Setting up your job-story program

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer. He believes in the intersection between Sales and Marketing.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, when I was in sales I loved my company’s marketers, because when they did a good job, they made my job easier. Most of my sales career was devoted to opening new territories or channels, and the people I talked to didn’t necessarily know me or my company’s products. The third-party credibility that a job-story or application story in the trade press gave might be the difference in whether I had a chilly reception or a warm one. And while I was perfectly capable of handling the chilly reception, why would I make the job harder than it had to be? Why extend the sales cycle by an extra visit or two when you could hit the ground running?

Do you have a regular program in your company that generates a steady stream of high-quality job stories?

If you don’t, our managing editor for client publications, Sara Schmuck, has a list of suggestions that can jump-start your program.

1. Start with mentioning the whole idea of job stories and why they are a useful marketing tool to the sales and marketing team. Maybe finding a story that was done for a similar company is a good start and will serve as inspiration. This is because the sales team may not be able to picture just what you have in mind without an example. We tend to think in terms of stories; they tend to think in terms of quotas.

2. Internally communicate the desire to actively pursue success stories. Call them job stories, features, success stories, whatever sounds appealing within your company. A mass email to your team or an article in an internal newsletter is a good place to start—or maybe you can pitch it during a big sales meeting, as part of your marketing department presentation.

3. Talk personally to salesmen who know customers and will be able to identify happy customers and those willing to share their testimonial.

4. Follow up with salesmen, asking them to talk to customers and request permission to feature them. Telling them that they will be able to approve whatever is written or photographed usually helps. They are proud to be featured, usually.

The whole idea here is to get the story-funnel full. You generally need a lot possibilities stacked up before you get one that makes it all the way through the process and gets signed off and approved by all stakeholders.

Sara has managed story funnels as large as 80 submitted ideas to come up with two or three that make it to the assignment phase—that is, when a story is assigned to a writer and a photographer. That is an extreme example, but not as extreme as you might think.

In an upcoming blog post, I’ll ask Sara to describe the actual process of taking a story from idea to publishing, and a few suggestions on how to manage and nurture the story ideas that you get.

In the meantime—you’ve got stories. Let’s get ‘em told!

Well of course the words matter

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer.

A few weeks ago I read this article on PR Daily: “The statistic communications ‘experts’ keep getting wrong.” The author, Brad Phillips, debunks the common misinterpretation of the 7% Verbal/38% Voice/55% Visual rule. This is a “rule” that I’ve seen a lot in the last few years, quoted by “experts” telling me that the actual words I use are unimportant in comparison to the visuals and “intangibles” surrounding them. I’d like to respond from the perspective of common-sense and how this statistic relates to the work that those of us in agencies and corporate marketing departments do every day.

But first—the science.

What the famous study does and does not say

You’ve heard this, I’m sure. “Most communication is non-verbal. Words only account for about 7% of our communication. The rest is based on visual cues and tone of voice!” If you are a wordsmith, as many of us are, that statement is going to raise your hackles. You may take umbrage. It may even provoke your ire or get your dander up. (Isn’t English a great language?) But, you know, if Science says it’s so…

But it doesn’t. The article in PR Daily references the Dr. Albert Mehrabian page on Wikipedia, which offers a basic overview of the good doctor’s research, upon which these statistics are supposedly based. According to this source, in 1967 Dr. Mehrabian’s study concluded that “the three elements account differently for our liking for the person who puts forward a message concerning their feelings: words account for 7%, tone of voice accounts for 38%, and body language accounts for 55% of the liking.”

In other words, there is a very narrow application for this research.

On Dr. Mehrabian’s own website he explicitly states:

Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.

Of course, the original research has detractors even when properly applied and I am not competent to pass judgment on either the 1967 study or its critics. But even if we accept his findings, we are back to the importance of words in communication (see, I finally got back to my main topic!)

Words are our friends

Well, with one caveat—if they are properly used.

But as the video in the PR Daily article makes abundantly and humorously clear, good luck figuring out what a presenter or speaker is saying just from the way he or she looks, emotes or sounds. You’ll get some indications, sure. But you won’t know if your quota for the year is 1 million or 2 million unless you hear or read the actual words.

In my career, I estimate that I have presented or spoken in front of groups of from a half-dozen to a few hundred on at least a thousand occasions. I’ve had great and not-so-great experiences (we won’t talk about the time early in my career where I actually put one of the six county commissioners in the audience to sleep—the room was hot and stuffy.)

Where I’ve had bad experiences, it was because for one reason or another, I wasn’t “on.” That affected my demeanor, energy level and tone of voice. And sometimes I was dressed inappropriately—wearing a suit in front of a decidedly anti-suit crowd, for example. Obviously Voice and Visual do matter in a presentation, just as graphics, photography, layout and overall “tone” do in an article, brochure or ad. And whether you are delivering a message in person or in a printed or digital piece, both tone and visuals should match the actual words in your message.

But to over-stress these at the expense of the actual message—which is still in words, until we get that Telepathic Interface thing up and working—is foolish.

Try communicating to a drilling contractor how deep your rig will drill without the correct words, placed in the correct order. Or try explaining why a client’s air compressor is superior to the competition using just a photo.

As far as I am concerned, those who get paid to communicate a message clearly and skillfully do not have to worry about the 7%/38%/55% rule making their jobs obsolete any time soon.

On Writing Well–an appreciation

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer.

I recently finished reading the latest edition—the 30th anniversary edition—of “On Writing Well,” by William Zinsser. After Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style” it is perhaps the most influential book on writing non-fiction of the 20th century. And it is the book that made me think that maybe, just maybe, writing non-fiction could be as interesting as writing fiction.

I’ve tried to re-read Zinsser’s book every five to 10 years, and each time I do I feel like the boy who cleaned Michelangelo’s brushes. I may be using the master’s tools, but I’m nowhere near the master’s level—nor ever will be.

But Zinsser’s advice is so apt for the kind of writing that we do for our clients. Zinsser is one of the great proponents of the minimalist writing school. He famously said, “Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there.”

Here at Ellcom, we live by that advice every day. We know that too many words will obscure our client’s message, not clarify it. Unnecessary detail will drive the reader away, while a compact, contextual narrative will draw the reader in to our client’s story and leave a positive impression.

It is much more difficult to be concise than to be wordy. And we don’t make things easy on ourselves.

Zinnser, who has been writing since 1946 and to this day practices and teaches his craft, also recognizes the difficulty of wrangling a herd of words until you get them to say what you want them to say.

My favorite quote from the latest edition of “On Writing Well” is his comment on the fact that, unlike fiction writers, non-fiction writers are beholden to the literal truth. He says, “Non-fiction writers…are infinitely accountable: to the facts, to the people they interviewed, to the locale of their story and to the events that happened there. They are also accountable to their craft and all its perils of excess and disorder: losing the reader, confusing the reader, not keeping the reader engaged from beginning to end.”

This is a responsibility that the staff writers at Ellcom take very seriously. And if you’d like to learn more about the craft of writing, I can recommend no other book so unreservedly as “On Writing Well.”

Face to Face

Sara Schmuck is the Managing Editor of Client Publications for Ellenbecker Communications.

People who work with me know I work just fine alone. I sit at my desk checking facts and guidelines, editing texts, finding placement for our news and planning publication content. Did I mention alone?

I had a rare opportunity to work as a tag team with colleague Joe Bradfield last week. While some people cringe at the thought of a “group project” this little partnership was welcome. I got out of the editor’s chair and together we visited the site of our client’s customer in order to get a testimonial story for our magazine, Mining & Construction USA. It was exciting to see the equipment in action and to talk face to face with people who help us do our job of communicating.

I think it’s a job we do very well. We know the right questions to ask. We know how to ask them. We take the time to know the industry and our audience. We write and we photograph. Sometimes in the marketing world people get caught up in trends (1 in 3 tablet owners brings his mobile device into the bathroom) but don’t you agree that old fashioned teamwork and communicating is the heart of a job well done? When the article goes to press you’ll see some beautiful photos and learn a little more about a company while being softly sold on the equipment.

Although I can do most of my work while comfortably planted in front of my computer screen, getting a little dusty made for a good day’s work for this editor. I hope it shows in the end product.

Telling our clients’ stories

Sara Schmuck is the Managing Editor of Client Publications for Ellenbecker Communications.

I read about Pixar story artist Emma Coats’ series of tweets on “story basics”—things she has learned about creating appealing stories. Here are some of her tips that, believe it or not, hold true for our magazine articles and press releases as much as they do for Toy Story and Finding Nemo:

•   Keep in mind what is interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

•  Trying for a theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

•  Once upon a time there was___. Every day, ___. One day___. Because of that, ___. Until finally___.

•   Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

•   You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best and fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

•  What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Much of our work is about telling stories. We may not write about feisty septuagenarians flying in their homes lifted by balloons, but we tell the tales of our clients. And we try hard to get it right. Most of the time, we do.