Archive for December, 2011

Best Storytelling Posts From This Corner In 2011 (Part II)

best blog posts on storytelling

I started the count down yesterday.

Today, I continue with the rest of my top 10 posts from 2011.

What’s The Story With Netflix?

You don’t hear complaints when Kellogg’s raises the price of Pop-Tarts. But the Netflix customer base responded to a price increase with the emotional fervor of a South American futbol match. After losing millions of customers, the company is still trying to recover … all because they weren’t straight with people from the beginning. 

Q&A With 12-year-old Creator Of “Good Morning Geek,” Max Swisher 

Someday Max Swisher will be CEO of a venture-backed company with a breakthrough technology. In the meantime, he pens the blog Good Morning Geek. My Q&A with Max that touched on a range of topics – voice in storytelling, Robert Scoble and middle-school English to name a few – was one of the most popular posts of the year. 

Alexander McCall Smith Offers Quick Perspective On “Word Craft” Post

This was pretty cool. Alexander McCall Smith actually dropped by the neighborhood to let me know I could “use adjectives carefully and to great effect.” I haven’t looked at an adjective the same way since.

The Best Storytelling On Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs offered so many classic story angles, not the least being the prodigal son banished only to return the “homeland” to glory. I wrote this post in September before he passed away, breaking down what I consider to be one of the best stories on Mr. Jobs from the master of storytelling, Malcolm Gladwell. 

Infographic: Storytelling Vs. Corporate Speak

With the drama building, here’s the post that topped views for 2011. After assisting clients in creating infographics, we’ve created our own on storytelling (what a surprise). We contend there’s often a gap between the content developed by the PR function and the type of content needed by journalists, bloggers and other influencers. This infographic captures the disconnect. 

If there’s a post you think belongs on the list, I welcome the input.

I wish everyone a healthy and prosperous narrative in 2012.


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Best Posts From This Corner In 2011

storytelling blog posts

We need a better cliché than “time flies by.” 

With 2011 in wind-down mode, I’ve captured what I consider to be my top 10 posts from the year. 

Some got the nod from sheer number of views. 

Others were personal favorites. 

I’ve split the list in half with the initial five today and the rest tomorrow. 

Here goes - 

Open Letter To Art Howe 

Artie didn’t like how he was portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in Moneyball, so he hit the talk show circuit to set the record straight. Not good. He comes off as a humorless ex-baseball-manager.

Book Review: Entertainment Value Of “Tell To Win” Sugarcoats Lessons In Storytelling

No question, Peter Guber’s book advanced the cause. Sure, I could have done without the pop psychology lesson – Larry King stayed at CNN because Ted Turner knew King put loyalty above money due to his father’s premature death, which King interpreted as disloyalty – but all in all it’s a worthy read. 

Let Me Say What Every PR Person Thinks: “The Message Has No Clothes”

Show me one person in the world who has ever said the words, “Wow! Now, that’s an amazing message,” and I’ll get off my soapbox. 

Storytelling Techniques Behind Google Announcement On Larry Page Named CEO

Big names like Google don’t need to scratch and claw for media attention. Still, if one reverse-engineers how they orchestrated the announcement of Larry Page taking the CEO reins, you can see the storytelling techniques that shaped the coverage. 

Exploring Language With Slang Lexicographer Jonathon Green

Think about spending 17 years of your life writing a book. That’s what Jonathon Green did in crafting the Dictionary of Slang. Jonathon was good enough to spend some time with me on language, storytelling, and how the chase far outweighs the kill. 

Tomorrow, I’ll post the rest of the list.


New York Times Dining Section Serves a Storytelling Smorgasbord

Many people dread Wednesday, the ”hump day” of the work week.

I, on the other hand, can’t wait for Wednesday and cruising through the Dining section of The New York Times.

For my money, the best storytelling in daily newspapers can be found here.

Sure, the journalists are skilled writers, but it’s their expertise in both finding and telling fresh stories that elevate their craft.

Last week’s section offered another classico, “Importing Mom, Not The Pasta” by Jeff Gordinier.

Look at how he sets up the plot, a new extreme in the quest for the perfect pasta, then builds the drama to an understated payoff:

NEW YORK is full of men and women who have gone to extreme lengths to make a perfect plate of pasta. But it’s possible that no one has gone quite so far as Massimo Galeano.

Step into his restaurant, Gradisca, on West 13th Street, and on many nights you will find a 65-year-old woman standing beside a table that is dusted with flour. There, wearing a white bonnet and greeting customers with a vigorous “buona sera,” Caterina Schenardi will spend much of the evening stuffing impeccably minced meat into pouches of pasta, then folding and pinching the pouches into tortellini that come out light enough to charm a table of carb-dodging dieters and small enough to serve as tricorner hats for an army of toy soldiers.

“Very tiny,” Mr. Galeano said on a recent Wednesday night as he watched her in action. “Small. Delicate.” The size and shape of the tortellini should be comparable, he said, to “that famous part in the painting by Botticelli” — the navel, that is, of the goddess in “The Birth of Venus.”

And when Mr. Galeano says that this elfin, ethereal version of tortellini is what “I grew up with,” he means just that.

Ms. Schenardi, after all, is his mother.

Great turn of a phase, “light enough to charm a table of carb-dodging dieters.”

You want restaurant reviews, go to Google or Yelp.

You want to read about the “Fort Knox of raviolis” or how Mama Schenardi won’t touch any flour other than Spadoni OO or why Italy’s economy will always be in the tank (dependence on mom’s pasta through adulthood), you’ve come to the right place.

P.S. It turns out that Al Gore is one of many notables to make their way to Gradisca. I keep imagining Al finishing his meal, paying homage to Ms. Schenardi and learning that she’s a movie fan: “Thank you Al but here’s another inconvenient truth- you’re blocking my light so I can’t see the texture on my tagliatelle.”

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Associated Press Embarks on Changes That Will Sound Familiar to Communication Professionals

Consider how the media differentiates itself.

By being first.

By being the only media property with a particular story.


Analysis that makes sense of an event.

For wire services such as Associated Press, we associate success with breaking news.

That’s why the recent memo from Michael Oreskes, senior managing editor at the Associated Press, caught my attention.

I think it’s fair to say that the Associated Press wants to round out its game

Here’s the memo—

Coming out of our strategic process this year, we are committing ourselves to focus on something I want to share with you today — something that has, with changing user behavior online, become crucial to the way we do news and do business.

Let’s start with something that’s obvious but worth laying out plainly: That “next cycle” we speak of so often in The Associated Press is now. Not 12 hours from the first breaking news, not even six hours, but one, maybe two hours from it — and maybe even faster than that.

This is hardly something that we’re just waking up to. But it is accelerating by the week. As we look around the media landscape in recent months, over and over we’re seeing the same thing. AP wins when news breaks, but after an hour or two we’re often replaced by a piece of content from someone else who has executed something more thoughtful or more innovative. Often it’s someone who has taken what we do (sometimes our reporting itself) and pushed it to the next level of content: journalism that’s more analytical, maybe a fresh and immediate entry point, a move away from text, a multimedia mashup or a different story form that speaks more directly to users.

In short, breaking news has been commoditized.

More than ever, we need to infuse that sensibility into our daily process of news and planning. We need to institutionalize it. And we need to do it everywhere in the AP — across geographies, across formats, across subject matter. We can’t let other people win by cannibalizing our content. We need to do it ourselves each day, to parlay our reporting into work with a longer shelf life.

I get the feeling Mr. Oreskes won’t be sending a holiday card to the Huffington Post and other like media.

We’re calling this The New Distinctiveness. Here’s an initial and by-no-means complete glimpse into what it means:

Fast Response. The moment news breaks, we’re going to be talking not only about coverage in the moment, but the longer arc. We’re going to be thinking about two hours on, about what we do 12 hours ahead, and even, sometimes, about what we do weeks or months ahead.

Looks like the new Associated Press will be asking reporters to tell stories beyond the standard “who, what, where, when, and why” which puts a premium on storytelling.

Thematic Thinking. We’re going to be much more aggressive in identifying themes off the news — angles the world is thinking about — and digging deeper. Unique and compelling entry points to stories are key here, and those can’t be done on breaking-news autopilot. Many of these new approaches will be infused into the main story on a news event across platforms; that’s as important as creating new stories to stand alone.

Zero in on two words, “unique” and “compelling.” That’s at the heart of the fight.

Multiple Story Forms. We’re going to be finding unusual ways of telling stories and alternative story forms. We’ve already done this in many ways — photoblogging, data visualization, video (even data visualization in video), text on major events — but it needs to be mainstream and part of our fundamental foundations.

Yep, visuals help people consume stories.

Journalism With Voice. We’re going to be pushing hard on journalism with voice, with context, with more interpretation. This does not mean that we’re sacrificing any of our deep commitment to unbiased, fair journalism. It does not mean that we’re venturing into opinion, either. It does mean that we need to be looking for ways to be more distinctive and stand out in the field — something our customers need and want. The why and the how of the news are as crucial as the who, what, when and where.

Let’s see how this one plays out. To cultivate a distinctive voice with more interpretation, but remain completely unbiased sounds like a magic trick.

Recurring containers. We are going to establish a running “container” that can be used anywhere, tentatively called “:Why it Matters.” It will focus our daily journalism on relevance without sacrificing depth. Other containers will follow. These will be done based on the news and what it needs — they’ll come into existence when they’re useful and not be forced when they’re not.

I’m not quite sure what this means.

Rethinking the Planning Process. We are beginning a fundamental rethink of our daily news meetings and planning procedures, one that will increase the substantive discussion and reduce the recitation of story lists. More to come on this soon.

I think he’s saying that everything moves so fast that it’s tough to plan so why bother.

In coming weeks, you’ll see the beginnings of various projects to support this way of thinking. We’re establishing several “test kitchens” in different parts of the News Department to work on this and figure things out. And we’re going to push conversations that focus not only on what the news is and how to get it, but what it MEANS as well. The four test kitchens are Health and Science (led by Kit Frieden and Kevin Roach), Economics and Politics (Hal Ritter and Sally Buzbee), Tourism (Beth Harpaz) and how we work around the clock around the world on big stories (John Mancini and Brian Carovillano).

The test kitchens are a place to try things out and report back to the rest of us. But they aren’t meant to be the only place we are pushing forward. Many of you are already doing this kind of journalism and doing it well across the AP. More than ever before, our reporters and editors are branching out into new ways of thinking and trying new things with customers and audiences in mind. This initiative will be an opportunity to amplify that best work, make it more mainstream and, most importantly, institutionalize it.

Good stuff. I might quibble with the name – expect to hear the impact of adding mini marshmallows to a chocolate chip cookie recipe – but everyone in the communications business needs to be experimenting.

Resources, of course, are an issue. And as we lay out our plans to do this, we are mindful of all of the responsibilities that people have. We do not intend this to be yet another thing to add to your already formidable list of things to do. A great deal of this is not mainly about filing more content; it’s about refining our thinking and slightly resequencing our journalistic DNA to understand that sometimes, with good journalism behind it, sharp thinking can differentiate the AP in a very competitive field. (And to reiterate, nothing about this should take our eye off the ball of dominating breaking news. The goal here is to extend our dominance of breaking news by outreporting and outhinking the competition.)

Like the phrase, “resequencing our journalistic DNA.” Obviously, AP doesn’t want to sacrifice facts in the name of compelling content. I do get the feeling though, that the quirky anecdote will moved up the value chain.

An important note: This isn’t a product. It’s an ever-growing toolbox of approaches to harness our thinking — to make our core news report stronger, more insightful, more appealing and more relevant to the people who buy it and the people who see it. And it’s something you’ll help shape.

We have a group of people from around the AP who will be the steering committee on this, led by myself and Assistant Managing Editor Ted Anthony. And we’ll be elaborating on this in an AP Knows at the beginning of next year. If you have questions, or just want to kick around something you would like to try, get in touch with me or Ted.

This is a key way we can thrive in today’s landscape by using our own news and thinking chops — the smarts we already have — to take things forward. And, not incidentally, it’s going to be a lot of fun,too.

Mike Oreskes

The close sounds similar to what communication professionals have been going through. It’s not enough to handle product announcements and other news releases. We need to build compelling content that fuels multifaceted storytelling and think through the myriad of choices in building a company’s brand.

And yes Michael, it has been fun.

Painful, as change often is, but fun.


Just One Vignette Can Make a Difference in Business Storytelling

The difference between classic storytelling and applying storytelling techniques to business communications often comes down to this—

Storytelling in business does not require a full narrative.

Just one wrinkle can be enough to elevate a story.

Take a look at the story below on a new coffee maker in Bloomberg BusinessWeek:


Do you have any idea how many new makes and models of coffee gear get introduced every year?

Literally hundreds.

Yet, Bodum earns a full page in BusinessWeek by pointing out the same concept that delivers the perfect shower has now been applied to brewing the perfect cup of coffee.

The point is, supporting content can be a door opener.

Sidenote: I checked out the coffee maker on the Bodum web site. While not thrilled with the dense block of copy on the site, the conversational language hits the mark:

Has there ever been a coffee system in more dire need of re-invention than the drip system? It’s almost become a synonym for bitter, bad tasting coffee. Well, no more:

If you enjoyed this post, the human bot claims “The Old Smog Eating Building Story” might resonate.

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