Virtually every novel reflects some form of the classic storytelling arc.
Same goes for movies.
As I’m driving to see “Zero Dark Thirty,” I’m wondering how the heck will the movie build drama. I already know how the story ends. Yet, the CIA operative played by Jessica Chastain must deal with stuff going cockeyed again and again to the point that you lose yourself in the story and indeed can feel the tension building.
In the communications business, we don’t have 300 pages or two hours on the silver screen to define characters or advance a plot with the requisite twists and turns that culminate in a payoff and happy ending.
But it’s not just the element of time that poses a quandary for communicators. The intrinsic nature of classic storytelling revolves around crisis, or better yet, the type of failure that causes the audience to wince. That’s what teases out the tension. That’s what keeps the audience engaged.
PR, on the other hand, is conditioned to do the exact opposite. We’re striving to highlight achievements, ever conscious of keeping any semblance of a crisis behind the closed – no make that locked – doors.
It’s this catch-22 that led to creation of “The Communicator’s Spike.”
What gives lift to this narrative comes from the gap or contrast between the old way and the new way. The greater the difference between the old way and the new way, the more interesting the story.
It still requires PR to get out of its comfort zone. Often, we don’t want to discuss the past because it wasn’t flattering. Yet, without the past, the journalist or reader has no way to frame the story, which generates the contrast (between two points in time).
By storytelling fodder, I don’t mean just facts and figures. There needs to be texture, anecdotes and language that demands attention.
You can actually create some drama with this technique.
At the very least, the story packs more punch than your garden-variety PR narrative.No comments
It seems every PR person in America has weighed in on the NRA’s press conference last month.
No need to rehash this ground with another “What the NRA should have done is …”
Instead, I’ve extrapolated from information in the public domain and pieced together how I think the dialogue went down between the NRA’s PR function and Wayne Lapierre, executive VP at NRA (who delivered the prepared remarks at the press conference).
PR: Sir, I suggest silence as our best course of action. There’s nothing we can say at this point in time that’s going to be perceived in positive light.
Wayne: Silence is an action?
Wayne: You said our best course of action is silence. But silence isn’t an action. An action generates noise, which by definition can’t be silent. Is this too deep for you, son?
PR: Sir, my point is …
(Cuts him off mid-sentence)
Wayne: I get your point, and I’m going to give you half credit for suggesting action. By the way, this will count toward your 2012 KPIs. I agree. We need action. This is no time to head for the bunkers. Do you believe the best defense is a good offense?
Wayne: Good. Then it stands to reason the more aggressive our offense, the more effectively we defend the NRA. I’m tired of every yahoo and his brother taking pot shots at us. Enough. We’re holding a press conference to tell our side of the story.
PR: And what is our side of the story?
Wayne: We stick with our go-to narrative: Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.
PR: With all due respect, that line has been wrung dry. If we’re going to do this, we need something fresh.
Wayne: Now, we’re getting somewhere. Like the pushback. Like the collaboration. Like Rush Limbaugh said, it takes a village to defend a cause. By the way, you should have said, the two lines have been wrung dry.
Wayne: Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. That’s two lines, plural.
PR: My mistake. Any ideas for the new narrative?
Wayne: Journalists love juxtaposition. And it’s got to be simple. One-syllable words. Something they can remember.
PR: Why don’t we play off the words “good” and “bad.”
Wayne: Like it. How about – It’s what’s in the man, not the gun, that determines good from bad.
PR: Good start. Just not catchy enough and too many syllables in “determines.”
Wayne: I’ve got it – The only thing that stops a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun.
PR: That’s more like it. If I can make just one tiny suggestion – We bring some nice alliteration to the line by replacing “man” with “guy,” so the line ends up: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Wayne: Love it. That’s teamwork.
PR: Are you OK with the word “only” having two syllables?
Wayne: Well, let’s think about this. We could replace “only” with “one,” which sounds pretty good.
PR: I don’t know. “One” doesn’t sound quite as authoritative as “only.”
Wayne: Then let’s keep “only” and live with the two syllables. See, I value your counsel.
PR: Thank you, sir.
Wayne: We still need the big idea.
PR: What do you mean?
Wayne: A strong narrative isn’t enough. We also need to give the American people a reason to see how guns can be part of the solution. That’s how we diffuse the gun control zealots.
PR: Any ideas?
Wayne: Let’s brainstorm – what’s in every school? What assets are already there that we can leverage and use to distract?
PR: Desks, chalkboards, teachers, apples, books, principals …
Wayne: Right. We offer to put the principals from every school in America through the NRA handgun training on our dime.
PR: Sir, our research shows that not even 10 percent of school principals own any type of firearm. They don’t even paddle kids as punishment anymore.
Wayne: OK, like the logical pushback … I got it! What’s every school got we didn’t list?
PR: I don’t know. Sandboxes. lockers. pencils …
Wayne: No, no, no. Go back to thinking about the people in schools.
PR: I don’t know.
Wayne: You give up?
PR: I’m not following.
Wayne: Every school in America has janitors. They’re often immigrants from Eastern Europe and Latin America where guns are part of the culture. We put THEM through the NRA handgun training.
PR: Sir, I don’t think turning janitors into security guards is going to work. People won’t see the connection between holding a mop and holding …
Wayne: Stop! That’s it. We recommend that an armed security guard be placed on the grounds of every school in America.
PR: It does fit nicely with our narrative.
Wayne: And it moves the debate away from gun control to school security.
PR: Now, that’s a big idea.
Wayne: Exactly. Couldn’t have done it without you. Time to get cracking on the speech. I want the type of language that will grab America by the scruff of their collective neck.
PR: Yes, sir.
I certainly don’t want to make light of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
But the NRA had an opportunity to facilitate constructive dialogue – instead choosing a combative, even defiant approach.
Do we really need more proof points that something is amiss and warrants change?
Yet, the words uttered at the NRA press conference were toxic. You could drop the text into Christopher Buckley’s fictional PR parody “Thank You for Smoking” and not miss a beat.
I’ve always thought that the PR function at its best serves as the conscious of an organization.
Of course, this assumes the organization has a conscious.2 comments
Do you remember the controversy when the book “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman came out?”
The idea that variables other than pure intellectual horsepower could have the same or even more impact on one’s success triggered quite a dialogue.
“The purpose of leadership isn’t to increase shareholder value or the productivity of work teams, though effective leadership does these things … The process of leadership is to turn your values into a compelling cause.”
Which makes communications and specifically the power of storytelling so vital.
Goleman’s post starts by making this very point.
“Good storytelling is a hallmark of effective leadership.”
His thinking breaks down into two parts, direct leadership and indirect leadership.
Direct leadership is what happens one-on-one when you’re trying to convince someone to see things your way. It’s not just about the words. The body language, your strength of conviction, etc., all come into play as does the frame of the leader’s behavior before and moving forward from the interaction:
“Direct leadership can’t survive the hypocrisy test, because if you push something very strongly in your narrative but every day you’re undoing it in your behavior, then you have Newt Gingrich …”
Turning to the indirect side, Goleman talks about how a product, an invention or even an event offers a symbol that then becomes a tool to move others.
Entrepreneurs often fit this category:
“… it’s a promise of possibility that they’re selling to people and they’re mobilizing people around them.”
He goes on to say that in a sense, effective storytellers have an unfair advantage in raising money from venture capitalists.
Is this really a problem?
Given the standard challenges and quicksand surprises in front of any startup, you need someone leading the charge who has a healthy disregard for logic and can rally the troops.
Whether it’s for a startup or a large company, storytelling delivers a path for leaders for open up so others can know them. You’re not going to run through a wall for someone you don’t know.
Taking this a step further, the McKinsey article explains how leaders who are willing to show vulnerability can cultivate relationships with an emotional bond.
It’s always fascinating to see how big thinkers – and Goleman certainly qualifies as one – apply their beliefs to their own lives and personal brands. While no one sets out to become a “Newt Gingrich,” it happens (maybe I should trademark the phrase, “Newt Happens.”).
But Goleman walks the talk.
I loved his website, especially the section “About Daniel Goleman” which you can see below:
I’ve read a lot of websites, and I don’t remember one paying tribute to parents. These are powerful narratives, where you really get a sense of the man.
In discussing his mom, Goleman takes us back to a time shortly after his mom passed away when he and his sisters were sifting through piles of papers. The experience conjures up memories:
“As we remembered moments from our childhood, I felt a deep gratitude to both my parents for having raised us in a stew of love, social conscious, a spirit of service, and endless intellectual curiosity.”
It makes you want to say, “Thank you,” for sharing who you are.
But before diving into the topic at hand, it’s worth a visit to your Google Analytics.
This doesn’t require a lengthy analysis. Click on the site content and pull up the pages with the most views. If you’re a B2B play, it’s likely that your contact page is a top producer of pageviews.
It makes sense.
If you bring qualified traffic (prospects, job candidates, etc.) to your site and they like what they see, they want to know how to contact you. Yet, few companies capitalize on this real estate to tell their story and continue fortifying the brand.
You do have to be conscious of making it easy for the user. If someone clicks for the contact page, you don’t want the experience to turn into a “Where’s Waldo?” episode.
Still, there are simple ways to balance contact information with applying storytelling techniques to the page.
You can see how we approach this on our own contact page below.
- #1: Our Hong Kong office moved to a larger office space earlier in the year. The link leads to a page we created that pulls together a few photos as well as a first-person narrative from our global VP of operations, Lydia Lau.
- #2: Given we support new ventures around the globe, this graphic takes the reader to a The Next Web story on the startup scene in London.
- #3: Here, we simply highlight an Inc. story on the Agency’s early days in building out its global infrastructure.
- #4: Korean General Manager Yonnie Yoo was recently featured in a Korean publication called The PR.
- #5: Again, we used a few photos of an office, this time Shanghai, and a snapshot to give the reader a “feel” for the operation.
- #6: Tying to our Japan office, we link to a Wall Street Journal story that walks through three glorious nights of dining in Tokyo. Why? This isn’t deep. It simply shows a side of Japan that everyone can relate to, food. Plus, the reader doesn’t expect to see a photo of a sushi chef on our web site.
The only original content on the contact page comes from the narrative on Hong Kong team relocation and the Shanghai office vignette.
The point is, it doesn’t have to be a major undertaking to add some life to the contact page.
I attended a family reunion in Vegas last month.
The town offers a Petri dish of brute-force branding.
It’s all about who can shout the loudest, radiate the brightest lights and hire the most human sandwich boards.
That’s why the simplicity of this billboard away from the Strip caught my attention
Let’s break it down starting with the headline.
The two-word headline can be powerful indeed, and this one does a masterful job of establishing empathy with the potential buyer. By resisting the exclamation point, it delivers the clear message:
We’re all in this together.
If I were going to quibble, I’d say either all caps or red type. You don’t need both.
Turning to the body copy —
The value proposition leaves nothing to interpretation: “We fix it Fast.”
There’s beauty in simplicity. Just a confident declarative sentence designed to bring comfort to the potential buyer. And note the uppercase of the “F” in “Fast.” It’s a subtle way to accentuate the point that these folks don’t dawdle.
Last, a good old-fashioned phone number signs off the billboard (savvy to stay away from an 800 number although “1-800-We-Fix-It” could have worked).
Notice anything missing?
Right, there’s no company name.
Now you might be thinking this is a byproduct of running out of room on the billboard.
But I suspect this was a conscious decision to keep the purity of the message. The last thing you want is a tug o’ war in the prospect’s mind between the name of the company and the service. Few companies aside from Apple can properly brand both the company name and their product names.
Besides, do you really want to know who’s behind this magic wand?
I didn’t think so.No comments