I read a lot of press releases. Whether it’s from a brokerage boasting about a great second quarter, a tech company angling to get their new doodad into our Cool Tools section, or an author pitching their latest book, most of them fail on a really basic level: They’re not telling me a story.
Credit: Scottish Libraries. This image originally appeared on the front cover of Scottish Libraries Jul/Aug 1990 (No. 22).
Author Nicolas Boillot aims to help you fix that problem when it comes to marketing your business. His newest book (and first foray into the business section), I Killed a Rabid Fox With a Croquet Mallet: Making Your Business Stories Compelling and Memorable (HB Books, 2013), breaks down the elements of a good story into their simplest components. He then explains the relationships between these components. For example, you can spout the values of your business all day long. And you can tell me all you want about how amazing your fourth quarter results are. But can you connect the two? If so, you’re on your way to starting to tell a story.
But that’s just the beginning. Here are some of Boillot’s key points to telling a great story about your business:
Know your audience. It may seem like an obvious point, but that’s just because you remember it from grade school. Things are different now: You’re trying to tell a company’s story. And yet they’re also the same, because you’re trying to tell the story to people. News flash: People don’t want to hear about companies; they want to hear about people. The good news is that your company is full of fascinating people that will tell your company’s story better than it, as an organization, can.
Don’t always follow the leader. Even if it’s you. Boillot reminds readers that while leaders often have a compelling story to tell, “sometimes they have enormous egos, want their stories told, and no one around them has the courage to suggest it’s a bad idea.” Boillot then talks about how he diplomatically helped a CEO see that a video all about how awesome he is would not make for a compelling story, and how he helped the guy introduce some conflict (and other characters) into the tale.
It’s not all good. Boillot is not flexible about the need to introduce conflict. Ooh, the boss is not going to like that one bit! Well, too bad. Not only are all great stories built on conflict, but avoiding conflict can break the sacred bond between a business and its customers, Boillot notes, so always be honest and forthcoming in your storytelling.
Careful what you call it. Want to know the number one reason I do not read a press release? The subject line is deadly boring, irrelevant, or both. Boillot makes the point that if the leader of the Halifax band Sons of Maxwell had named his video, “United Airlines Mishandles Luggage,” it probably would not have gone viral, and United Airlines may have never paid him for his damaged instrument. But he called it “United Breaks Guitars,” and the rest is history. Same thing goes for Boillot’s next example: Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield went after Pillsbury’s bullying not with a staid “Food Giant Attempts to Reinforce Market Hegemony by Telling Distributors to Choose Between Häagen-Daz and Ben & Jerry’s,” but the catchy “What’s the Dough-Boy Afraid Of?”
Of course, I’m not telling Boillot’s full story here. His slim volume has more to offer potential storytellers than these quick takeaways, including one tale about a rabid fox. But I’ll let him tell you that one.