OK, it’s more than a few.
This question came my way last week: What’s your story? Here goes.
I moved to Silicon Valley in 1981 two years out of college.
You’ve heard the saying, “It’s better to be lucky than good?”
I was lucky in the sense that I moved to Silicon Valley because of the vibrant culture, the raw beauty of the area and a climate that rarely gets too hot or too cold. Little did I know that my new home was about to change forever when IBM released this thing called the Personal Computer on August 12, 1981.
Naturally, I didn’t make much of the news at the time. My brother has described me as “mechanically declined” and that’s a generous characterization.
But I found myself immersed in the wonderful and at times wacky world of technology when I joined a PR company called Marken Communications in 1983. Four years later, I struck out on my own with an unwavering belief in storytelling even if I didn’t call it storytelling at the time.
“Why were we pummeling executives into submission to stay on message? Instead, we should be helping our clients apply storytelling techniques in their communications.”
Building a global communications consultancy over 30+ years has been quite a journey. Like any organization, we’ve enjoyed the good times and done our best to learn from the not-so-good times, hopefully making us a stronger company.
A couple perspectives I’d like to share.
The Hoffman Agency would not be the organization it is today without the “blood, sweat and tears” — hey, I’m entitled to one cliché — put forth by my wife Heather. Whether it’s sandblasting the wall of an office because she’s convinced there’s a cool look behind the grime, hosting visitors from overseas, offering ideas/sanity checks or just adding what I call “Heather touches,” she’s made a difference and has been part of the journey from the get go.
I also want to give a shout out to our global management team — Caroline Hsu, Mark Pinsent, Shingo Nomura, Lydia Lau and Steve Burkhart — who allow me to concentrate on international communications which leads to new adventures every year.
The shot on the left shows my hands-on approach to market research in Indonesia, experiencing the Go-Jek service in Jakarta.
I also get to devote a good chunk of my time to my other passion, evangelizing the storytelling gospel.
This passion traces back to the mid-1980s and an experience supporting Philips and its CD-ROM business. In preparation for a slew of media interviews scheduled for Philips, I walked the VP of marketing, Rob Moes, through the messages and how he should answer anticipated questions. That was what I was trained to do.
The first interview unfolded according to plan.
The second interview found the reporter getting more and more agitated as Rob parroted back the party line. The reporter repeatedly pressed for market projections, which frustrated Rob to the point that he finally blurted out, “Trying to figure out the number of units that will ship in the future is like asking Mrs. Magellan how many lunches to pack. Who the hell knows?”
Needless to say, this answer wasn’t one of the key messages.
The response completely altered the dynamic of the interview.
Rob essentially shucked the script and had a conversation with the reporter, answering the questions in his own words with anecdotes pulled from personal experiences.
Observing the exchange, I couldn’t believe the difference between pre-outburst and post-outburst.
Stories trump corporate drivel.
Why were we pummeling executives into submission to stay on message? Instead, we should be helping our clients apply storytelling techniques in their communications.
Of course, life is better than fiction. For proof, I always come back to the birthday message from my youngest granddaughter, Addy.
Yes, I do hope my life “keeps going on.”