Let Me Say What ...



I’ve said it.

Taking liberties with the Hans Christian Andersen emperor story, why do professional communicators continue to worship the message?

Every PR agency offers a messaging workshop.

Every corporate communications type has spent the requisite two agonizing days in a hotel conference room eating bridge mix while debating the merits of “innovate” over “pioneer” as the verb of choice.

All this time and money and bridge mix to create pristine messages that ultimately end up not being used.

Hold on. That’s not fair.

Those messages do sometimes end up in the company boilerplate. As the coach of my nine-year-old nephew’s baseball team would say when the ground ball does NOT go between the legs, “well done.”

I’m all for having a plan.

What impression are we striving to impart to the audience?

This seems like a reasonable question to answer before embarking on a communications campaign, an announcement or even a contributed article.

PR StorytellingBut the time and energy and – yes – bridge mix should go into developing the story that’s going to cultivate such an impression.

That’s the hard part. How do you craft a narrative with texture, drama, anecdotes, etc. that will spur others to share the story and which ultimately grabs the reader by the scruff of the neck?

I defy you to find one customer – I’m talking one customer in the history of commerce – who has ever uttered the following words:

“Wow! Now, that’s a great message.”

On the other hand, you hear customers and even cynical journalists say all the time, “What a great story.”

Which is why it behooves all of us to focus on what matters.

Side note: I penned a column back in 2008 for VentureBeat with startups in mind titled, “RIP: The Controlled Message.”


  • Bob Geller

    I love the topic and post, just not sure I completely agree… good messaging does not need to come at expense of storytelling and vice versa, both are important – I agree making things too controlled and scripted is not a good thing, but being focused and consistent in how you describe things is, and that is more messaging than storytelling – stories may be more enduring but there certainly are catchphrases, sound bites, tag lines etc. that are arguably part of messaging and are memorable

  • Lou Hoffman


    Appreciate hearing your perspective.

    How many times have you’ve been involved in a messaging exercise that was not “too controlled” with the end result being pristine words?

    If you bat better than 50 percent on this one, you’re either gifted in identifying sophisticated clients or lucky.

    That’s really my main point–

    As a general rule of thumb, most companies would gain greater benefit from moving time allocated to message development to story development.

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  • Bill

    If I could reclaim every hour I’ve spent debating “key messages” over the years, I’d be a much younger man.

    No doubt you need to identify some key facts… but that’s an easy exercise. In fact, the vast majority of products and services are more “commodity” than “differentiated” (so why belabor the exercise).

    What makes any of it interesting is the human impact. That’s why executives who are good at explaining things through personal anecdotes are always favored by the media.

    Great post, Lou.

    • hoffman

      I’m with you. Many products/services are commodities so differentiation can be an exercise in futility. Of course, this assumes the company is introspective and has come to the same conclusion.

  • Lee Traupel

    Wonderful job on this Lou and I am in violent agreement with you. All of us (self included) spend so much time tweaking the messaging for/with clients we can at times get lost. There is no substitute for passion and story – the best well crafted message in the world won’t replace either. Loved this piece and shared via social networks. Thanks!!

    • hoffman

      Appreciate the positive words Lee. Answering the question “what’s interesting about us” in more helpful than “what’s our primary message” in building awareness much less a brand.

  • Bill Hornung

    Lou Hoffman provides breakthrough thinking about messaging that is innovative, unique, highest quality and world class.

    Hopefully I captured all the key messages of this blog post.

    Well done, Lou.


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