Archive for June, 2012

Storytelling from Startups That Resonates in Europe

Luica Mak who spearheads our European operation, is one of the most connected people I know when it comes to the UK media.

In this guest post, she asks veteran journalist Nick Booth three questions that probe how new ventures can attract media attention in the UK. I think it’s fair to say his input could be applied to any market in the world including the United States.

Nick knows a thing or two about deviating from the status quo as you can see from this Twitter handle:

nick's twitter handle

By Luica Mak

Hoffman Europe MD

Our Agency founder and CEO Lou Hoffman recently wrote in his blog about the Top Five Reasons To Work With Startups On The PR Front, and the passion that comes from discovering and working with the next technology rock star is certainly shared by both sides of the Atlantic.

As the startup scene gets more vibrant and competitive in Europe and with London’s TechCity and Berlin’s own Silicon Valley becoming the birthplaces of many known technology innovators (such as Huddle and Wooga), it has never been a more exciting yet difficult time to fight for media attention.

During a recent coffee with Nick Booth, a freelance journalist in the UK, he kindly shared some tips for startups on how to be on the good side of the media.

Luica: What makes a good startup story?

Nick: Personally, I like stories that show people triumphing over adversity. David winning over Goliath.

I got one of the national tabloids interested in a startup recently, because the person involved was young and enthusiastic. He created a company from his back bedroom while he was still in school, and he seemed to have created quite a following.

So the elements of the tabloid story that appealed were:

  • Youth
  • Disadvantage (triumphing over the odds)
  • Invention
  • Parochialism (this was a British kid doing well in an IT market dominated by U.S. giants)

Luica: What annoys journalists most about startup stories?
nick booth

Nick: I can only speak for myself, but generally I have a massive amount of goodwill toward the new entrants. They’re doing something I’d like to do. I would gladly give them coverage. Most of them are friendly and enthusiastic.

So, there’s a massive pool of goodwill for startups before they even talk to us. But some companies manage to neutralise any goodwill instantly, either by their own actions or their PR agencies.

Here are some other random annoyances:

  • Sending out a press release, then insisting on an embargo just for the sake of it
  • Trying to micro-manage everything that’s written about them
  • Trying to micro-manage interviews
  • Using a PR agency that can’t explain what the startup actually does
  • Putting out a release or holding an interview when there’s no real news angle
  • Refusing to discuss stuff that is already in the public domain
  • Refusing to have an opinion on even the most innocuous of subjects

Above all, lack of originality is one of the worst sins. People who give those awful corporate quotes, which have been approved by a committee, are the bane of my life. When anyone uses cliches like ‘paradigm shift’ or ‘democratising the market’ or ‘content is king’, what they’re really advertising is their complete lack of imagination.

Luica: What about any tips for a startup?

Nick: Practice explaining what you do, in layman’s terms, to a Luddite.

Technology is ultimately about saving money or making companies more productive. How does your invention achieve this?

Once you have established what it does, you can layer on details about how it works. Why, when, where and who it’s for.

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Translating a Literary Classic Into Twitter-ese

Many people believe that with the advent of email, the quality of writing started to decline.

The same people see social media only exacerbating the situation (no LOL from me).

I’m not here to debate the issue.

Instead, let’s turn the tables and see if today’s language can put a fresh spin on writing.

I’ve taken the first paragraph of Ernest Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea” and translated it into Twitter-ese.

the old man and the sea

This is what the opening paragraph of the literary classic would look like tweeted out in 140-character chunks:

Hard luck fisherman, old I might add, paints solitary figure alone in his skiff. Think @Cage_Nicolas leaving Vegas

There’s a boy with the fisherman // #hope

No, the boy was only there the first 40 days; old man has been there 84 days.

Thought the old man had been there for a good 90 days.

Could swear the old man spent some time in Motown via @cheechandchong

I heard the boy’s parents made him leave #toughlove

The boy’s parents liked fisherman, but wanted the boy to catch ship which landed three good fish 1st wk #bait

It’s terrible that you can’t eat fish without worrying about #mercury levels. C’mon @Greenpeace

One could argue that it’s downright cruel for parents to make their kids eat fish via @Nolan_Gould

You have a better chance of getting hit by a bus than dying of mercury in the bloodstream.

The boy still cares about the old man.

I don’t know. The boy seems pretty happy in his new “sled” #pimpmyride

I’m telling you – the boy is big-time sad each day when he sees the old man return empty-handed.

Here’s another proof point – the boy always goes down to help the guy carry his coiled lines.

Check out the sail … #salao

I agree with @ErnestH – saw the boy help carry the gaff and harpoon and even the sail furled around the mast.

Pathetic, but functional #rachelray

If it’s pathetic, it’s not functional. If it’s functional, it’s not pathetic. That’s my deep sea thinking for the day.

From what I could see, the sail was patched with flour sacks; smelled like permanent defeat (oppo of Duvall in #ApocalypseNow)

@Rachel_Ray Just uploaded a rice pilaf recipe on Yum-O site that is pathetically functional

It appears the flow of a novel simply can’t sustain the staccato pace of Twitter.

I will not hold my breath for a Pulitzer Prize.

Or even a happy face from Mrs. Tuttle (grade school English teacher).

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Chinese Government May Block Twitter, But 140-bit Storytelling Goes On

The China Daily gets Twitter.

Just not in China.

With more than 100,000 followers, the paper has leveraged Twitter in the United States as another distribution channel for its stories.

china daily twitter account

I say distribution channel because it’s all one-way communication with zero engagement. Click on any link and you’re ushered to the publication’s English website.

It is kind of amusing that the China Daily, part of the Chinese Government’s State Council Information Office, uses Twitter in the United States.

State Council Information Office of the Peoples Republic of China

Even though the Government blocks Twitter in China, tweeting still takes place, raising the philosophical question

If a Tweet falls in a Chinese forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

The answer is yes … if the person has a VPN.

By paying roughly 15 bucks a month for a VPN – technically illegal but offered from companies in Russia, Thailand and the list goes on – you can access Twitter and other Western sites from within China.

Check out the tweets of one of the more controversial Twitter accounts based in China.

beijing air tweets

Not exactly scintillating storytelling on the surface.

Until you realize the numbers reflect hourly updates on the air quality in Beijing tweeted out compliments of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Further spicing up the narrative, the readings from the U.S. Embassy often clash with the numbers released by the Chinese Government.

As a result, periodic dust-ups with the authorities surface, like the most recent one a couple weeks ago.


To come full circle, the China Daily weighed in on the topic with a “slightly different” take.

china daily air data

All because of tweets in China which technically can’t be read.

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Recruiting with Levity, LinkedIn CEO’s LinkedIn Profile Lacking, and Provocative Headline Trumps SEO

Ph.D.s in behavioral science tout the power of three.

Who am I to argue?

I’m now standardizing my grab-bag posts on three vignettes.

Recruiting with Levity

Few companies apply storytelling techniques in their recruitment of talent.

If there was ever a time to show some personality, it’s with job candidates.

And it doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking.

As Metamarkets shows, just one phrase can show there’s a human on the other end of the line.

metamarkets - bao bun

BTW, the muscovy duck confit terrine with green papaya and orange pickled red onions is killer. For those in Silicon Valley, the truck sits off of Curtner on Friday nights.

LinkedIn Profile for LinkedIn CEO Not Optimized

OK, it’s not a big deal.

Still, someone might want to suggest to LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner that he optimize his LinkedIn profile.

I won’t go into details (not a LinkedIn guru), but capitalizing on the option to highlight three websites seems like a good starting point.

Wiener's linkedin profile

The LinkedIn corporate blog and company’s Facebook page would be naturals.

Reid Hoffman, who co-founded LinkedIn, cleverly uses one of the three websites on his profile to promote job openings at LinkedIn.

There are a number of terrific resources on LinkedIn such as Hubspot’s eBook “How to Build a Powerful Business Presence on LinkedIn.”

Sidenote: I’m a fan of LinkedIn, or I wouldn’t consistently write about the platform or promote a LinkedIn presentation.

Provocative Headline Trumps SEO

Check out this headline and story from the China Daily:

chinadaily - Two fly rule for Beijing restrooms

Life is better than fiction.

The story also serves as an example of how storytelling can go hand-in-hand with SEO.

Consider the alternative headline:

Two Fly Rule For Beijing Bathrooms

It’s still got a twist.

Yet, searches on the word “bathrooms” exceed searches on the word “restrooms” by the tune of 1,830,000 to 450,000.

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Can the Humble Job Description Make a Difference

So many companies tout people as their most valuable asset.

Logically, this would make the recruitment of people one of their most important undertakings.

Yet, companies typically pay scant attention to the writing of a job description.

I posted on the value of applying storytelling techniques to job descriptions some time ago.

Moving from the theoretical to reality, you can see how storytelling techniques insert some life into our own job description:

Senior Communications Consultant

What most accurately describes you, PR person or storyteller? If the latter, keep reading.

Our programs increasingly blend traditional PR with thought leadership, digital properties, social media and SEO-all underlined with the type of storytelling that registers with the target audience as well as influencers.

Regardless of the assignment, clients come to us for a combination of brainpower and passion.

This particular role calls for smarts, op-ed grade writing and a track record in triggering client reactions ranging from “Well done!” to “I’m naming my first born after you.”

Here are a few specifics that start to dig below the surface of the type of person we’re after:

  • In a world where anyone can access a digital megaphone, we believe content based on storytelling techniques is the answer to rising above the fray. Are you the type of person who flags colorful anecdotes during evening reading?
  • It’s not exactly enduring or endearing if you reach out to someone only when you need something. Yet, most communicators just contact influencers when a client has a news announcement. Do your interactions with influencers deviate from the norm, reflecting more of an industry source?

zig zag

  • Are you a brave soul? While everyone seems to “zag,” do you know how to a) develop thinking that “zigs,” and b) counsel clients with strength of conviction on the benefits of going the “zig” route?

This role calls for six to 10 years of experience.

If our thinking resonates, we’d love to hear from you.

Send your background to Lou Hoffman at

And yes, we really are looking for such a soul.

Know anyone?

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