as well. The magic combination is to make the site both a resource and entertaining. I want every post to say something that people didn’t already know and do it in a fun way and a personal way. I don’t hit the mark every time but that’s the goal.

Note: Good example of this levity below:

Happy Mother’s Day, All!  Anyone else have their kids routinely tell them to please not be so “mother-ish”?  Yeah, well it comes with the territory.
For this week’s Sunday Funnies, by beloved fellow type 1 artist Haidee Merritt, something that for some reason reminded me of Jewish mothers the world over…
diabetes commic
                    Sunday Funnies: So Mother-ish
                    ”Diabetes Mine,” May 8, 2011


Tomorrow, we’ll publish the second half of the interview which covers advocacy, venting and that new tagline for the Marine Corps mentioned earlier.


Too Many Superlatives In Intel’s News Release On 3-D Transistor

intel trigate news release critique

I’ve praised Intel’s communications efforts on this forum.

Whether it’s humanizing the company through thought-leadership campaigns that transcend technology or the approach to Intel Free Press, the company does many things right on the comms front.

That’s why the news release behind the company’s latest invention, a 3-D transistor, surprised me.

It’s very un-Intel like.

Filled with repetition, adjectives and a touch of hype, it appears the person who had the final say came from Brochureville.

Let me put it this way.

If you’ve invented a technology that reflects a breakthrough, let the journalist (or reader) come to this conclusion on his/her own … by sharing the details behind the achievement, the challenges and the changes anticipated from the invention.

Instead, the news release hits the reader over the head, using the word “breakthrough” four times starting with the lead sentence:

Intel Corporation today announced a significant breakthrough in the evolution of the transistor, the microscopic building block of modern electronics.

Glad they threw in the word “significant” lest the reader confuse the news as an “insignificant breakthrough.”

“Unprecedented” also enjoyed four-peat status.

Even the single word that journalists detest the most, “revolutionary,” found its way into the release.

I recognize it’s not easy to explain this type of technical advancement to the masses, and Intel does an admirable job using a metaphor:

Just as skyscrapers let urban planners optimize available space by building upward, Intel’s 3-D Tri-Gate transistor structure provides a way to manage density. Since these fins are vertical in nature, transistors can be packed closer together, a critical component to the technological and economic benefits of Moore’s Law.

It’s also worth noting that the “fortified” news release didn’t exactly hurt the media coverage, which ranged from The New York Times to GigaOm to the Israeli pub YedaTech.

alexander mccall smith adjective useStill, I believe Alexander McCall Smith said it best in his column “Block that Adjective”:

… Concise prose knows what it wants to say, and says it. It does not embellish, except occasionally, and then for dramatic effect. It is sparing in its use of metaphor. And it is certainly careful in its use of adjectives.

Not a bad philosophy for crafting a news release.


Next Page »