Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Anger: The Quicker Picker Upper

"You think that's funny, spilling coffee all
over my counter? Get that Jim-Carrey lookin'
so-and-so outta my diner and don't come
back till you've learned some manners!"
I can’t touch yucky things with my bare hands, not in the kitchen anyway. I’m fine outdoors; I'll flip over a dead squirrel to look for maggots. But in the kitchen, I need a paper towel to pick up a used paper towel.

And that’s why I am furious at Joe Smith.

Joe Smith wants us all to use fewer paper towels. Last year he gave a TED talk on how to dry your hands with just one paper towel. More than one million people watched it. Now every single time I grab a paper towel, I am reminded that 1.2 million people saw Joe Smith dry his hands on TED (TED! for the love of God) and I can’t even get my kids to watch a 20-second clip of me on Crossfire.

Occasionally, I am able to blot out my envy of Joe’s success with happy thoughts of Tiny “Tiptoe Through the Tulips" Tim who, among many other peculiarities, would use a whole roll of paper towels to dry off after bathing. This guy was a diesel-powered earth-mover in the paper-towel forest. These thoughts of Tiny Tim help, but I don’t think of him nearly as often which, it turns out, is completely normal.

Negative emotions make your stories more memorable

According to Psychology Today, “People ruminate about events that induce strong negative emotions five times as long as they do about events that induce strong positive ones.”

A Case Western University study, cryptically entitled Bad Is Stronger than Good, says “The greater power of bad events over good ones is found in everyday events … Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good.”

There’s a reason for this, of course. These negative emotions—fear, anger, sadness, envy—generally require some sort of action on our part to rid ourselves of them. Negative emotions, fear foremost among them, have literally kept our species alive.

So if you want to tell a memorable story, you’re going to have to mess with people’s chi. You don’t have to be a jerk about it. In fact, you should almost always give your audience a chance to work their way out of the negative emotions you've put on them, as storyteller Michael Margolis explains.

But you need to inflict the pain at some point if you want your story to be memorable.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Discontent Is King: How anxiety, frustration, and a CCO can improve your storytelling

“Yeeeah, I’m gonna need you
to stay late tonight to
finish that release on our
new TPS reports if we want
to hit that Friday deadline.”
Back in the olden days, putting out a press release was a rare and momentous achievement for most trade associations and nonprofits. Getting that “your release has cleared the wires” phone call from PR Newswire was cause for jubilation, with hugs and high-fives all around. An impromptu Knute Rockne-esque victory speech from the VP of public affairs was not unheard of.

“I’m proud of you guys! I’m not going to kid you; those three days of silence from the big guy upstairs had me a popping Mylanta. I thought we were looking at a major rewrite for sure. But when Samantha dropped that interoffice envelope on my desk this morning, I just knew it was good news!”

The fact that the press release didn’t generate any press was inconsequential. The kids in public affairs had done it again and a wave of contentment washed over everyone.

You’d be amazed at how many nonprofit organizations—and for-profit companies, for that matter—still employ this one-shot-a-month “Guns of Navarone” communications strategy.

"More edits from legal.
And the old man wants
it out by the High Middle
Ages at the latest. I'll
get you a Starbucks."
Less amazing is the fact that these organizations are being outgunned on the Internet by millions of relentless communicators who fire every weapon they can scrounge, seize every opportunity they can find--or create--to tell their story.

These content ninjas are never satisfied, never relaxed. They are constantly on the prowl for ideas, inspiration, and intelligence that will entertain and engage their audience. Posting a blog entry doesn’t fulfill them. It just reduces their discomfort a little, like scratching a mosquito bite through a combat boot.

And that’s why those guys are kicking your ass.

A lot of organizations are closing in on these communications warriors. Press releases announcing the "recently hired Chief Content Officer"—a new position—are lighting up the Internet like tracer rounds.

These shiny new CCOs have a tough mission: they must mold every facet of their company into a storytelling battalion or the victories will be few. But they also have a lot of motivation--the future of their organization depends on them. Yes, a good CCO is that important.

To learn more about CCOs—what makes a good one, how to find one, how to become one yourself—check out these sites. They’re worth your time.
  • "How CCOs can resurrect marketing communications" from the good folks at Fast Company
  • A great blog post on CCO leadership by "Chief Warrior of Enthusiasm" Kista Kotrla featuring even more helpful CCO-related links
FUN FACT: Both the “content” you create and the “contentment” you seek from its creation come from the Latin word contentus, which means contained, satisfied. Paradoxically, the more dis-contentus you are the better your contentus will be.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Learning the Grammar Commandments from Moses Stone

"I got your verb."
Apparently the thought of going press-release free didn’t sit well with everyone. Understandable. I didn’t shave my head until long after succumbing to male-pattern-bird’s-nest. We all process change at our own rate.

So for those of you who aren’t ready to put down the ducky, DMcD is offering the occasional tutorial on how to get the most from your press release. Today’s lesson: Proofreading.

Moses Stone, the self-described star of NBC’s “The Voice,” knows how to grab eyeballs with a press release. In his lede, he described himself as “electrifying” and “stunning,” possessing “an unmatchable persona” and “dynamic stage presence.” The only thing he lacked, apparently, is a good proofreader. His dazzling self-tribute didn’t have a verb. So even though his lede got us all revved up, he never put the release in gear.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE // Known for his electrifying and stunning performances at NBC’s hit TV show “The Voice: Season 2″ (2012) where Moses Stone entertained millions of viewers nationwide with his unmatchable persona and dynamic stage presence, gained him the respect from music fans and worldwide superstar Christina Aguilera, who picked Moses for her team.

Not all sentences demand verbs. But all press-release ledes do. To avoid pulling a Moses Stone, always have someone proofread your release before you hit send.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

For Immediate Rewrite: Lessons on press-release writing from our friends up north

"'Didn't work'? You weren't
even close. I'd horsewhip
you if I had a horse!"
Outside of a phone booth, a press release is the worst way to communicate. Inside of a phone booth, it’s too dark to read.

OK, that didn’t work. But the point is the same: There are damn few good reasons to put out a press release. They’re as outdated as Polaroid flash cubes, and not nearly as illuminating.

But if you (or your boss) still crave the illusion of productivity that the whole writing-editing-approving-sending process generates, here’s a quick lesson to help you avoid embarrassing yourself. Assisting me in today’s lesson are the good folks from The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, located right on the brim of America’s hat—Toronto, Canada.

Last Fall CAMH uncovered some stop-the-presses news in their annual survey of substance use trends. According to their research, young people in Ontario were 30% more likely to smoke dope than drink alcohol before driving. Thirty percent!

But in their typical we’re-so-nice-you-can’t-help-but-like-us Canadian way, they led with good news, only alluding to “several areas of concern.”

For Immediate Release – November 28, 2012 – (Toronto) – Most adults are drinking responsibly, and fewer are smoking or using illicit substances – but several areas of concern were found in the 2011 CAMH Monitor survey of Ontario substance use trends, released today by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

And when they finally did get around to the good stuff, they reported it thus:

Nine per cent of 18- to 29-year-olds report driving after cannabis use, versus six per cent in this age range who report drinking two or more drinks and driving.

Soft as a baby's skull.

Lesson #1 – Don’t bury your lede. Put the most important point you have in the first sentence, and write it in a way that locks my eyeballs onto the screen. At eight seconds, our average attention span is shorter than that of a gold fish. You don’t have much time to make me want to read on.

“What if what you have to say isn’t eyeball-locking?” Great question. Simple answer: Don’t put out a release.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Did Twitter push the Pope off the pulpit?

"Yes, I did shut it down and reboot ...
You know what? Forget it. I'm heading
up to my papal studio ... to WRITE!"

The arc of Pope Benedict XVI’s Twitter feed offers some tantalizing clues about his relationship with the Internet in the weeks before he resigned. The first pontiff to tweet, His Holiness seemed relatively detached from the medium and his audience, save a couple of endearing exceptions. It was as though tweeting was yet another box to check on his Holy to-do list.

Quite understandable. He was, after all, 85 years old when he sent his first tweet on December 12. Like most of us he started strong, sending out seven tweets that day alone, but his tweeting petered out as the novelty wore off and the burden of producing wore on.

He was also much more scholarly than he was social. The Wall Street Journal described him as “a pope of the pen, holing up in the papal studio where he produced tomes on the life of Jesus Christ.”
His predecessor John Paul II, on the other hand, was a natural at social media, truly deserving the title of “the first Internet-savvy pope.” As far back as 2002, John Paul II extolled the virtues of the Internet and offered startlingly clear guidance on how to make the most of it.

In his message to commemorate World Communication Day 2002, Pope John Paul II proclaimed, “The Internet can offer magnificent opportunities for evangelization if used with competence and a clear awareness of its strengths and weaknesses. Above all, by providing information and stirring interest it makes possible an initial encounter with the Christian message.”

“Providing information and stirring interest.” That, my friends, is the secret to online communication.
Unfortunately, this does not come naturally to most of us. “Living online,” even sporadically, is an incredible societal transformation, truly Darwinian in scope. Those of us who will survive and thrive in this new environment either are—or will become—storytellers.