The Storyteller


She who tells the best story wins.

Have You Found a Way to Say Yes Today?

David Meerman Scott has a great post on Web Ink Now about legal departments.  The gist is that too many legal departments are completely unhelpful — they are slow, they say “no” for no good reason.

I found myself thinking that some of the same things could be said about many corporate PR departments.  How many of us have been working on something with a client or a partner only the hear the most dreaded words: “Okay, I’d love to [give you a testimonial, participate in a case study, speak at a conference with you].  I just need to check with my PR department.”  Ugh!!  And the bigger the company the bigger chance that the request will die a slow and painful death in that PR department.

What’s most puzzling about this is that those same PR people are often on the other side of the desk, asking for something.  You’d think they’d see the connection.

I did see the connection and had a complete epiphany because of it.  I was trying to work with a partner on a release and was getting nowhere with the PR folks.  At the same time another partner was asking my company — in the form of me — for approval on a release.  I was going to say “no.”  Or, to put another way, I was trying to figure out if there was a good reason to say “yes.”

And then it hit me.  I should absolutely say yes!  I should always say yes.  Unless there was a big, obvious reason to say no, I should say yes.  And I should say it fast.

Now I say yes to every request that is reasonable.  And I try (*try*) to turn these requests around within 24 hours.  At the very least I do it within the week.  I hope that it will bring me good karma — that when I really need something the PR gods will smile upon me.  Not sure it’s worked out that way, but it has made my overall life more pleasant and happier.  Saying yes is fun!  It makes people happy.

It’s often said that it’s easier to say no and that is why companies, especially big companies, do it so often.  But I think saying yes is easy.  And when you get in the habit, it just gets easier and easier.

Join me in making the world a better place.  Find a way to say yes today!

Filed under: PR Management

Advice on Corporate Blogging

I’ve been in charge of my company’s blog for about three years now.  I’ve learned a lot in that time.  Here are three key tips for anyone who is running a company blog:

Edit lightly: There is an argument to be made that blogs don’t even belong in the corporate communications or marketing department.  But I think marketing professionals can play a very productive and important role in corporate blogging by instilling discipline, offering guidance and coaching and filling in the gaps when no one has the time or inspiration to write.  But trying to run a blog the way you create other marketing communications is a fool’s errand.  You are wasting your time rewriting stuff that is perfectly acceptable and squashing the real voices that are what make blogs interesting.  I focus on grammar and spelling and try to take a very light touch otherwise.  If a post has a message I think isn’t good for our brand or if the post is confusing I will make suggestions back to the writer.  And I will reject a post I think isn’t going to work, but do so very rarely.  Most of the time I post ’em as I get ’em.

“Corporate” isn’t a dirty word: Having said that, corporate blogs can be interesting and be well-written.  Sure, there are companies that have success with what I call “unplugged” blogs that are run by the employees vs. living within corporate communications.  But that doesn’t mean buttoned-up blog that is a bit more polished can’t work.  As long as you focus on your audience and let writers have their voice (see previous tip) you can have an interesting blog that is also high quality.

Consistency is key, but don’t be a slave to a schedule: I have minimums (at least one post per week) and maximums (haven’t hit it yet, but I wouldn’t post more than five posts in a week), but I long ago gave up the idea of a schedule or a certain number of posts per day/week/month/quarter.  It’s a blog, not a newspaper.  You definitely need to post more often when you are getting rolling in order to build your readership.  But once you’ve got it going you can be opportunistic and publish as you get content and not drive yourself crazy.  If you can’t keep a baseline of consistency then you probably have a different problem.

Filed under: Blogging, Content, Marketing

Frank Luntz on Healthcare

I am fascinated by Frank Luntz.  I really wish the Democrats had someone like him.

He was interviewed on On The Media this week talking about how to talk about the health care debate.  Totally worth a seven-minute listen.  If you have more time Luntz has published a long memo with advice for Republicans on how to debate the issue.  Lots of interesting polling data, plus his ideas on how to frame the issue.

His ability to distort facts makes me crazy, but he’s not wrong that words matter.  How we talk about the issues matter and changes in tone and rhetoric can make all the difference between success and failure in the political arena.

Filed under: Media & Publishing, Politics

How Obama Should Have Answered That Question

“If John McCain were standing here instead of me would you be asking that question?  And if the answer is ‘no’ then I think maybe you should sit down so I can take a question that is actually important to the American people.”

Okay, maybe not really.

But maybe.

Filed under: Crisis Communications, Media Relations, Politics

Walter Cronkite 1916-2009

It’s beyond trite to say this, but it does feel like the death of Walter Cronkite is the end of an era.

President Obama’s quote encapsulates this change best:

“He brought us all those stories large and small which would come to define the 20th century.  That’s why we love Walter, because in an era before blogs and e-mail, cellphones and cable, he was the news. Walter invited us to believe in him, and he never let us down.”

It’s true, there just isn’t today that one singular voice that defines the culture.  But I’m not so sure that is all bad.  As Chris Anderson pointed out in The Long Tail, we didn’t all watch the Big Three network because the programming was so good.  There wasn’t anything else on.

I think the future looks more like Seth Godin’s book Tribes.  And in that world there isn’t one Walter Cronkite, there are tons and tons of Walter Cronkites, each leading his own little tribe.

The upside to the old way was a sense of community.  The downside is cultural conformity and a certain level of mediocrity.  (In a three-channel world you only have to be better than the other two.)

So that means the upside to the new way is everyone gets what they want, when the want it.  The downside is a fragmentation of cultural experience.  Life sometimes feels a bit like a modern-day Tower of Babel with everyone having a different conversation.

I think there are two ways to mitigate the downside and actually leverage the upside.  And both involve cross-pollination.

First, no one belongs to just one tribe.  So, for example, I might belong to tribes for Mommies, for communications/PR professionals, for folks in the email industry specifically, for Red Sox fans … Everyone might belong to dozens of tribes or more.  And of course you bring stuff from one tribe to your other tribes.

Second, the big tribe leaders know a lot of other big tribe leaders and they pass information between them, which then passes down to the tribes.

Change is hard.  But it can also be good.  We’ll all miss Walter Cronkite and the singular voice that he represented.  And we will certainly miss his amazing storytelling abilities.  My hope for the future is that more opportunities for great storytellers to have a forum for their stories.  I think Mr. Cronkite would agree with that, too.

Filed under: Media & Publishing, Social Networking

A frenemy by any other name

It’s well known by now that Merriam-Webster added the word “frenemy” to its venerable dictionary.  Discuss amongst yourselves whether this word warrants inclusion.  I’m more curious about the official definition, which is “ one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy.”

I’ve always used this word more in the second sense that is reported by Wikipedia: “a partner who is simultaneously a competitor.”

I guess there is room for both meanings, but they seem very different to me.  One suggests that the friend is not a friend at all.  Whereas the second definition, which admittedly speaks more to corporate relationships, suggests a relationship that is more nuanced, where there is both good and bad.

Filed under: Content

When is the best day to Tweet?

C’mon. After years (and years and years) of headlines blaring “Days ending in ‘Y’ are best for sending email!” you had to see this coming a mile down the road:

Tuesday is the most active Twitter day. One of the most useful data points from the report is that it clears up the common question of which day of the week is the best day to tweet something. Sysomos found that Tuesday stood out as the most popular day for tweets and retweets, followed by Wednesday and then Friday.

This from a worth-reading post on Twitter stats over at Influential Marketing Blog.

Filed under: Social Networking

Sarah, What’s the Strategy?

It’s such a trope that even non-PR people know it: if you want a story to get very little coverage, issue a press release on a Friday afternoon. Preferably around a holiday or just about any Friday in the summer.

From that perspective, Sarah Palin’s announcement was a trifecta: A Friday, in July, the day before the Fourth of July. So, was she hoping that her resignation wouldn’t get covered? I’m totally confused by the strategy.

Of course, I guess the real question is why is she resigning in the first place? If there is another scandal coming or something like that, then this strategy makes sense. It also makes sense if she quit for personal reasons.

If she is resigning to run for President in 2012, or even just more vaguely to position herself for some kind of national platform, whether in the government or not, then I’m not so sure. Putting aside whether or not quitting is a smart strategy, wouldn’t you want to launch a new career with a big media splash? And if the answer is yes, then you don’t announce your resignation on the Friday of a summer holiday weekend, right?

I realize trying to figure out what Sarah Palin is thinking is a bit like trying to read tea leaves. Probably why this post has more question marks than periods.

Meanwhile, I think that whatever the strategy was, she failed. How’s that? Well, if she wanted to make a big splash, it didn’t exactly work. There was some coverage on Friday, but at around 9 pm that night Anderson Cooper was “live” on CNN covering Michael Jackson’s death, now nearly a week past, with footage that was days old. The message couldn’t be clearer: Yeah, Sarah Palin quit. Who cares? But on the other hand the Friday announcement didn’t stop the scrutiny of her very state of mind, which dribbled in over the weekend and has wound up with a vengeance beginning today.

Like a lot of things Sarah Palin does (and says) the whole thing just makes no sense at all.

Filed under: Media Relations, Politics

Myth vs. Reality

On The Media had a great episode this past weekend that was all about popular myths.  Myth is a big part of storytelling, both good and bad.  We like to think of certain stories as “true” but this show really puts that idea to the test.  Did people in Queens really stand idly by while Kitty Genovese was killed?  Did war protesters really spit on returning Vietnam veterans?  Is Barack Obama a Muslim?  The episode probes why myths persist even in the face of undeniable counter-facts.  Truly fascinating.

Filed under: Media & Publishing

I swear I named this blog before I saw this article

Let Me Tell You a Story by Carmine Gallo in BusinessWeek. (Via Smartbrief)

Great article. It’s exactly what I was thinking when I started this blog. Marketing is storytelling.

But stories aren’t a panacea and they certainly aren’t a quick win. I think the best part of the article was the end …

More often than not, a story doesn’t make the sale. Stories open the door, making a prospect more receptive to the message. … If you want to connect with your audience, inspire them, and motivate them to action, start telling stories.

Exactly! Stories are part of a comprehensive marketing plan that must also include lead gen, retention strategies, sales support and more. But stories are a great starting point.

Filed under: Marketing

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