Does Failure Make for Compelling Storytelling?

A Look at the Publication Headlines from Countries Bounced from the Start of the World Cup Knock-out Round

We already know the answer to the headline question.

Virtually every great novel and movie depend on failure to bring tension to the story.

And are there few things more painful than seeing your country fight its way through World Cup group play only to get sent home during the first stage of the knock-out round?

Thinking it would be a cathartic experience – again, I stand by my earlier vow to never eat another waffle – we’ve captured sample publication headlines from all the countries that exited the World Cup during the start of the knock-out round.


Newspaper: El Mercurio

Headline Translation: Maximum Penalty

Analysis: The photo serves up the anguish with the headline taking a supporting role. Hopefully, someone eventually gave Number 2 a hug as well.

Chile soccer team World Cup 2014


Newspaper: El Pais

Headline Translation: We Lost It

Analysis: Always enjoy a double entendre in the headline.

Uruguay soccer team World Cup 2014


Newspaper: El Sol de Mexico

Headline Translation: Dramatic defeat of Mexico; Holland qualifies for quarter finals

Analysis: Another case where the photo more than the headline communicates the painful outcome.

Mexico Soccer team World Cup 2014


Newspaper: Sentra Goal

Headline Translation: Too Bad, But You Made us Proud

Analysis: It sounds like the writer of this headline had just finished an essay on Greece’s economic quagmire.

Greece soccer team World Cup 2014


Newspaper: The Sun

Headline: Team France Clip Eagle’s Wings

Analysis: Eh.

Nigeria soccer team World Cup 2014


Newspaper: Echorouk

Headline Translation: “Desert Warriors” Bid Farewell to the World Cup with Pride

Analysis: Algeria shows it’s a glass-is-half-full nation.

Algeria soccer team World Cup 2014


Newspaper: 20 Minuten

Headline Translation: Bitter send off for Switzerland!

Analysis: Now there’s an adjective that packs an emotional punch, “bitter.”

Switzerland soccer team World Cup 2014


Publication: The New Yorker

Headline: Hail to the Alamo, Team USA Goes Down Fighting

Analysis: Nothing like conjuring high school history to find the perfect metaphor. The Alamo didn’t end well for the U.S., nor did the match against Belgium.

USA soccer team World Cup 2014

Until the World Cup returns in 2018 in Russia, I’ll take solace in the cliché, “misery loves company.”

For the Nigerians, Greeks, Chileans, and others who made this class, enjoy!

Side note: It periodically takes a village to raise a post. Thanks go to Megan Hernbroth (research), Luica Mak (translation), Shereen Massoud (translation) and Leslie Posada (translation) for their helping hands.

No comments

Writing Executive Quotes That Sound Like They Come From Actual Human Beings

The executive quote serves as a mainstay of PR-generated content from news releases to prepared statements.

With rare exception, they’re dreadful.

It’s as if each quote goes through the following process in which a conscious effort is made to squeeze out any semblance of humanity:

Executive Quote chart for humanity- storytelling

The upshot —

PR ends up crafting quotes like this one that then get flung to the world.

Typical PR executive quote

The quote does nothing to advance the narrative.

Worse, it’s more dull than an episode of CSPAN debating the merits of wildlife in national parks.

For a role model on doing quotes right, we surprisingly turn to the U.S. Soccer Federation. In fact, the organization goes one step further, essentially creating atomized storytelling that journalists can easily feather into their stories. Putting the heartbreak from yesterday’s loss to Belgium aside (I’m not bitter, but I’ll never eat another waffle), this is worth a drill down.

The Federation puts out what’s termed “The World Cup Quote Sheet” with select players and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann commenting on both recent outcomes and what’s ahead. Quotes such as the following — in-depth commentary allows journalists to pull slices into their stories — were distributed after the match with Germany:


On advancing from the Group of Death:

JK: “It’s huge. We wanted a tie out of this game, but maybe in the beginning we had a bit too much respect [for Germany]. Then, more and more, we got into the game. We should have created a bit more chances. That’s really something we have to improve on, but overall, tremendous energy, tremendous effort from the whole side. It’s huge for us getting out of this group that everybody said, ‘You have no chance.’ We took that chance and now we move on. We really want to prove a point.”

U.S. MNT goalkeeper TIM HOWARD
On getting out of the Group of Death:

TH: “Proud of our group; we have a lot left in us. Today was a tough game in tough conditions. Hats off to Germany, I think they have an opportunity to win the World Cup, that’s how good I think they are. We had a chance right there at the end, but we go again, we get to the Round of 16. It shows how far we’ve come. That we’re not happy just getting there, that we want to progress , and we still got a little bit left in us.”

On Jermaine Jones possibly breaking his nose:

CD: “I guess that’s the way it goes. We have a team that has a lot of heart, a lot of character. We keep going, we keep fighting. I’m sure, if he did break his nose, just like what happened to me, he’ll be ready for the next game.”

These comments do sound like they’re coming from actual human beings.

Equally important, the Federation’s PR team directs the commentary based on anticipating how journalists will round out their stories.

That’s why you have Clint Dempsey who broke his nose in the first match offering up a quote on Jermaine Jones who appeared to suffer a similar fate. Can anyone doubt that the line “I guess that’s the way it goes” really came from the mouth of Dempsey?

As a result, journalists do use these quotes because they add texture to their stories (search on “Klinsmann” and “It’s huge” shows that the phrase found its way into well over 100 stories).

I think there’s room for business communicators to borrow this concept.

At the very least, we should be writing executive quotes that pass the sound test; i.e., does it sound like something a person would actually say?


No comments

U.S. Soccer Federation Shows Sense of Humor

I often refer to levity as the killer app in business communications.

Why do so few organizations go this route?

It takes guts as much as creativity to insert levity into an organization’s storytelling. As a great philosopher once put it, “One man’s levity is another man’s trash.”

Zappos showed guts bringing levity to its communications last year when the brand counterpunched Kanye with his own words.

Likewise, the U.S. Soccer Federation had some fun with its communications before the match with Germany last Friday – in case you’ve been in a submarine without WiFi, Germany won 1 to 0  – tweeting out the following message.

U.S. Soccer Federation Tweet

The tweet included the following “excuse me from work” note ready for easy printout. If you just filled in the blank with your name, you were good  to go.

World Cup Letter - excuse to get out of work template

Nice touch adding the seal from the U.S. Soccer Federation in the upper right-hand corner of the letter.

It would have been easy for the Federation to just stick with the script, offering the typical quotes from the players in anticipation of the big match, statistics on the team’s performance, historical context, etc.

Instead, it deviated from the status quo.

By bringing out the organization’s humanity, it helped people to connect with the U.S. soccer team.

Of course, nothing would connect with the audience like actually winning the World Cup. Then again, just beating Belgium tomorrow would be an achievement.


For more posts that address storytelling on the pitch, check out:




Trek to Asia Explores the Fun in Language

Traveling to Asia and working out of our offices — Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong, back to Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo — never gets old.

Even after 50+ trips to the region, I still come across life-is-better-than-fiction moments in regard to language.

Here are the top three from my latest trip.

Marketing is Alive and Well in China

Marketing in China - Children's Food store selling candy

The above photo depicts the front of a store in Shanghai called “Children’s Food.”

I’m thinking such a store capitalizes on all parents’ quest to give their kids the best — the best education, the best nutrition, etc.

Not quite.

It turns out “Children’s Food” sells candy.

Row after row after row of every type of candy you can imagine.

I never thought of malt balls and gummy bears as children’s food. With that said, I admire the owner’s pluck in putting a positive spin on candy.

The Arrival Card as a Springboard into Storytelling

China Immigration Arrival Card

Every country requires the completion of an arrival card, which in combination with a passport allows one to pass through customs.

This particular landing card caught my attention, specifically the area called “purpose of visit.”

I’m cruising through the list — business, sightseeing, visiting friends or relatives — which all make sense until the eighth choice, “settle down.”

What do you suppose this means?

That after a nomadic life or perhaps after a lifestyle best described as decadent, a check of this box indicates the person is going to “settle down”?


Guiding Proper Behavior on an Elevator

Chinese elevator behavior guideline

I got a kick out of this sign that adorned the elevator in a service apartment where I stayed.

Of course, smoking isn’t allowed on the elevator.

And I personally appreciated the reminder “to press the button lightly” (bottom row, middle) since my index finger can get impatient and downright aggressive when it comes to pressing stuff.

But I must confess to tapping my deepest reservoirs of restraint to follow the rule “no jumping” (top row, right)

The idea of jumping in an elevator never occurred to me until seeing this sign. I’ll leave the psychology behind the “why” to the professionals.

Before its demise, the Far Eastern Economic Review published the wonderful “Traveller’s Tales” column, a forum to share amusing “communications” from all over the world like the one below.

Far Eastern Economic Review published the wonderful "Traveller's Tales" column - communication

If you’ve come across this type of fodder during your own travels, send it my way. With enough content, I’ll cobble together a follow-up post.


Finally, a “Test” To Guide the Actions and Storytelling Behind a News Release

The Internet has commoditized the news release.

Unfortunately, many companies missed the memo.

As noted in a previous post, the three largest news release distribution services (PR Newswire, Business Wire and Marketwired) sent out roughly 642,000 news releases in 2013 or 1,759 news releases per day. Figuring 10 man hours per news release at $175 per hour, and you’ve got over $3,000,000 being plowed into news releases on a daily basis.

As a service to the PR industry to reduce the amount of dollars earmarked for ignored news releases, we created a test that starts with a simple question on PR storytelling:

  • Will anyone care about this news release?

Remember, if you don’t answer this initial question honestly, you’re only making things more difficult for yourself.

Click on image to enlarge.

Hoffman Agency Infographic- a “Test” To Guide the Actions and Storytelling Behind a News Release

<div align="center"><a href="…a-news-release/" title="Hoffman Agency Infographic- a Test To Guide the Actions and Storytelling Behind a News Release"><img src="" alt="Hoffman Agency Infographic- a Test To Guide the Actions and Storytelling Behind a News Release" width="467" height="1024" style="border:none;" /></a><br /><small>The Hoffman Agency is a public relations firm that emphasizes storytelling in <a href="">business communication</a></small>.</div>

With Google taking away the benefit of link building through syndicated news releases last year, you can no longer rationalize news release distribution as an SEO tactic.

And if journalists aren’t going to care about the news, why fork out the money for distribution? To pacify internal stakeholders with a wrap-up report highlighting syndicated coverage in “powerhouse” media properties like “Wrestling for Working Moms.”

Even if some find that it works today, it’s not a sustainable practice. At some point, those stakeholders are going to wake up and realize the few people reading “Wresting for Working Moms” do not purchase object-oriented programming tools.

The news release distribution services absolutely have a place in the PR world. It’s a matter of identifying the announcements deserving of this treatment.

Consider one final question:

  • If a news release falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

« Previous PageNext Page »