Telling your company story is imperative and corporate storytelling is as much of an art form as writing a novel. Yes, a PR company can help, but in order to be effective AS a story, it needs to be told and re-told, which means everyone has to be able and willing to tell the story. Additionally, your story will influence your company culture, the way your customers relate to you, everything. It’s important to get the story right.
You’ve probably heard that there are only 7 basic stories ever written. Every single story falls into one of these categories – each its own journey:
Overcoming the Monster
Rags to Riches
Voyage and Return
One of the great modern-day corporate stories is Steve Jobs returning to Apple after his humiliating exit. It’s a “Voyage and Return” story. Look closely at those stories. What’s missing? The motivation, the characters, the setting and/or place. This is where telling your story becomes individualized and authentic. Personally, I believe one of the most compelling story aspects is motivation, but setting/place can also set a compelling stage for the journey and the characters. What makes Steve Jobs return so compelling is the setting/the time. Apple was in trouble. Big trouble. It was his chance to return to his visionary roots and undoubtedly, his time away from Apple contributed to the turn-around.
So let’s look at a few of the OTHER elements that contribute to a great story.
In corporate story-telling, the character can be a founder or the brand. The best brands have personalities all of their own. One of my absolute favorite brands is Coca-Cola. For over 30 years, their brand has been a happy one, spreading joy around the world. I envision Coca-Cola’s brand persona as a group of people from around the world smiling together and laughing together as the life of the party, the center of the action, the group everyone gathers around. Notice how my character is defined by the setting (the world, the party), we’ll get to the setting in a minute. The point is to envision your brand as a persona, who are they? Are they serious or comedic? Are they reserved or wild? Are they old or young? Your brand is as complex as a person, so you can enjoy the multiple aspects of your brand, but the important thing is to choose no more than 1-2 personality elements to focus on. Simplicity creates powerful brands, and multiple personalities muddle them.
Keep in mind, in our example of Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs doesn’t make the story compelling, Steve Jobs is more compelling (as a character, an icon) because of the story. This is true of all stories – the character is made great by the other elements of the story, not the other way around. Without the other elements in the story, there are no compelling characters.
Motivation and/or Inspiration
Marketers will recognize this is “The Why.” What’s the compelling motivation behind the main character’s actions? Is it service? Is it retribution? Is it righting a wrong? Is it glory? Great motivations drive action. Sometimes, in novels or films, a truly compelling character will have conflicting motivations, this can be true in corporate storytelling as well. For example, perhaps the character is driven by both the need to serve and glory. Humans often have conflicting motivations, but for the purposes of corporate story-telling, it’s most effective to emphasis one motivation. In corporate story-telling, we rarely have 1,000 or more pages to develop our character’s motivation. Focus on a single motivation as the driver.
Interestingly, using the above example of Steve Jobs’ motivation, in the corporate story about Jobs’ return, the motivation is left absent. This is brilliant because it leaves us all to wonder and speculate what his motivation really was. Personally, I believe the reason its left out of this corporate story is it’s probably unflattering, but leaving it out makes the motivation as absent even more powerful than if it had been included.
In corporate story-telling, the setting and time are often represented as the “ah-ha” moment, which is made richer by what was happening to the character or in the world at that moment. Was the character liberated? Frustrated? Was there an event that triggered the action? Perhaps the setting/time impacted the motivation and most certainly impacted the action.
Take for example the Coca-Cola brand, they started spreading joy at a time when globalism was really first taking hold, also during a time of great cultural upheaval for the United States, 1971. The “I’d like to buy the world a Coke,” is considered the world’s most famous commercial and it’s joy and happiness is in direct contrast to what was happening in the United States at the time. Somehow, the brand of Coke delivered a much-needed smile to America. In fact, the story behind the creation has similar-it happened under frustrating circumstances. Coca-Cola didn’t hold a mirror up to us, it provided us with an escape. Since then, Coca-Cola has always focused on creating moments of joyous respite, during the best of times and the worst of times.
Keep in mind, while you must have all these components in a story, one of these components will be the star. In the Coca-Cola brand example, the star is the setting. In the Steve Jobs story, the star is the journey.
If it’s time to create or reinforce your story, begin with taking stock of these elements, determine where your strength is and be sure to simplify your story so it’s easy to tell. If you’re “stuck” with your story, contact us. We will help you create a story worth telling and even work with you to create content that tells your story.
Should your Start-up Hire a PR Agency or a Marketing Firm?
We speak to businesses all the time asking us if they’re ready for us and often times, the answer is “no, not yet.” So, how do you know if you’re ready for an agency? We specialize in working with organizations with ambitious growth goals, so we’re in a good position to know what works and what doesn’t.
6 Signs Your Ready for a Public Relations or Marketing Agency
You Have A Proven Business Model/Product
It’s easy to think that if you had a PR agency or marketing company running things you’d have those customers you need to prove your product works. But if you haven’t been able to get a grass-roots movement on your product, the question is whether the product is viable and whether more exposure means more users/customers or not. There are simply times when throwing money at an exposure metric just isn’t the right thing at the right time.
Plus, it’s important for you, the founder, to get out there and get feedback on your product. You’ll learn things about your customers and your product that you really need to know. You should have a stable team and at least some certainty that the market wants your product. If you’re unsure, it’s too early for an agency.
It’s A Race To The Best Brand
There are some industries where the biggest distinguishing factor for your product is the brand, the emotional response customers have to your product and style. In these situations where you need scale and fast, having an agency is important because you’ll need consistent execution that also adheres to a strategy.
You Have A Story To Tell
It’s heartbreakingly true: starting a company is not news. Globally, there are about 11,000 startups per hour every single day. You hear about 1/100,000,000 of them with any regular basis. The ONLY way to cut through the clutter is to have a real story. You something truly compelling, because journalists are soooo tired of hearing about “the <insert adjective> new CEO taking <insert startup community or vertical> by storm.
If you THINK you have a story, but need some help, call us. We offer a consulting strategy service that will help you flesh out your story and we can help you determine if there are any other gems.
You Have The Internal Resources and Assets
This is the moment when you’re probably considering hiring an internal team, but you realize hiring this group of people would require you to take your eye off your core mission.
Internally, you DO need someone who provides your marketing or PR agency with access. It’s this person’s job to interface with questions and changing directions. They need to be both in the C-level loop and empowered to give direction to the agency, which leads me to the next…
You Have A Budget Over And Above The Monthly Retainer
Whatever you’re spending on a Branding, PR or Marketing execution, plan on at least another 30%-40% for activation and assets. In the PR world, you’ll need assets (video, images, studies), events and press services. In the marketing world, it’s one thing to create the content, it’s another thing to make sure it get’s seen.
We provide an audit and a digital strategy program which allows brands to take the roadmap and either implement it for themselves or hire us (or another agency), this plan usually includes competitive analysis, campaign ideas, best practices for everything from content development to advertising.
You Have a Campaign or Project That Needs Person Power
The best time for a PR and Marketing Agency to come on board is when you need a variety of different skill sets, and you need them fast. Sometimes, you have an idea or campaign that you need help executing. Hiring an agency to identify opportunities, solutions (and potential pitfalls) is a good idea here because you’ll get that execution boost you need without having to recruit and hire a team. You need a team of specialists, amazing writers, creative graphic designers, analytics interpreters and you don’t need any of them full-time, nor do you have time to manage this in-house team of creatives, but you do need them.