Three Mistakes To Avoid in Storytelling

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Storytelling is not all fun and games. Avoid these mistakes we see far too often in business communications–and how to avoid them.

  1. Don’t confuse a message with a story. In its simplest terms, a message is a conclusion you wish people to reach. A story is the journey that gets you to that conclusion with a beginning, middle and end. A message is the end.
  2. Don’t make your story all about you. Make it about your customer. People like to read about other people–unless that person is a narcissist. Don’t be that person Don’t only talk about how great you are. Share how great you are through the eyes of someone you pleased.
  3. Don’t confuse your fancy terms with clarity and understanding. The term, XYZ Company Advantage, may sound like a terrific name for a loyalty program, but would your customer automatically equate that term with such a thing? Label things for what they are: XYZ Customer Loyalty Program. (Okay, it’s oversimplified, but you get what I’m saying, right?)

Messaging and Storytelling for Greater Influence

dreamstime_s_49594866One of Four Leaf’s signature services is helping organizations refresh and update their messaging and storytelling abilities. I often hear, “well, messaging and storytelling are kind of the same thing, right?” No, not at all.

To over simplify, a message is a specific idea you’re trying to get across. Storytelling is a way to get your ideas across.

In coming weeks, this blog will be dedicated to positioning, messaging and storytelling–what it is, how to use it for greater influence, and simple exercises you can do to refresh or heighten how you communicate.

Some thing we’ll go over:

  • Defining positioning and the three main components for a strong communications position in the marketplace.
  • The top three exercises every company should go through annually to ensure their language is relevant, powerful and effective.
  • Storytelling techniques that go beyond Mother Goose and make business communications head-and-shoulders above the competition.
  • The top mistakes made in business communications around messaging and storytelling–and how to avoid them.
  • The biggest changes in communications today and how to use them to your advantage.

Check back often, or better yet, subscribe to our RSS feed to bring these posts to you.

To learn more about Four Leaf Public Relations’ positioning, messaging and storytelling work, click here.

Part Nine of the Modern Communications Plan: Messaging, Positioning and Storytelling

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Now we get to a fun part of communications planning: what you want to say.

Every modern communications plan should include a positioning, messaging and storytelling guide.

When you have a guide you are positioning your staff to be more successful in executing your strategies. It also brings consensus to employees, senior management, business units and divisions about where the organization is headed. Having an arsenal of messages to use is key to creating a strong brand and making your communications plan stay on target and be effective.

Note that I used the word “guide.” It should have enough detail to provide the right tone, top-level messages and language to help people be creative but not stray so far that they are making up their own ideas about what you’re trying to get across

It may include a positioning statement, value proposition and spotlight pitch to start, with an arsenal of anecdotes and proof points, to help the people tasked with executing the plan develop more specific and detailed messages for content and presentations.

Why is having a guide so important? Whether you know it or not, when it comes to describing your organization, products and services, you are delivering messages that set people on a path to either include you or exclude you from their future. People also naturally fall into a default way of speaking and writing. Without identifying your language, you’re leaving it up to their employees to describe the good works and products you offer in whatever way they choose. You wouldn’t leave your finances up to chance, so why treat your communications that way?

Four Leaf has a proprietary technique that involves a series of facilitated meetings with an organization’s leadership over several weeks in addition to background and intelligence-gathering about the organization, its market and its customers to help set the stage for educated message development.

Below are a number of exercises to get your started:

  • Develop a “good word, bad word” list: What words do you always want associated with you, and which words do you never want said about you? Dig deep. What powerful words, if spoken by a referral source, might get someone to act? Also, don’t just choose bad words opposite of the good words. What could people say about you, but you wish they didn’t? What buzz words in your industry have no power left in them? (e.g. solutions)
  • What is unique about your products and services that no one else can claim?
  • You started this communications planning route with an idea in mind. What was it? How would you prioritize your ideas? What’s the most important idea to get across?
  • If you could tell anyone about you and your products what would it be?
  • What is your origin story? How did the company start and why? What special ideas did the founders have?

Avoid language that states “buy my products.” No one cares. What they care about is how your product or service will make their life better.

When you go through these exercises (and there are many more), you’ll discover language, phrases and stories you’d like to get across. From there, a guide can be developed.

Read the entire template for the Modern Communications Plan here.

Four Leaf has taken about 40 organizations through its Positioning, Messaging and Storytelling process. Learn more here.

 

Ami Neiberger-Miller Joins Four Leaf Public Relations as Senior Counselor

Ami Neiberger-MillerWe are a fortunate group at Four Leaf Public Relations. Today, we have the pleasure of introducing a new virtual team member: senior counselor Ami Neiberger-Miller, APR. A seasoned public relations consultant, Ami brings a strong background and more than twenty years of experience in helping businesses and associations take the next step in sharing who they are and what they want to do.

Ami’s areas of expertise include: designing and managing strategic communications and outreach campaigns; providing strategic counsel for tough situations and messaging development; developing and integrating content creation with media relations and writing for web copy, news releases, event scripting, educational curriculum, professional training, and more.

Ami has written for PRSA’s Tactics and other publications on news coverage and crisis. She has spoken at Columbia University and the Carter Center on media coverage and trauma. She has been interviewed by CNN, CBS Sunday Morning, ABC World News, and NPR. She’s been around!

Ami is also a public relations strategist, writer and consultant at Steppingstone LLC and a public affairs and media relations officer at Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).  In the past Ami has been a special projects consultant and writer at National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC); a member of  the board of directors and chair of the public relations working group at Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter/Loudoun Citizens for Social Justice (LAWS/LCSJ) and the communications director at Sister Cities International.

Welcome, Ami!

 

 

 

Public Relations Questions To Answer For Results in 2014

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve added a new blog post. However, the reason is why this new post exists. We’ve been very busy at Four Leaf, readying several major client announcements for the Fall. What many business leaders may not realize is this: to announce something in October, you need to start in April. Hence, Four Leaf’s all-hands-on-deck craziness that ensued this summer to make sure everything goes smoothly for said clients in coming weeks.

So, want to start 2014 with a bang? Now’s the time to think about any initiatives you want to debut, make known or push forward in January. Below are five steps to take to make first quarter 2014 a time to remember.

1. How do you want people to think about you and your initiatives in January?

2. Who is going to be the most important person or group for you in 2014? Has it changed from 2013?

3. Do you know what makes your best customers sit up and take notice? (i.e. Your ability to provide a “personal touch,” your commitment to excellence, your price point, etc.)

4. What content (i.e. thought leadership, tutorial information, helpful messages) will they need to understand how you’re better and different? Are you prepared to deliver it by January?

5. How will you get the word out to them? No, really. How? Advertising, PR, social channels, marketing, direct sales, CEO-to-CEO*? Will that put you ahead of your competitors?

*Intrigued by CEO-to-CEO? We’ll blog on this soon.

 

Getting Everyone on the Same Page With A Concept Pyramid

The concept pyramid is an exercise we’ve used to help get client’s employees on the same page. But, unlike the “good word-bad word” list exercise, which ferrets out default language your staff is using, the concept pyramid exercise helps set message priorities. It organizes everyone’s thoughts and ideas about who you are, what you deliver, and why.

It is important to note that the concept pyramid is meant to simply get ideas down on paper. It will not be the official language you use.

Similar to the “good word-bad word” list exercise, it starts with getting your key people around a conference room table (or take them somewhere where they can relax and be forthcoming). Now answer the following questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?
  • Why do you do this?
  • Why would anyone care?
  • What else do you do that people would care about?

If you can’t answer these questions, you aren’t ready for messaging – yet. Get on the same page, conceptually, and then seek that scintillating copy to express it.

The Most Overlooked Part of a Powerful Message

Nouns. I lead with the punch line.

Far too many companies and organizations lead with the benefits, the adjectives, and the scintillating catch phrases. They forget to do one simple thing: tell an audience who they are and what they do using simple-to-understand nouns.

How many times have you read: We bring unparalleled results to your most thorny problems instead of We can fix your computer?

Unless your brand is Apple or Dell or Google, no one can actually hear what you are saying (or read what you are writing) if they don’t hear a noun.

Your organization is an airline, a computer technology company, a retail store, a nonprofit association that represents lawn mower manufacturers or something entirely different. But, it is something. Say it. And, say it early.

Why You Need A Story Section in Your Communications Plan

As we continue to explore the various sections to include in the modern day communications plan, we turn to the heart of your effort: your story. Be sure to include a section in your plan that specifically references the main stories and messages you are going to use.

Of course, this will not include every story. You’ll be pitching unique ideas to the media, developing new content and crafting submessages along the way. However, you should have an inventory of “signature” stories and a high level message guide as part of your plan.

(What? You don’t have a message guide? We can fix that.)  We also can help you with your stories. Yes, there is a difference.)

Your message guide section should include all top level messages from your positioning statement and value proposition to a spotlight pitch and answers to frequently asked questions. It sets the message tone so everyone is clear on how you are going to position the organization at the most basic level. It provides the foundation on which all other messages are developed.

Your story section should include a short inventory of the various customer and client stories you can tell to illustrate what you do, the impact you have and how what you do is better, different and relevant to your target audience. It needn’t include the stories themselves, but rather give some sense of what is available to use. It also will showcase what you may need to develop. Hint: Take a look at your case studies, past media coverage, and customer testimonials to identify themes.

Does this seem like overkill?  You would be surprised at how many organizations do not have this section and then wonder why confusion exists in the marketplace about who they are and what they deliver. Or, why their employee base doesn’t seem to be on the same page. Know what you have to work with from the start. It will get you off on the right foot.

Is Media Relations Dead?

I interrupt our series of developing a modern communications plan, to bring you the following post. We will resume our communications planning series on Thursday, March 8.

I spent a great deal of my communications career, especially in the early days, pitching reporters story ideas. If I were to be completely honest it was meant to get my clients ink or broadcast. We in the PR field call(ed) this activity “media relations.”

This meant we were attempting to get a dialogue going with a staff reporter/editor, producer or paid freelancer. We would tell them a story idea and we hoped they would “bite,” causing them to want to learn more, write about it and quote (in a positive light) a client. Whole PR agencies dedicated themselves to this activity starting, oh, sometime in the late 1980s through, oh, about 2008 (give or take).

But, then something happened. The media as we knew it started to fade right about the time the Internet was taken over by the people (read: social media).

The demise of traditional media is well documented. Some declare it dead. Others say objective journalism will find a new home and rise again to new heights. Some say it’s making a comeback. But, regardless of the outcome, the question is still begging to be asked: Is media relations – as we know it – dead? 

With the rise of social media giving a platform for anyone and everyone to tell their own story directly to the masses, not to mention the rise of homemade video and infographics, is there room or even a need for that third party credibility that a professionally written story about you (or our clients) provide?

Why spend hours trying to convince a reporter to give you that one quote in a 1,500 word story (down from 3,000 ten years ago) that may or may not be read by anyone you need to see it because there is just so much out there to see, overall? Also, today we hear more reporters asking us to write for them. “Can you deliver 750 words on that by next week?” is heard far more often now than, “great, let me interview your CEO.” We also find it more difficult to know who is a staff reporter and who is a “guest columnist.”

It’s enough to make you question the activity altogether. But, perhaps we are just thinking about it all wrong. Perhaps the activity of spreading a story needs to be broadened and renamed.

Rather than media relations, how about calling it storyteller relations?

After all, the “media” can be almost anyone today. If we see everyone as a potential storyteller of our stories, wouldn’t we see more traction for them across all mediums? Attempting  to interest whoever is influencing our target audiences to help spread the word about us and what we’re up to might be the better path.

What do you think?

A Common Pitfall in Business Storytelling: Wrong Story Overall

Over the last few days I’ve written about the four major steps in organizational storytelling, modeled after Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. But, even with all the right elements in place, there are pitfalls to avoid.

For one, be sure you are telling your story to the right audience.  Or rather, have the right story for the audience.

Ensuring your story resonates with your listeners requires you know something about them. I am not talking about deep market research. Just some basic facts will do. If you are speaking before a group, are they from a particular industry? Have a common need, vision or issue? If it is an individual, do you know them personally? (If not, keep the story as universal as possible.)

For instance, if you are speaking to a group of people in the hospice industry do not tell a story about how your rock climbing injury kept you from reaching the top of Mount Everest. If you are a CEO and are lamenting about your contractor problems on your beach house before an audience that could never afford such a luxury, expect to miss the mark.

Universal themes are always the safest bet, unless you know the group or individual intimately. Being relevant is more important than being titillating.