by Padraic Gilligan
On Curiosity and Looking into your Neighbour’s Garden
There’s a deep curiosity at the heart of being human. We’re programmed to wonder what’s out there, beyond the limits of our own horizons. This gnawing curiosity drove countless explorers throughout the centuries to get into small boats and set out on perilous journeys across the oceans. It continues to compel certain individuals to dive fathoms deep into the ocean’s depths and makes others confine themselves in impossibly tiny spaces and shoot off into the abyss of space. The same curiosity causes me on a regular basis to take a sneaky peak into my neighbour’s back garden to check out what’s going on and, recently, to attend an event outside of the strict confines of the meetings and events industry.
Attending conferences outside your own space overcomes your own industry’s tendency to naval gaze and to cultivate esoteric mythologies about itself. Recently I attended the “PR and Social Media Summit” in Amsterdam. Presented jointly by US based Ragan and their EU counterparts Coopr with support from ING, this was the second edition of an event aimed at “engaging customers, the public and the media in the digital age”. While this industry sector is located squarely on the same MarCom spectrum as the meetings industry, it operates on a more elevated horizontal axis, if only for its long established billable hours cost model. Naturally I was interested in this.
My other reason for attending was PR Daily, the daily news platform owned by Ragan which has becomes a must-read for me. For anyone, anywhere on the MarCom spectrum, PR Daily offers eminently engaging, sharable content on a broad range of topics with “list headlines” topping the rankings of favourite stories. I’ve been a huge fan of PR Daily for over 2 years now and use it for my own personal edification and amusement as well as pushing it out on twitter and other SoMe platforms. So what did I learn?
1. It’s all about the story and how you tell it
When I arrived at the ING facility, a stand-out statement building amidst a concrete forest of corporate headquarters, Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications, was already in full flight. His cheery, strident style and dense material mirrored the daily news platform he runs for the richness of the content and the ease and palatability of its delivery. Mark is a compelling advocate of brand journalism, that is, how to deploy great stories as the nectar to generate buzz around your brand. Also known as content marketing, brand journalism plays on the story telling impulse that has been intrinsic to the human race since time immemorial when our Neanderthal ancestors told stories in pictures etched onto the walls of caves. Re-purposing 2 days of workshop content into a single hour’s presentation is not an easy feat but Mark did it well sharing great case studies from BestBuy, IBM, Advocate Health Care and many more. He ended a high octane session with “Rachel’s Gift” and amazing case study which highlights the power of a story well told, this time through the medium of video. Check it out here.
2. Not my story, your story
Christian Porter-Schultz, a career marketeer from global firm COWI then shared how every company, even in the apparently bland and anodyne engineering sector, is a media company that can build their brand with powerful content and storytelling. When he arrived at COWI from Barbie Doll producer Mattel (how different is that?!) he joined a company that talked about its successes in statistics and numbers: “Our bridges contain 37,500 screws and rivets, 45 tonnes of steel and 2.3 tonnes of paint”. But this story was meaningless to the governments and other budget holders who awarded infrastructural projects to tendering firms. Christian has been working at COWI on identifying the core of the story and then weaving tales around this core that will stick. He is a big fan of Dan and Chip Heath’s Made to Stick (as am I). Now the storytelling and the messaging in COWI pivots around themes such as “creating coherent societies”, “connecting cities and people”, “generating growth”, “Developing sustainable living”. It’s not my story, it’s your story.
Padraic Gilligan works for MCI , a globally integrated association, communication and event management company with 48 offices in 24 Countries.