Archive for November, 2012

Typical Business Storytelling After an M&A Transaction: Not So Good

Typical Business Storytelling After an  M&A Transaction: Not So Good

There’s a certain “cycle of life” in business.

Companies are born, struggle, grow … and grow some more. Then the decline sets in, which typically culminates with the company dying, merging or being acquired.

This keeps the investment bankers busy, befitting the thousands of transactions that take place each year.

This also means thousands of letters each year from the CEOs of the subservient companies (in the transaction) extolling the virtues of the new world order.

Needless to say, this is not business storytelling at its best.

A truthful letter would take guts and sound something like this:

Dear Customer,

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by saying being acquired today by ACME Co. deserves applause.

We’ve been struggling to stay relevant.

You know it.

We know it.

And ACME Co. certainly knows it as reflected in negotiations that pummeled our price to essentially cash value.

If the marriage of our two companies does not deliver on the promise of synergy, ACME Co. won’t lose a dime.

To borrow from Garth in Wayne’s World: It’s a “schweet” deal … for them.

Then again, I’m now part of them.


My new colleagues are big believers in transparency. I suppose no better time than the present to assimilate, so here goes –

My compensation going forward will be largely dependent on retaining customers like you.

This might sound a bit mercenary, but it actually works to your advantage.

You have what’s known in the investment banking world as leverage.

And I’m highly motivated to put forth a product that wows you.

BTW, my new boss insisted on that verb, “wow.” Personally, I’d be thrilled with “satisfy.”

Time will tell.

I think it’s fair to say such a letter would cause a double take.

I also think companies underestimate the power of honesty in communications.

But I’m not holding my breath.

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Visual Storytelling Can Bring Out a Company’s Humanity

The largest semiconductor in the world runs a story depicting tattoos with “Intel” as part of the deisgn.

Caterpillar produces a video about the role of their tractors in uniting the country of Madagascar.

Visual storytelling can be an effective means to show a company’s humanity to the outside world.

It’s tough for B2B companies to show their personality. Most are bound by a conservative mentality that prefers to stick with the status quo. You can see this reflected in both the structure and “look and feel” of their websites.

In any given sector, the sites all look the same.

As a result, a little courage and showing your humanity can actually help to differentiate your company.

You can see how this plays out with one of our clients, TOTVS Labs, the Silicon Valley operation for the largest software company in Brazil, TOTVS.

Rather than go with the typical visuals associated with business computing, the company rotates on the home page favorite photos from employees that depict their home countries. On each photo, the employee writes a caption with a line about its significance.

Brazil software company TOTVS home page three contries Brazil India Russia

I know the writing is tough to read in the reduced size. Here’s a snapshot of the writing in the photo directly above.

TOTVS - storytelling techniques on company home page

What I particularly like about the TOTVS Labs approach is that the photos didn’t involve a massive undertaking.

The little things can make a big difference.

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How to Trash a Brand with Storytelling

How to Trash a Brand with Storytelling

I am a big fan of The New York Times Dining section.

Donut drama.

Importing Mom instead of the pasta.

Hunting for “treasures” in restaurant laundry.

And the list goes on.

The NYT Dining journalists know how to shape story lines beyond the – “chef showed restraint, allowing the flavor of the fresh [fill in the blank] to take center stage” – and do it with clever wordsmithing.

Peter Wells’ review of a Guy Fieri restaurant last week is right up there with the best.

The fact that the piece triggered more than 1,000 comments (not a typo) shows I’m not the only person who noticed.

I thought this comment nailed it:

The rhetorical device of structuring this as a series of questions really shows you how in writing, you have to make a judgment call sometimes. When something goes colossally wrong in a restaurant, you need to go colossally off script as a writer, and do something different in order to really convey the egregious nature of what has happened.

And convey Mr. Wells did.

I’ve captured my favorite passages:

Somewhere within the yawning, three-level interior of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, is there a long refrigerated tunnel that servers have to pass through to make sure that the French fries, already limp and oil-sogged, are also served cold?

Hey, did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste? The watermelon margarita? Any idea why it tastes like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde?

How did nachos, one of the hardest dishes in the American canon to mess up, turn out so deeply unlovable? Why augment tortilla chips with fried lasagna noodles that taste like nothing except oil? Why not bury those chips under a properly hot and filling layer of melted cheese and jalapeños instead of dribbling them with thin needles of pepperoni and cold gray clots of ground turkey?

As a general rule of thumb, you don’t want the noun “clot” to show up in your restaurant review.

Naturally, Team Fieri went into damage-control mode, putting Guy on a plane to New York to appear on the Today Show (video below).

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I thought it was a savvy decision for Team Fieri to fight back from NYC where the review originated.

The preparation for the interview also came through with Guy disagreeing with Mr. Wells and still maintaining a “we’re not perfect” tone.

As for Mr. Wells, I’m sure his observations of the NYC dining scene will continue with entertaining narratives.

Wishing everyone an enjoyable Thanksgiving (with no blue drinks).


Procurement and the Buying of PR Services

It always feels like a tussle between Procurement and the PR agency.

tussle procurement and PR business storytelling public relations

The Council of PR Firms offers a paper called, “Procurement Professionals Q&A: Advancing the Working Relationship with Public Relations Firms” which proposes the money side be handled as thus:

With regard to the financial negotiation, there should be a short term and longer term goal. Immediately, the client organization should communicate the reason for retaining the public relations firm and how the firm’s success will be evaluated. Longer term, the focus should be on relationship management based on the scope of work, benchmarks against goals, and appropriate compensation. Each party should make the other aware of what it is seeking to achieve in the relationship. The most successful and productive long term relationships are based on mutual respect and open dialogue.

It all sounds so good – cue the birds chirping in the background – in theory.

Unfortunately, the reality rarely plays out this way, at least in our experiences of interacting with Procurement. Instead, Procurement’s overriding objective if not singular mission is to secure the PR agency’s services at the lowest price point possible. While the Council’s paper stresses that PR services are not a commodity, Procurement hasn’t got the memo typically treating the PR agency negotiation like an express mail contract.

I do understand the quest by every company in the galaxy to gain value from their outside purchases.

Everyone wants a good deal.

I get it.

But I also think Procurement misses the big picture in the sense that no matter how tightly you scope the assignment and squeeze the PR agency, the intangible called “care” is a huge wildcard. If an agency cares about the client, it actually goes above and beyond the statement of work (what a concept.).

Assuming Procurement professionals read the Council’s paper, I’m not convinced anything would change. The core issue is not Procurement’s lack of understanding the world of PR. The core issue is a rewards system that motivates Procurement to pummel vendors into submission to save another nickel an hour.

I’d love to hear your views on this one.

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Does the Executive’s LinkedIn Profile Hurt or Help Your Media Relations Effort?

LinkedIn logo - business communication

In preparing for a storytelling workshop in Asia last week, I spoke with six different journalists from blue-chip properties like Reuters and The Next Web.

I asked a simple question –

How do you prepare for an executive interview?

While each journalist has formulated his or her own approach to due diligence, two common denominators surfaced.

They google the executive’s name.

They check out the exec’s LinkedIn profile.

I realize this isn’t exactly a revelation. In fact, when we hosted LinkedIn for a “lunch bucket” a couple years ago, we heard how the company spent considerable time educating journalists on how to navigate the platform … and we were given an upgraded account at no charge.

But here’s where things get interesting.

In my recent talks to journalists, I learned that more than checking out an executive’s background, they’re extrapolating from the executive’s LinkedIn page to make broader judgment calls.

In one journalist’s words:

“LinkedIn is the best place to get a sense of the person, what they did before, their career trajectory. It also tells me how much they want to project themselves to the outside world.”

That one phrase “how much they want to project themselves to the outside world” is pretty darn revealing.

Everyone talked about understanding the executive’s personality and style from LinkedIn. Two journalists went as far as to say they use LinkedIn to qualify an executive before accepting an interview.

For all of these reasons, PR should be guiding executives in applying storytelling techniques to their LinkedIn profiles so they make an impression on the outside world.

For example, 99 percent of people put their current title under their name when the format already allows slots for both current and previous titles. The real estate under the name  can be put to better use by sharing something about the role, the person’s passion, etc. You can see example of this in my own LinkedIn profile below.

CEO LinkedIn profile - business communications

As a second idea, the summary section is the perfect forum for a glimpse into the executive’s take on thought leadership, not just a laundry list of skills and achievements.

And sharing a personal tidbit or two can round out the profile.

These three changes can transform a drab LinkedIn profile into a preconditioning tool for media relations.

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