Jun 24, 2011

A Few Words From Our Sponsor

Tell most brands that their users are looking for "content" and their eyes light up at the prospect of being able to once again send out "push" messages, because to them "content" clearly means "all that stuff we want to tell consumers but can't because we're supposed to be having 'conversations' with them." (Today's euphemism for that is "storytelling" as in "we've got a story we want to tell you... regardless of whether you actually want to hear it.")

The savvy strategist will guide them past this momentary lapse and explain that by "content" they mean something the consumer can actually make use of, something that their broader audience is actually interested in learning about, often in a PBS/Bravo kind of way.

At which point the brand will inevitably turn to Senior Vice President X, who was part of the team that invented the nuclear widget, the greatest advance in widgetology since 1983.

Which is, in and of itself, not a bad idea, since people really do want to hear from Ms. X. The problem though, is the Ms. X is a brilliant engineer and a horrible writer.

As are most business executives. This is not intended as a slam on executives, but snazzy, journalistic style writing is no more a trait needed for success in business than the ability to run triathlons.

So what to do?

The obvious answer is one too many brands miss out on, primarily because it involves spending money (and everyone knows that social media is free!) And that answer is to hire a journalist - there are certainly a multitude of out-of-work ones-- and have said journalist put Vice President X's words into sparkling prose.

Now this is something that PR agencies often claim to be able to do, but they have self-interest - they're an outside vendor, and the journalist should ideally be working directly for the brand, interviewing staffers, becoming intimately familiar with the industry and, above all, creating "content" - stories and videos - that are (at minimum) as good as what's being put out by the industry trade magazines.

But that's not the hard part: brands have been hiring out of work journalists for decades. The trick is to take those articles and videos and put them out there in a way that gets the broader community talking about them. They should be conversation starters, not conversation hoggers. Get people talking about a topic, but give the community members, the people who really care about the topic, a forum to express their views and opinions.

Because Senior Vice President X, she's already famous. She's not looking to make her mark on the world. But all all those people who spend an hour or so a day on the message boards? They're still looking for a way in. And if you give them something to talk about, something that lets them show off their ideas and thinking, you've done a whole lot of storytelling.

It's their story, of course, not yours, but I don't think that's really a problem.

Try it.

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