Seller Beware: The Stories of Your Company Are About More Than Pushing Product

(Disclosure: The publisher of the book referenced in this post sent me the book so I might review it here. I have not received or expect any further consideration.)

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“One of my first assignments as a newly hired 22-year-old reporter for Ford Motor Company’s employee newspaper was to interview a senior vice president for a story about a new business venture. As I entered the svp’s office, he sized me up and soon made it clear through his demeanor and body language that he was insulted that someone so young and inexperienced had been assigned to interview him.

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“So what did I do? I skipped over the customary introductory pleasantries and politely yet firmly asked him a very tough but pertinent question. In this way, I immediately established my credentials as an intelligent communications professional who had done his homework and was up to the challenge.

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Then I gave him my rapt attention and followed up with another probing question. The svp’s manner quickly changed. We had a productive interview and, when it was over, he said he would be pleased to make his people available to further flesh out the story.”

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I used this anecdote recently to make a point with one of my younger managers – that we p.r. people need to prove our value to the operations to win a seat at their table. We do that through serious preparation, business acumen and perceptive thinking.   

 

Telling this story helped me make the point. And story-telling can help communications of all sorts resonate with intended audiences. 

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As the narrative of successful mass communications changes to include more story-telling and less a reliance on the shouting out of key messages, the sales and marketing arms of the corporation see a natural alliance with public relations. That point of convergence is in many ways a high-water mark for "integrated communications" but also a potential hazard in the continued evolution of aspirational public relations.

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Screen-writer Richard Maxwell and media-trainer Robert Dickman tread rather clumsily on this delicate balance in THE ELEMENTS OF PERSUASION: Use STORYTELLING to PITCH BETTER, SELL FASTER & WIN MORE BUSINESS. That sub-title (as well as the hyper-capitalization) gives away the authors’ inclination to view PR as merely an important sales tool.

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Successful, aspirational public relations is indeed truly integrated into the objectives of a corporation’s marketing and sales teams, cuing up large numbers of favorably dispositioned potential customers to the top of the  purchase funnel. But public relations is also integrated fully into the company’s business strategy development and, of course, into the process of driving internal culture forward through employee engagement. Story-telling can and should be part of the full gamut of successful public relations.

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“Stories are facts wrapped in emotion,” the authors say, explaining the power in stories as well as their universal appeal. “All humans are story-tellers.”

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Fundamental to the success of the communications practice is to mine for stories that provide color and texture around the facts and numbers found in 10-Ks and sales reports, and then to tell them vividly in as few words as possible. The story of a company’s contributions to society, the stories that define its brands and products and the stories lived out of by the people who make up the company – all help define the essence of the company’s reputation.

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Just remember it shouldn’t all be hard sell.

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-  Jon Harmon

Comments

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