Archive for October, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Movement Hits Home (literally)

The Occupy Wall Street movement continues to grow.

It’s one thing to crowd source a speaking pulpit in New York.

But the movement has picked up momentum weaving its way to cities across the country.

In the latest sign that these “people” aren’t going away, Occupy Wall Street set up camp at The Hoffman Agency yesterday.

You can see the protestors during a lighter moment lounging around their tent.

 

I think that was Green Day playing in the background, but didn’t want to get too close.

Note the ample supply of soda pop in an ice chest in the lower right corner of the photo. I’m proud to say the Agency supplied these. The last thing we need is a protestor going down from dehydration.

Looking at the big picture, Bloomberg BusinessWeek pointed out the strength of this movement is old school:

Their chief weapon is neither eloquence nor argument, but their physical presence.

I can vouch for that.

In the photo below, the ringleaders took an aggressive stance that caught management’s attention. 

So what actually is their story?

In a word, betterhalloweencandy.

After replacing the candy corn with the likes of Snickers and Skittles, the tents came down and the protestors dispersed.

I don’t believe their antics disrupted the legit “trick or treaters” that walked the halls of the Agency yesterday.



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The New York Times: All The News That’s Fit To Entertain

charlie roseI was catching up on Charlie Rose segments and came across a recent interview with Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times.

The interview offered yet another proof point on the importance of storytelling in cracking the mainstream media.

Check out this exchange.

Charlie: How does Jill Abramson see the mission of The New York Times?

Jill: I see the mission to definitely cover the world. That’s why it’s so important that we’ve increased our staff of foreign correspondents. But I have a feeling that my definition of “fit to print” is different than when the saying first came out.

Charlie: What is your definition of “fit to print”?

Jill: Fit to print is, is it legitimately newsworthy and also is it interesting? Sometimes I‘ll pick a front-page story just because I think people will find it interesting … not because it’s of world-shaking importance or serious.

Charlie: And you’ll put it on the front page?

Jill: I will put it on the front page.

She couldn’t just come out and say, “We need to break up the monotony of healthcare reform and Iraq with stories that will entertain our readership.” That would be too jarring; hence, the use of the drab adjective “interesting.”

The interview in its entirety can be viewed in the video embedded below (Abramson is the second guest).

If you want to skip to the good part, Jill starts talking about “interesting stories” around minute 42. 



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Decentralizing the Communications Effort

In a world where a tweet or a Tumblr or a teenage blogger in Iowa can make a difference in the perception of a brand, The PR function alone can’t sustain outbound communications.   

The McKinsey Quarterly published an article “We’re All Marketers Now“ which caught my attention.

If you replace “marketing” with “communications” and replace “customers” with “influencers,” the article makes a compelling argument for decentralizing the communications function.

Consider this line:

The problem for many companies is that the very things that make push marketing effective—tight, relatively centralized operational control over a well-defined set of channels and touch points—hold it back in the era of engagement.

The same holds true for communications. While the number of potential influencers in even niche markets increases, communication resources (internal headcount + agency budget) continue to shrink.

PR can’t keep up.

So the function targets fewer influencers with the unintended consequence that the interactions become more superficial.

Think about this.

At a time when communicators have the opportunity to develop peer-to-peer relationships with influencers and even customers thanks to social media, we’re still in transaction mode; i.e., write the bloody story.

Not exactly an approach that cultivates relationship building.

The McKinsey piece concludes:

The major barrier to engagement is organizational rather than conceptual: given the growing number of touch points where customers now interact with companies, marketing often can’t do what’s needed all on its own. CMOs and their C-suite colleagues must collaborate intensively to adapt their organizations to the way customers now behave and, in the process, redefine the traditional marketing organization. If companies don’t make the transition, they run the risk of being overtaken by competitors that have mastered the new era of engagement.

Exactly.

Likewise, it’s time for PR to collaborate and train others across their organizations. This way we enlist – draft seems so draconian – greater resources, which in turn allows for more and deeper interactions with influencers.

Geez, if the Marine Corps can embrace social media for “the few and the proud,” companies shouldn’t find the concept so daunting.

Pulling from the Marine Corps Social Media Principles handbook, check out the guidance:

As a Marine, it is important that your posts convey the same journalistic excellence the Marine Corps instills in all of its communicators and public affairs professionals. Be respectful of all individuals, races, religions and cultures; how you conduct yourself in the online social media space not only reflects on you — it is a direct reflection on the Marine Corps.

Well put. 



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If You Care About Storytelling, Bookmark “Why’s This So Good?”

writing

Don’t let the words fool you.

This isn’t the latest addition to the Food Network.

“Why’s This So Good?” comes from Nieman Storyboard, part of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

Enjoyed the way Andrea Pitzer describes the new feature:

“… we thought it would be intriguing to host a series of one-off posts by some of our favorite writers looking at classic narrative nonfiction, breaking down the magic of specific stories. Think of it as shop talk. Or a great bar conversation – minus the noise, the alcohol, and the guy spilling his Jägermeister down your back.”

Even if you subscribe to the theory that spilled Jägermeister can be an icebreaker, here’s an opportunity to look over the shoulders of journalists as they break down storytelling on business and other real-life topics.

As I’ve railed on my soapbox, there continues to be a major disconnect between the content created by communicators (both corporate and agency) and the content that goes into stories crafted by journalists.

Yes, I understand different agendas guide each party.

But folks, if you want to crack the mainstream media it behooves you to understand the construction of these stories and the type of content that brings them to life (hint: it’s not a product news release).

I particularly enjoyed David Dobbs’s riff on the Michael Lewis piece in Vanity Fair, “Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds,” which revolves around Lewis’s journey to a monastery.

Here’s a slice of how Dobbs reverse-engineers the story:

He shifts narrative distance with similar fluidity, zooming in and out the way a good director varies framing and lens length. Sometimes he’ll park the camera and just watch. These alterations usually move story, build structure, or reveal something. At one point, Lewis is talking with Father Arsenio, the No. 2 monk. Arsenio exudes warmth, charm, intelligence and a frightening omniscience – the Godfather in a merry mood. Amid this Lewis looks out the window to the sea and spends two sentences wondering why the monks never swim. His distraction and aside amuse; they also express his estrangement from the monks’ mysterious discipline.

Right. Mr. Dobbs knows a thing or two about writing as well.

At this point you might be thinking, “It was an enjoyable read, but what does this have do with me? It’s not like Michael Lewis is going to cover offensive tackles, the subprime mortgage debacle, and now my company.”

True, but step back and take another look.

What allowed Lewis to craft a narrative with unexpected twists and amusing observations?

Access.

By giving a journalist access to people and activities – with a high-level angle like the scientists who got an invention to work 673 pizzas later - you allow him or her to go through a form of discovery and decide on the story.

That’s one way to get the attention of the mainstream media.



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Revisiting How Organizations Tell Their Stories

steamfitter storytellingMost organizations waste the “About Us” section on their web sites.

This is the property’s big moment to woo you. If there was ever a place on a web site to apply storytelling techniques, it’s here.

Yet, the section typically regurgitates the company party line.

I’m going to periodically take a look at an organization’s “About Us” section.

Today’s “lucky” winner is a union, the Steamfitters Local 602.

Now, you might be thinking if any organization was going to shape its narrative with dogma, it would be a union.

And you would be wrong.

The Local 602 tells its story in a straight-forward and conversational manner.

Let’s break it down John Madden style:

We build and service heating, air conditioning and refrigeration systems.

Given many people don’t know what a steamfitter is, I appreciate the simplicity of the line.

It’s an industry that’s been around for thousands of years; it’s also as new and high tech as the latest laptop.

They could have replaced “the latest laptop” with “the latest tablet,” but that’s a nit.

For years, we’ve been called fitters. Steamfitters, pipefitters. Because we make things fit. And when the systems are built, we maintain and service them – keep them healthy and fit.

It’s like they’re sitting across from you on a bar stool, “… we make things fit.” Since we’re at a hypothetical bar, they get a pass on the funky grammar.

Because of the work we do, buildings are fit to work in, fit to live in.

One line to beat on the chest isn’t bad.

So, yeah, we’re fitters.

If you don’t catch the attitude, you’re not listening.

Well done, Local 602.



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