Archive for April, 2012

Journalists Accept Apple’s “Storytelling Candy”

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook trekked to China in late March to show the world that Apple cares.

After the damning New York Times report, “In China, Human Costs Are Built Into An iPad,” Apple wanted to specifically connect with what goes on behind the curtain in the making of its products.

I noticed that photos of Cook adorned in laboratory-like regalia appeared in many of the stories, but didn’t think much about it.

Then I saw Ma Jun from the Institute of Public and Environmental affairs in Beijing interviewed about Apple on Bloomberg West last week. The segment included the same photo used in many of the print and online stories

bloomberg foxconn storyThis prompted me to reverse-engineer how Apple handled the communications around Cook’s trip to China.

In short, Apple’s strategy reflected the cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

The company hired a photographer to take photos of Cook interacting with Foxconn line workers and then distributed two shots to the media. Even if the words in the print/online stories were negative – and many were – Apple reasoned that a smiling CEO interacting with the common folks would serve as a positive counterbalance.

Of course, this assumes that the media would use PR photos with the story.

I chose a cross-section of publications which included several mainstream media properties and examined whether their stories on March 29/30 included Apple’s photos:

  • All Things D
  • Bloomberg
  • Business Insider
  • CBS News Online
  • Engadget
  • Fast Company
  • Forbes
  • GigaOm
  • Gizmodo
  • The Huffington Post (Reuters)
  • The Los Angeles Times
  • Mashable
  • Reuters
  • TechCrunch
  • The New York Times
  • The Next Web
  • The Telegraph
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • VentureBeat
  • Yahoo! News

The number surprised me.

Sixteen out of the 20 properties incorporated Apple’s storytelling candy.

Only Fast Company, TechCrunch, CBS News Online and All Things D took a pass.

I thought CBS News Online was particularly enterprising, pulling a candid shot from Weibo (Chinese micro-blogging service) of a Chinese consumer hanging with Mr. Cook.

apple foxconn

Apple figured out whether they communicated or not, journalists would write the Cook-in-China story and these stories would need visuals. And if they prevented the media from taking their own shots, they would probably use the Apple-controlled photos.

The data suggests they were right.

It’s also fascinating to see how the credit for the photos played out.

The wire services, Bloomberg, Reuters and AFP, identify the photos as coming from Apple.

But as media properties published their own stories and needed visuals, they pulled photos from the wire services, often dropping Apple as being the source. You can see an example of this in The L.A. Times story, which was kind enough to even include the Apple-crafted caption with the words “newly built Foxconn manufacturing facility.”

foxconn la times

Like a poker player with most of the chips exerting his will on the table, Apple leverages its position of strength with the media.

While journalists don’t want to be “handled,” it appears they make an exception for Apple.

The legacy of Steve Jobs lives on in more ways than one.

Note: One of our account folks, Julie Sugishita, did much of the heavy lifting for this post. If anyone is interested in a look at the data (spreadsheet), post a POV comment with your request and I’ll send it along.


USA Today Ombudsman To The Rescue In Corporate Blogging Story

usa todayUSA Today published a story on corporate blogging last week.

The journalist asked us for input.

One of our comments made the actual article.

So far, so good. It’s not every day a communications consultancy makes the USA Today Money section (albeit below the fold).

We’re doing more work in the area of corporate blogging – audits, workshops, writing, consulting – so this type of visibility is valuable.

Yet, the plot took a twist after the story appeared.

Five people were quoted in the story:

  • Nora Ganim Barnes, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
  • T.J. Crawford, a Bank of America spokesperson
  • Pete Steege, director of marketing communications and web strategy for Rimage
  • Milton Gray Draper, director of IR at Core-Mark Holding
  • Lou Hoffman, a communications consultant

I couldn’t help but notice I was the only one not identified by organization.

It’s not a horrific miss in accuracy. Still, I’d like the company to come along for the ride, which prompted this letter:

Dear USA Today,

I’m writing you in regards to today’s story “More companies quit blogging, go with Facebook instead.”

Every person quoted in the story is identified by his or her company/organization except me.

I appreciate nothing can be done with the hard copy, but could the online version of the article be tweaked so I have company attribution as well?

I enjoyed interacting with the journalist on this story.

I’m also appreciative to simply be included in the story.

If USA Today has a policy or philosophy that prevents this change, no problem.

I appreciate the consideration.



Mission accomplished.

The story now carries the following identifier:

Lou Hoffman, CEO of The Hoffman Agency, a public relations firm

It serves as another proof point that it never hurts to ask (nicely).


Applying Storytelling Techniques To An Enterprise Computing Case Study (Video)

Customer case studies that examine the deployment of technology tend to be dull. 

Most follow a formula:

  1. Here’s the problem
  2. It was a horrible 
  3. Fortunately, ACME Technology came to the rescue 
  4. Snapshot of the product(s) from ACME 
  5. It was easy to install 
  6. Here’s how we did it 
  7. Quantify the benefits 
  8. We’re thrilled 

Not exactly scintillating storytelling because the formula jackhammers the intellectual side of the brain. 

That’s why this NetApp customer case study caught my attention. 

The video appeals to the right side of the brain while still maintaining an undercurrent of intelligence. 


Reverse-engineering the story, we can identify the components that collectively make this a good watch: 

  • The story is about Suncorp’s transformation, not computer storage. Look at these words that appear at the start, “The IT department that became a launchpad.” There’s an emotional dimension to this kickoff as opposed to highlighting “IT driving change management.” 

video case study 

  • The spotlight stays on Suncorp. Netapp gets mentioned for five seconds in the early going – We look to Netapp to help materially change how we do work – and the sign-off. That’s it. 
  • Fresh camera angles advance the story at an energetic pace. 
  • The visual storytelling stands out, using the technique of overlaying simple illustrations on top of the real. 
  • On the audio side, simply bringing two voices from Suncorp into the picture appeals to the viewer’s senses. 
  • The close talks about creating an “enabling environment for people to get inspired to do things they hadn’t thought they could do.” You don’t associate IT professionals with flying kites. 

netapp customer case study

  • Last, they recognize less is more with the video coming in at 101 seconds. 

Even in a B2B play, the buyers and decision-makers are still people with emotions. 

This video does a brilliant job of playing to this dynamic. 

I appreciate Mischa Hedges at TrimTab Media highlighting the video to me. It was done by his partner, Iliani Matisse at her previous agency, Eleven. 

Note: If this post resonated, you might check out “Storytelling Techniques Tie Tractors to Uniting a Country.” 


Volume Production Of Magic Quadrants, Weibo And Psychoanalyzing Words

Here’s another “grab bag” with a smattering of observations, updates and snarky remarks.

Psychoanalyzing The New York Times Twitter Description

It seems logical to assume publications pay attention to the words in their own outbound communications.

If that’s the case, does the NYT Twitter description reflect a greater emphasis on engaging readers than The Wall Street Journal’s?

wsj v.nyt

Takes me back to an earlier post “The Conversation About The Story Is As Important As The Story Itself” and remarks by David Schlesinger when he was still editor in chief at Reuters.

Volume Production of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant

Every vendor in the enterprise computing space pays attention to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant.

If you’re a startup, simply landing on this sacred turf can increase the valuation.

I know the magic quadrant generates a nice revenue stream for Gartner.

I had no clue that Gartner released over 120 Magic Quadrants in 2011.

There’s even one for “North American Property and Casualty Insurance Claims Management Modules.”

Experimenting with Weibo

Weibo dominates micro-blogging in China.

It doesn’t hurt market share that the government blocks Twitter, but that’s a narrative for another time.

In the spirit of learning and experimentation, I decided to join the Weibo fray last week (with a helping hand from Christine Li, one of our account folks who translates select tweets into Chinese).


I’ve managed to secure a grand total of zero followers.

Tough crowd.

Accessing Non-English Journalism

I stumbled across a new form of journalism called Worldcrunch.


Here’s what the site does:

The most relevant foreign-language stories are produced in English by Worldcrunch staff and contributors around the globe, deployed to react quickly to breaking events and find the best content in the international media.

I like the concept.

It means gaining access to that enlightening or contrarian or quirky story in German, Chinese or Hebrew that otherwise requires language expertise.

Noticed that Time is one of the media properties already leveraging Worldcrunch stories.

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A “Like” For Facebook’s Innovation Strategy? A Deeper Look At Fast Company’s Fresh Take On The News

One of our account folks, Kari Ramirez, penned the guest post last year “Who’s the Hero.” 

Today, she offers a take on how the Facebook purchase of Instagram generated a spike of homogenous storytelling … with one exception. 

facebook instagramBy Kari Ramirez
The Hoffman Agency
(Silicon Valley) 

Facebook set off a flurry of media stories last week with the announcement of its purchase of the popular photo-sharing company Instagram for $1 billion in cash. 

Yes, $1 billion for a 13-person company. 

Since then, I’ve waded through the deluge of articles in the tech blogosphere, struggling to find a fresh perspective that would make sense of this expensive decision. 

Most opinions – not surprisingly – expressed shock at the hefty price tag (especially since Instagram was recently valued at only $500 million). A few rare posts called it an obvious match made by the social media gods. 

Some longtime users of the photo-sharing phenomenon threatened to delete the app because of Facebook’s privacy issues. 

Others argued that fear motivated the decision, noting that Zuckerberg/Facebook, “knew for the first time in its life it arguably had a competitor that could not only eat its lunch, but also destroy its future prospects.” 

Entertaining views, but not necessarily useful for me. 

Then I saw Cliff Kuang’s in-depth article for Fast Company. He offered readers a fresh take on the news that countered the prevailing opinion and analysis. 

Cliff’s dissection and storytelling were intriguing. He provided insights into the design and product development that went into the Instagram app, allowing the company to produce a fun and intuitive app that appeals to the masses (33 million+ users). 

Additionally, he offered up a unique viewpoint that many journalists missed: Facebook wants to continue creating a well-designed product and this acquisition arms Facebook users to become curators of their own content. 

Cliff summed up the article nicely: 

Users don’t give a crap if a service is going to make decent margins in the future. But they do care if a product is fun to use. And that is what ultimately makes a company great: It has to make great things. [...] Facebook doesn’t have a monetization problem. They’re making money with unbelievable speed. But they might have a product problem, and they’re dealing with that by trying to make design a part of their DNA. Still, we don’t know if they’ll be able to draw the best out of their own remarkable talent roster. Can Instagram help inspire them to do better? 

Perhaps Cliff is on to something here … 

Does Facebook need to build up its army of hot engineers so it can continue to innovate and build a superior ecosystem? 


Just take a look at the new slick version of Google+. 

While I realize it hasn’t taken off and isn’t as popular as Facebook, its engineers definitely deserve a pat on the back for the new look and feel they’ve created. After all, the new version integrates circles, hangouts, pictures, videos, etc. 

Not to mention they created this in less than a year. 

All this innovation talk reminds me of a quote from the recent biography of Steve Jobs: 

The mark of an innovative company is not only that it comes up with new ideas first, but knows how to leapfrog when it finds itself behind. 

Do you think Facebook realized they needed additional technology to stay ahead of the curve?  

Regardless of how the answer plays out, Kuang’s perspective offers a fresh frame for Facebook’s innovative strategy.

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