By George Foster, President of Foster Marketing Communications

Don Hewitt, the legendary executive producer and creator of 60 Minutes who passed away recently, was once asked to explain the secret to his success. “It’s four words that every child in the world knows: tell me a story,” he said.  “Learn how to tell a story, and you’ll be a success. It’s a technique as old as time.

“Even the people who wrote the Bible were smart enough to know, tell them a story. The issue was evil in the world…the story was Noah. Now, the Bible knew that. And for some reason or other, I latched onto it,” Hewitt said. In fact, the title of his memoir is Tell Me a Story: Fifty Years and 60 Minutes in Television – about $10 in paperback on Amazon.

What we do in marketing communications is the same – tell stories: interesting stories, success stories, informational stories, humorous stories. You may never have thought about it that way, but before you make a presentation to a client you develop a pitch, or before you present to an audience you might begin with a humorous anecdote.

“Narratives have this intense power,” says novelist George Dawes Green, author of the Juror (Warner, 1995) and other books. “Just look at how we tend to gather in the kitchen at the end of the evening and swap stories, or how children pick up the nuances of even the simplest of stories.

“In this high-tech age, each step of technology distances us a little more from what we’re really seeking, which is human contact. Storytelling helps satisfy our need from connection.”

You may have received one of our many Foster Marketing 3D promotional mailers. Most, if not all, are based on a story which is creatively illustrated. Whether it’s the story of two hikers running from a bear, the old oilman in the dentist chair, the farmer and his mule or the Cajun helping the doctor deliver triplets in the bayous of South Louisiana, all are used to spin a marketing yarn.

What’s your story? You might not have thought of formal storytelling for your presentations, but there are tips for tale-telling:

–         Determine the conflict: Understand what’s at stake for the stakeholders, as this drives your story forward. The story should involve you or your firm as the narrator and at least one other person or company.

–         Develop a strong arc as your organizing principle: Story structure can be governed by the chronology of events or even an underlying theme. You can also present a stakeholder early in the story and then leave them out until the very end; in this way you’ve come full circle and surprise the audience.

–         Keep it simple and stay on track: Your conflict/theme is your editing tool as you take your audience on a journey. Storytelling requires a tight economy, so you risk losing your listeners if you wind up pulling vaguely related anecdotes together.

–         Finally, use pauses, not props: Manipulating silence by pausing can be put to great effect, whether before an emotional moment or in anticipation of a laugh. Props, on the other hand, create a distraction.

At a recent marketing event, I told the story about an oilfield service company that came to Foster Marketing to improve its image in the oil and gas industry. The company had great products, great management and a strong client base but had recently rebuffed (conflict) a $10 million offer to acquire the company. This company realized that to increase the value of the company, marketing was needed.

We began a marketing communications program encompassing many tools – public relations, advertising, collateral development – to increase the awareness of the company in the marketplace (chronology). And, sure enough, about nine months later, the company sold for $25 million.

That was a great lesson for me (pause)…we tell clients that marketing improves awareness, increases your leads and ultimately increases your sales. However, what really dawned on me was that what marketing really does is increase a company’s brand equity (strong arc).

I finish the story with the concept that after you’ve appraised the inventory, factored the receivables and set a property value, the only thing left in a negotiation is your brand equity or good will. With a marketing program, this company became a growing concern and thus had increased value.

We still have that company as a client as well as the company that acquired them.

That’s just one of our stories.  What’s yours? If you need help in crafting one, don’t hesitate to call or e-mail us.  Or, better yet, call your Account Executive to attend ourseminar on the Art of the Rainmaker Oct. 1 in Lafayette with well-known business development guru, Bill Whitley (http://www.billwhitley.com). In the Art of the Rainmaker you will learn how to create the messages, questions and insights that attract and engage clients and the strategies that will differentiate you from the competition.

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