Even The Trade Loves A Good Story

A friend of mine who works for a major PR agency contacted me the other day and asked, on behalf of her client, if I need any speakers who specialize in network security for upcoming conferences. (I am programming MediaPost's upcoming OMMA EAST conference, and other shows in interactive media, marketing and commerce.)  I told her that there aren't any sessions on network security at interactive marketing conferences, because it isn't a topic that this industry is vitally interested in. Of course there are employees at every publisher who obsess about security, but they're educated at horizontal conferences that target their specific function (IT), instead of at vertical conferences aligned around their company (conferences on media or publishing).

But that's not to say there couldn't be a session at an interactive marketing or media conference on this topic. Right now, security isn't a story within the interactive industry. The recommendation I made to my friend is that if she wants to see security as a topic in interactive industry events, her job is to create a story around security for her client to fit into. Maybe the angle is to look at all the money marketers are shifting away from measured media and into their own content, microsites, advergames, and online promotions, and then position security as an insurance policy to cover that investment. Add a subplot of a couple of high-profile hacks that egg a brand's face, and suddenly a story begins to take shape.



All of which got me thinking about the stories publishers are telling, or--more to the point--the stories being told about publishers. A few weeks ago, my Online Publishing Insider counterpart Ari Rosenberg wrote about the headlines plaguing, illustrating that all PR is not necessarily good PR.

So while MySpace has to work hard to untell the stories about its alleged danger to teenagers and advertisers alike, most other publishers have aren't as burdened, and will find an audience of more receptive listeners. I don't mean receptive to sales pitches--I do believe it's a seller's market right now, but the balance hasn't tipped quite that far. Simply, more advertisers are shifting more budget to interactive, and publishers have to craft the story that gets them included as often as possible.

Telling a story is an art, but like any creative discipline, there are some techniques to achieve on the way to mastery:


  1. Make it a short story. William Faulkner once remarked that he wrote novels because short stories were so much harder. While brevity and thoroughness can seem mutually exclusive, they're both requirements here. How short is short enough? Last month at Cannes, Maurice Saatchi made headlines by insisting that brands strive for "one word equity" and be able to communicate their essence and value with minimalist simplicity. Scott Ginsberg, author of The Power of Approachability (and that guy who's been wearing a nametag 24/7 for almost six years), says that everyone--companies included--should strive to own a word outright. iVillage owns "women." ESPN owns "sports." Advertisers interested in either absolutely have to include iVillage and ESPN in their plans. What word do you own?


  1. Data is not a narrative. How many subscribers, page views, impressions or any other media-relevant metrics you trot out is no substitute for a story. Google is fascinating to the public and press not because it has 8 gazillion visitors a day, but because it serves free lunch to its employees every day, and, even on holidays, decorates its own logo with cartoons so minor that Hallmark hasn't yet recognized them. How are you interesting?


  1. Make it lore. A story that's only told by one person (or one department) will die a quick and unnoticed death. But a story that's told by everyone within a company becomes lore--an enduring tale that takes on a life of its own.


  1. Draft. Not as in "an early version of a story subject to revision," but in more of a Nascar or (more topically) Tour de France sense. Cars and cyclists go faster with less energy by tucking in behind a leader. Smaller publishers in particular should find ways to get themselves grouped with bigger competitors. Remember "The Big Eight" accounting firms? That famous oligopoly was named--and thereby created--by Touche Ross, a fairly distant 8th largest firm, pulling them at once from within the also-rans to among the leaders in their industry (or so the lore goes--see No. 3, above).
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