Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sharing Stories

As a cub reporter for a weekly newspaper in Brookings, Oregon in the mid-70s, I would regularly contribute ideas in editorial meetings to determine news coverage for the upcoming edition. Invariably, my editor -- an ink-stained wretch from the “man bites dog” school of journalism -- would ask: “But where is the story here?”

He was right, of course. Storytelling is what makes the world go ‘round. Or as former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw said: “It’s all storytelling, you know. That’s what journalism is all about.” Indeed, the ability to strategically connect with an audience through storytelling is an essential skill for communicators of all stripes.

Thus, this year’s PDX Communicators Conference -- sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America and the International Association of Business Communicators -- focused on “Storytelling. Storymaking. Storydoing.” The annual event, held in downtown Portland (above) on Wednesday, May 7, attracted nearly 350 professionals.

The event’s subtitle captured the essence of the conference: “Everyone has a story to tell. You’re remembered by how you tell it.” Keynote speakers and breakout sessions spotlighted techniques for telling stories for companies and clients across both traditional and digital media platforms in ways that will be memorable.

Keynoters included: James T. Olson, Global Corporate Communications and Americas Public Affairs for Starbucks; Jim Signorelli, Author of “StoryBranding” and CEO of ESW StoryLab, a Chicago-based marketing firm; and Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte, Inc. and author of “The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations.”

Olson (above), who will co-chair the 2014 PRSA International Conference in Washington. D.C. in October, noted that “storytelling is the common thread in what we do as communicators.” The best way to communicate with constituents is to tell “hand-crafted stories” about products and services “through the lens of humanity.”

Storytelling, said Signorelli (above), “is about connection with the heart, spirit and soul.” When thinking about how to communicate your brand, it’s “not just a matter of how to tell your story, but how to become the story.” The story can rub off on a brand -- storybranding -- with values that resonate with a target audience.

Breakout session speaker, Melissa Havel, Executive Vice-President for Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, said that “stories are experiences that can lead to word-of-mouth communications, creating an environment for people to pass along your story. Think about all the channels available and create a reason for people to care.”

The "nugget o' the day” for those in attendance came from Olson: “It’s all about the humanity in storytelling. People forget facts, but they remember stories.” Plus, it's always nice to return to my hometown (below, at the Portland Art Museum). That's a fact.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Bad Juju

Not to be superstitious or anything, but it’s a good thing that April is done and in the books. But perhaps I should admit to a bit of apprehension when it comes to the supernatural. Let’s just say I'm kind of paranoid, with a serious aversion to the ethereal plane.

The buzz around April 2014 was the rare appearance of two eclipses, one lunar -- a “blood moon,” no less -- and one solar eclipse. Known as a “tetrad,” this phenomenon is less common than the proverbial “blue moon” (a second full moon occurring in a calendar month).

Those who are inclined toward the metaphysical say that a blood moon (top) is an inauspicious sign from the heavens. What's more, astrologers say that two eclipses in one month portend all kinds of conflict for people, relationships, transactions and experiences.

Scientists, on the other hand, say that a blood moon is just red and can be totally explained by science. Most lunar eclipses will appear red or many can because of the dusty lunar plain. Besides, crazy stuff happens virtually all the time, scientists contend.

But two eclipses in one month means bizarre ends and beginnings, say astrologers, unsettling events in the form of sudden changes, disappointments and revelations -- a month-long pattern of bad juju. Even if you can’t see it, they say, you will feel the effects.

So how did all this cosmic karma work out? I must admit that the month was strange, somewhat kooky and rather odd, with anomalies on a number of fronts. Bad craziness, or worse, in some instances. Nothing earth-shattering: just vague, peculiar goings-on.

What to do? My tendency would be to lie low for a while and go underground. On the contrary, say astrologers, April will be awesome. Real attractions and relationships will appear or intensify. Old ones will disintegrate. Face the month with moxie and verve.

Staying fierce and in an evolutionary mode is not easy but it’s what we have to do. Ruthlessly plan your time and money. Purge the superfluous. Shed your skin. Take a nap. As Hunter S. Thompson would say: “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”