Make them more concrete, creative
It’s one thing to make a bio or profile creative. Breathing life into high-level strategy stories — like the company’s mission, vision, business objectives and annual goals — that’s another thing.
The key: Turn abstract ideas and concepts into concrete, creative, down-to-earth things.
So how do you make strategy stories more creative? Here are six steps:
Ask: “When did you realize we needed to solve this problem or take advantage of this opportunity?” You’re looking for the desk-pounding moment.
Answer: I once asked a facilities manager at a fast-growing company when she realized her group needed a new plan for housing all of the new hires. The story …
“When Karen Hand saw the ‘Dilbert’ cartoon that pictured employees hanging from the walls by Velcro, she laughed. Then she thought: ‘Hmmm … wonder if that would work?’”
When questions help subject-matter experts come up with stories. You can go for a personal story with a when question like this, from
Les Bendtsen, manager of Investment Relations at Thrivent Financial:
“When I ghostwrite, I sit down and say, ‘Here’s a topic we’re thinking of writing about. When have you, your family or your ancestors confronted a problem like this before?’ I try to get away from the facts of the situation to the implication.
“Not, ‘How will our company weather this rough market?’ but ‘What did your dad do when he lost money in a venture or started his own business and failed?’”
Where questions can also help you find stories. Try: “Where in the organization are you seeing this work?” If the R&D team is already implementing the CEO’s vision, you’ll want to showcase their accomplishments in a case study, anecdote or example.
Do: Go to the scene and observe. Look for details that help illustrate your message.
Get: Details like this, for piece about the mission of R&D in a new tech company …
“Tony Tsoi pulls gadgets out of his pockets, from his drawers, off his shelves. He piles up personal digital assistants, voice memo machines, wireless pagers and phones and e-mail terminals.
“They make his point: The high-tech field is littered with losers.
“‘Over the last three years, there have been lots of attempts to develop products that go beyond mobile telephony and paging,’ says Tsoi, director of Product Innovation. ‘All have failed. Instead of making money, they’re embarrassing their companies. What makes us so confident that we can create the exception?’”
Ask: Who around here is already doing this?
Answer: You’re looking for a human-interest story to illustrate the big picture.
When communicator Brenda Zanin wanted to illustrate the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s eight core competencies, she sought employees who translated those principles into action.
- To illustrate thinking skills, she profiled a forensic toxicologist who devised a new method of screening for drugs in blood samples.
- To illustrate communication skills, she profiled the sergeant in charge of coordinating media response after the Swissair Flight 111 crash.
- To illustrate personal effectiveness and flexibility, she profiled an officer who returned to work after losing her right leg in a shooting.
Use: PhraseFinder to come up with wordplay like this, for a story about a team’s big goal …
“Marvin Little’s team literally drove around in circles to make sure the Miami MTA could meet its goal of covering 82 percent of the region’s population by Thanksgiving.
“‘Our Radio Frequency engineers set up test drives,’ says Little, Miami’s Engineering and Operations director. ‘They’d put a simulated cell site transmitter on a building, then drive in concentric circles around the sites to see how far the monitoring equipment would take the signals.’”
Do: Dig beneath abstract ideas (client names, for example) to uncover concrete details.
Get: Details like these, for a profile about a produce and seafood company …
“Next time you bite into a Vlasic pickle, order the shrimp platter at Red Lobster or squeeze a melon at the A&P, you’ll be enjoying the bounty of Chestnut Hill Farms.”
6. Add an analogy.
Ask: “If you were explaining our strategy to a class of third graders, what would you say it was like?”
Answer: I once asked a corporate lawyer this question about the legal department’s mission. He said:
“Lawyers are like beavers. They get in the stream of commerce and dam it up. Too many times, lawyers say no. Our goal is to try to figure out how to help our colleagues accomplish what they want — even if it needs to be done in a different way for legal reasons. We want to move the business forward, not hold it back. One of our goals is to never become a roadblock ourselves.”
How can you make all of your stories — even the big, broad, boring ones, like strategy — more creative?