Archive for May, 2012

Breaking News from The Wall Street Journal: The Word “Innovation” Has Begun to Lose Meaning


Here’s the lead from the story.

“Got innovation? Just about every company says it does. Businesses throw around the term to show they’re on the cutting edge of everything from technology and medicine to snacks and cosmetics. Companies are touting chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovation strategies and even innovation days. But that doesn’t mean the companies are actually doing any innovating.”

Not exactly a revelation worthy of being on the front of the Market Place section above the fold.

The word “innovation” and its derivatives lost true meaning some time ago.

We crafted an internal paper for clients more than two years ago that captured the following data.

Quantifying Noise Level Around Innovative

Companies Pushing Out InformationWith the “I” Word Add to the Noise

In the technology sector, building equity in this brand characteristic called “innovation” is damn hard because every company wants this ground.

As a result, all the varied audiences you care about – journalists, customers, employees, partners, etc. – have become numb to the term.

Which brings us back to storytelling.

It’s not enough to do something that’s a radical departure from the status quo.

It needs to be communicated to the outside world in a way that people can understand and appreciate.

One of the modules in our storytelling workshop builds off the concept that drama comes from articulating the difference between what was (old way) and what is (new way). The larger the gap, the greater the drama.

This is one way to rise above the noise level.

How large does the gap need to be before it registers as innovative?

That’s a tough one.

To borrow a phrase, I know it when I see it (usually).

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Words Can Shred: One Storyteller To Another

It’s tough to beat The New Yorker when it comes to storytelling.

Starting with Malcolm Gladwell, the writers who grace these pages aren’t just good. They’re gifted.

That’s what I was thinking as I tucked into the essay “Can Science Explain Why We Tell Stories” by Adam Gopnik.

What could be better than the combination of scientific insights on storytelling and “is it live or is it Memorex”-type writing.


One out of two isn’t bad.

The writing is superb:

“Good stories are strange. What strong scientific theories, even those crafted in pop form, have in common with good stories is not some specious universality. It’s that they make claims so astonishing that they seem instantly very different from all the other stories we’ve ever heard. Good stories are startling. A sensitive, educated man is mad with lust for an eleven-year-old girl! Yikes! (Or, Yuck! Which is the same reaction with a slightly different sound.) lt isn’t Miss Havisham who is turning him into a gentleman? It ‘s that convict all the way back from the first chapter? Are you serious? This power to astonish is true even of seemingly long or esoteric stories that no one is said to read…”

But Mr. Gopnik directs so much kinetic energy from the keyboard dressing down Jonathan Gottschall and his new book, “The Storytelling Animal” that he loses the scent of the headline.

To be fair, the “Page Turner” forum in The New Yorker discusses books and that’s what Mr. Gopnik does.

I just hoped that he might share a fresh insight or two of his own on the scientific front.

The best article I’ve found that delves into the science behind the resonance of storytelling came from Scientific American: “The Secret of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn” (requires $7.95 payment).


Typography Translates Ira Glass Take Into Killer Video

I came across a video by David Shiyang Liu that plays off an Ira Glass riff on the creative process. 

David, who is a filmmaker and director at the Melbourne studio Kick Kick Punch (no Kaboom), married typography with Glass’s verbal narrative to produce the video below. 

Sure, Ira Glass’s voice by itself gives power to the narrative. 

But the video takes the storytelling to the next level.

I connected with David for a behind-the-curtain perspective. 



Lou: What inspired you to create this video?

David: There was an event called the 30 Days of Creativity that happened last June. It so happened that I was in a bit of a creative rut myself, and was encouraged to work on as many different forms of creative output as I could. It turned out that I had never made a kinetic typography before, and tried my hand at the one that eventually became the “Ira Glass on the Creative Process” video. 

Lou: It’s cool how typography becomes the artwork in the video. Did you work with a graphic designer or typographer? 

David: It was all me. Always loved typography, and Caslon was a highly underused font in kinetic typography, I feel, a domain usually reserved for more versatile sans serif fonts. 

Note: Here’s a look at Caslon standing still. 

caslon font

Lou: Had you used this technique, verbal narrative + words, before? 

David: Nope. It was a fun exercise, but it did take longer than I had expected. I envisioned that it would only have taken a day, instead of three. 

Lou: Is there one part of the video that stood out in your mind?

David: Not particularly. The video as a whole was fairly intuitive to sculpt into words, and I just have to thank Ira Glass himself for that. There wasn’t any doubt as to what the words should have ‘felt’ like due to the way Ira spoke. It was his conviction in what he was saying that gave me a very clear idea of what it should look like.  


I’m a big fan of typography as an asset for storytelling. 

Putting type in motion brings fun and pace to the audio. 

When Ira explains the gap between a person’s good taste and what he or she creates, we see this. 

frenetic typography

Also loved the visual depiction of how “everyone goes through that (tough times)” with the type literally going through other words. 

frenetic typography

We’ve applied the concept to some of our own work, but I’m inspired to do more. 

Which I suppose is the point in more ways than one.

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Every Imaginable Storytelling Technique Surfaces in Media Coverage on Facebook IPO

The media vetting of Facebook and its IPO makes applying for Supreme Court judge look tame.

So how does a media property find that one unique angle on Facebook’s IPO day when thousands of journalists are essentially writing from the same script?

By digging out storytelling standards like greed, cheating, sex and sticking it to the Man.

No one uncovered a paternity suit against Mr. Zuckerberg – I’m sure not from lack of trying – but plenty of fresh fodder did find its way to the digital page.

Here are seven examples of storytelling on the day of Facebook’s IPO that went beyond stock movement, people are rich, and how does the company live up to its valuation:

1) 6 People Mark Zuckerberg Burned On His Way to the Top

1)	6 People Mark Zuckerberg Burned On His Way to the Top

Hell hath no fury like a potential millionaire scorned.

Perfect for HuffPo and its never-ending quest for mass eyeballs.

But I do wonder why Aaron Greenspan didn’t make the list.

2) Bono’s Facebook stake to Make Him Richest Rocker on Earth

2)	Bono’s Facebook stake to Make Him Richest Rocker on Earth

MTV captures an angle that fits perfectly with its audience.

Also enjoyed the lead:

Talk about a “Beautiful Day.” Once the smoke clears from Friday’s Facebook IPO, US singer Bono could be the richest musician on the planet.

3) What’s Better than Facebook Advertising? How About Free Advertising

3)	What’s Better than Facebook Advertising? How About Free Advertising

Two execs from a tiny company called Baynetwork staked out Facebook’s HQ holding signs promoting their company.

Not only cheaper than hiring a crop duster to circle from above with a banner, but this Forbes piece proves it was more effective as well.

4) Weddings and Divorces Expected After IPO

4)	Weddings and Divorces Expected After IPO

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Both divorce lawyers and wedding planners in Silicon Valley are expecting a spike in business after the Facebook IPO based on what happened after Google went public.

5) Ruchi Sanghvi: Facebook’s Pioneer Woman

Facebook’s Pioneer Woman

This is so BBC.

The journalist, Naveena Kottoor, deserves credit for the legwork to track down Ruchi, who left Facebook in 2010 after five years at the company.

6) Will Mark Zuckerberg Ever Pay Taxes Again?

6)	Will Mark Zuckerberg Ever Pay Taxes Again

For the cerebral types, CNBC’s John Carney makes a case for how Zuckerberg can stiff the IRS.

The best thing for Zuckerberg would be a home equity line of credit-perhaps multiple home equity lines. He would borrow against the value of real estate he owns. The money he receives from the HELOC is debt rather than income, which means it isn’t taxed. Even better, the interest he pays on the HELOC can be used to offset other income he may earn.

7) School Officials’ Facebook Rummaging Prompts Mom’s Privacy Crusade

7)	School Officials’ Facebook Rummaging Prompts Mom’s Privacy Crusade

But the winner of the “Now That’s a Reach” award goes to MSNBC.

Its investigative reporting happened to uncover on the same day as the IPO that a teenage girl was “embarrassed and very upset” – the mom’s words – when the principal of her school forced the girl to log into her Facebook account and share the information.

I can’t say with a straight face that these storytelling techniques can be applied in building brands.

Let’s leave it at this -

If you dig, the story is always there.

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Top Ten Reasons Why Companies Fail At International PR

We expanded overseas and planted our flag in Singapore in 1996.

Today, with nine offices across Europe, Asia and the U.S., we’ve literally worked with hundreds of executives on the international PR front.

Taking from these experiences – and borrowing from David Letterman – we’ve packaged our top-ten list on why companies fail at international PR:

No. 1: “Americanitis”

Some U.S. executives think that having a high profile in the domestic market guarantees a hero’s welcome when they land on foreign shores. After all, why shouldn’t the image they’ve spent years building in the U.S. magically cross the Atlantic and Pacific, conform to local societies, adapt to local market nuances and reach out to their targeted constituencies? Unfortunately, such an attitude leads to thinking that the same PR tactics and strategies that work so well in the U.S. can be thrown over the fence to be used in other countries.

No. 2: Lack of Resources and/or Budget

pr budgetThere’s a tendency to think that if the U.S. PR program runs $540K per year and the company’s U.S. revenue constitutes 60 percent of worldwide sales, then … if the foreign region accounts for 10 percent of the company’s revenue, the PR program for the year in the foreign region should be $90K, covering five or so major markets. It’s just not possible. A more effective approach involves companies examining their business objectives and allocating PR budget based on supporting those business objectives. There’s no single funding formula for success.

No. 3: Spread Resources Too Thin

Related to the above, companies often find they don’t have resources and/or budget to effectively target all the markets in a given region. For example, a company might be focusing on the UK, Germany, France and Italy, but the PR budget is only $200K for all of Europe. Instead of doing a good job in two of the markets, they spread their resources too thinly across the four target countries and don’t move the needle anywhere.

No. 4: Corporate HQ Control

Often, the funding for a PR program overseas comes out of the U.S. coffers. It stands to reason that the U.S. PR executive would want some involvement in the international PR activities and how the money is spent. Makes sense. But when the corporate HQ exercises strict control and approval over every overseas action, an incredible bureaucracy takes hold that handicaps the international PR effort. Just the simple task of approving a news release can turn into a nightmarish saga as inputs ping-pong between HQ and the country office, exhausting everyone’s time.

localizing pr contentNo. 5: Inability to Localize Content

Localizing content goes far beyond the translation of materials. Look at the daily newspapers from Japan, the U.S. and Germany on any given day. The headlines will be different. Naturally, the business issues vary from country to country. Yet most companies aren’t willing to put in the time to localize the storytelling for each target country. The more effort a company puts into shaping the content to the specific characteristics of a particular market, the stronger the story becomes for the targeted audience.

No. 6: Treat Translation of Press Materials as an Administrative Task

A PR activity’s efforts can go down the drain if the translation of the press materials is not handled accurately. Years ago, we had a client situation in Korea in which the Korean word for merger was used instead of the Korean word for partnership. The client company was traded on NASDAQ, and all hell broke loose when the release went out incorrectly announcing a merger with a Korean company.

No. 7: Unrealistic Expectations

An American company enjoys a high profile and substantial market share in the U.S., so it automatically expects the same type of profile in a foreign market. The reality is that the media doesn’t know the company or knows very little. Like any “new kid on the block,” the company needs to build its reputation through hard work and establishing new relationships.

No. 8: Conducting International PR Long Distance

Some companies consider flinging their news releases into foreign countries via news release distribution services as a form of international PR. Others purchase directories that list the local media – and in some cases, the names of publications’ reporters – in a given country. But the power of PR comes from the relationships with the local influencers, government officials and media as well as understanding the nuances of the local market. This can only be achieved with local feet on the street.

preparing local spokespeopleNo. 9: Lack of Spokespeople

Often, companies operate what amounts to a sales office in an overseas market. The top executive in such an office focuses on sales. Deploying this person as a company spokesperson can be a challenge, since he or she is rewarded based on the quarter’s sales results, not building a long-term image. And leveraging executives from outside a given country often means sacrificing local market knowledge (not to mention the language issue).

No. 10: No Actions Behind the Words

“We’re committed to the local market.” Every company targeting a foreign market says these words, but some don’t take actions to support the statement. This is a bigger issue than PR. Companies should be looking for ways to become an asset to the local community and local economy. Obviously, it’s easier to build an image for a company that takes these steps. Furthermore, it doesn’t have to require a large investment in money and time. Instead, it’s more a symbol of respect for the local market.


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