Reverse Engineering the #Storytelling Techniques in a Fast Company Feature

Every company wants a signature win in heavyweight publications like Fast Company, BusinessWeek and Fortune.

By signature win, I mean 1,000-plus words devoted to a behind-the-curtain look at the company.

Yet, few PR teams cultivate the needed content assets to give themselves a fighting chance for this type of attention.

It requires thinking like a journalist, framing the tension in the story and teasing out potential texture.

To understand the type of fodder that drives such #storytelling, we selected a Fast Company feature, “Walmart’s Evolution from Big Box Giant to E-Commerce Innovator” and categorized the content type (3,324 words).

Storytelling, PR storytelling, business communications, business storytelling, Fast Company, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Walmart, anecdotes, The Hoffman Agency, Lou Hoffman

A few points worth noting—

  • The core narrative only constitutes 21% of the piece. Your standard messaging document is not enough to carry the day.
  • Competition and challenges will always be part of a feature story. That’s how the journalist creates a story arc. There has to be a bump in the road or better yet, a “big bad guy” threatening your livelihood.
  • As discussed before, anecdotes represent a sizable chunk of feature writing. While execs can trivialize anecdotes as “fluff,” they’re critical to bringing an entertainment dimension to the story.

In fact, the Fast Company piece on Walmart kicked off with an anecdote that sets the stage for the storytelling:

Jeremy King was ignoring the largest retailer in the world. For a month, he’d been getting calls from a Walmart recruiter. King was used to being wooed, since he was well known in Silicon Valley as an engineer who built key parts of eBay’s infrastructure. The calls kept coming. Finally, he picked up the phone and let Walmart know exactly what it would take to get him to interview. “I was like, ‘Why don’t you get the CEO on the phone – let him talk to me and then maybe I’ll come in?’” recalls King, who didn’t even know who the CEO of Walmart was. “I was being cocky. The CEO of the world’s largest retailer wasn’t going to meet with me just so I’d do an interview.”

We don’t know whether this lead graph come from the journalist’s discovery process or PR, but it really doesn’t matter.

The more PR can bring a journalistic mentality to content development, the stronger its position to secure feature coverage in mainstream media.

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6 Comments so far

  1. Frank Strong February 19th, 2013 4:08 pm

    And now, I have to read that article to find out if the CEO ever did call him!

  2. Gini Dietrich (@ginidietrich) February 20th, 2013 6:43 am

    LOVE the breakdown! Very, very good!!

  3. hoffman February 20th, 2013 9:31 am

    Frank, I won’t spoil it for you. It’s a good read.

  4. hoffman February 20th, 2013 9:34 am

    Thanks Gini.

    We’re often dealing with engineers who can find the concepts underpinning storytelling as squishy. By talking in their language (data), we’ve improved our success rate in supporting/funding the approach.

  5. huda tv April 20th, 2013 11:57 am

    By talking in their language (data), we’ve improved our success rate in supporting/funding the approach.

  6. [...] of een persoon, daar is meer voor nodig dan een standaard pitchverhaaltje. Dat bleek ook uit de blogpost van Lou Hoffman, die ooit een dergelijk feature artikel over Walmart uit Fast Company ontleedde. [...]

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