The art of storytelling | Book Review: What’s Your Story? By Adri Bruckner, Anjana Menon, Marybeth Sandell

A useful handbook for all corporates on how to project their brand

The editor of the newspaper does not look at news releases and a journalist who covers banking cannot be sent a release on automotive. If this is done, then they may just start ignoring all the company releases.
The editor of the newspaper does not look at news releases and a journalist who covers banking cannot be sent a release on automotive. If this is done, then they may just start ignoring all the company releases.

What’s your story by Bruckner, Menon and Sandell is a useful book meant to be read by the top management in all companies, because in today’s age where investors are always looking for news on companies of interest, what one projects is very important. Here, the authors handhold us and take us through the main elements of the plot.

First, we need to be clear about what the company is all about and hence it is necessary to convey the right message. This normally comes into the mission or vision statement of the company or simply the tagline. Now when you hear ‘connections between people around the world’, which company would you think of? This is Hershey’s and sounds so out of place as these words could go with any company that is global. It tells us nothing of chocolate and other confectionery items. Similarly, if a company tells you that it helps you save money to live better, getting to know it is Walmart will be a comedown as you really don’t know if it delivers on the second promise of living better. This is where companies need to be careful because their customers and employees should understand what the company stands for.

It is with these kinds of examples the authors take us through the follies that must be avoided and one thing that will strike any reader is when companies play around with jargon. The chapter interestingly is also called Death by Jargon. We need to keep things simple and not get into details that involve the reader understanding what the words mean. Hence, if a company takes over another one, it should just say that this is good as profits will get better. Using words like synergies and ecosystem, which are favourites these days, just mean nothing to most readers and could make one skip the article.

A good tip given is to keep all communication brief and to the point and here they believe in the BBC approach, where things are direct and free of redundant words. In fact, keeping things simple is the biggest challenge for most writers who tend to get bombastic to impress readers, which at the corporate level could be counterproductive.

Similarly, presentations made should carry pictures and graphics and, according to the authors, bullet points must be avoided. Now this will come as a blow to most presentations which follow this format! Further, if numbers are to be presented it should be easy for the reader to grasp and discretion should be used when using decimals or units so as not to confuse.  The basic pitch is that if one wants to reach out to the audience, things should be easy to understand without the reader having to work out the numbers.

The other area that the authors talk of is the medium of communication. Today, there is a variety of options as we have moved from newspaper and television to social media. Here, the company needs to evaluate where the story should be heard. It can be universal for some products, in which case a balance needs to be drawn across all the three, while at times one can be selective, especially when appealing to the millennials. Similarly, a B2B business which does not involve a retail customer could be better off using social media options depending on the product involved.

YouTube today is great for certain types of communication, especially dealing with knowledge, as everyone wants to hear what CEOs are saying. Podcasts are in vogue and work very well as people may not have time to read something that is long and a minute or two of a verbal commentary makes things easier.

Even when dealing with newspapers one should know the recipient of the communication. The editor of the newspaper does not look at news releases and a journalist who covers banking cannot be sent a release on automotive. If this is done, then they may just start ignoring all the company releases.

There is also another reading for CEOs which goes under a separate section. Do we want to know the company or the person? Warren Buffet is more well known than his company Berkshire Hathaway. The same holds for Richard Branson. Here the company should take a call, especially if it is a professionally run and not owner-driven where the motivation will be different. If the CEO becomes more popular, the company will suffer once the person leaves.

The authors give tips on how to present the CEO and sponsor events or create their own shows. They differentiate between advertising, advertorials, opinion columns and unbiased views. Companies must be aware of these differences and accordingly plan their stories for communication.

This book is very useful for all companies that are keen on strengthening their communication with their stakeholders. The book may sound pedantic at times, but then when companies get carried away with their emotions, there is need to check some basic principles and, What’s Your Story helps to a large extent to provide the clues.

Madan Sabnavis is an independent economist

What’s Your Story?
Adri Bruckner, Anjana Menon, Marybeth Sandell
Penguin Random House
Pp 284, Rs 599

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