Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Importance of Storytelling

I spend a lot of time discussing the importance of storytelling for both non-profit and for-profit communications on this blog.

[photo credit: luiginter]

Storytelling has also been a popular topic in the advertising industry lately. Today's Ad Age ran a piece entitled: (Author)ity: The Importance of Storytelling, in which they quoted Avenue A's recently published "Digital Outlook Report" which had this to say about the subject:
'Narrative is the experience. As the Web becomes the preferred destination for brand exploration, digital experiences must become richer, deeper, and more able to tell compelling stories. If your brand experience depends entirely on pages and clicks, it's time to wonder, 'What is my story?'
The thing that continues to strike me through all of these efforts to examine the role of storytelling within the worlds of business and philanthropy, is the sense that we need to justify the use of storytelling as a mechanism.

Culturally, we associate stories with children. We relegate them to the realm of fantasy and of entertainment. We don't consider them a tool. We don't take them seriously.

In fact, though, stories are the interface to the human brain. They provide the method by which we transfer data from one person to another. They are the keyboard plugged directly into our mental CPU.

Skilled storytelling allows us to take advantage of culturally-defined shortcuts on the keyboard - making data transfer that much more efficient and effective.

When we, as communicators, use familiar storylines (like the "fish out of water" tale, or the "journey to a distant land" tale) we can skip over known quantities, simply fill in a few bits and pieces of new information, and still effectively present a complex point. More importantly, because the end of these familiar stories are essentially pre-determined, our audience is more likely to accept our story's outcome as credible if it follows a familiar pattern.

Our culture's stories create the filing system that allow us to quickly access information. They provide the tools we use to distinguish good from evil, and fact from fiction. In fact, when we encounter cultures that don't share our stories, we are often entirely unable to communicate.

Stories are not limited to childhood. They define our everyday lives. Individuals, organizations and corporations that discount their value run the risk of failing to communicate altogether.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Rockefeller 2.0: Gates relaunches philanthropy

What could you do with unlimited resources?

Photo credit: Denis / Redux Pictures

The Gates foundation - with $37.5 billion in cash - is facing that question now, and a number of non-profits are watching intently to see what the outcome will be.

A recent article on (Rockefeller 2.0: Gates relaunches philanthropy - Giving- sums up the problem, and the possibilities, this way:
“I meet many high net-worth individuals that are watching Gates and what he does and how he does it, and that’s really exciting in a behavioral way,” says Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen Fund, a nonprofit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. “It opens up people’s minds to what’s possible with philanthropy today.” Jeff Raikes, the Microsoft executive who was recently named as the foundation’s new CEO, told Fortune magazine in June: “Bill has an incredible opportunity to help shape the thinking of other multibillionaires by getting them to think about the process, the structure, the best practices” of giving money away."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What to expect from PR

An excellent post today at Media Bistro by about what a company (or an organization) should expect to accomplish with PR.

To paraphrase the article's main points:
  • Set clear goals
    Create a message platform and at least six month's worth of news hooks within the first week.
  • Have more than a good story -- have the right story
    Agree on exactly what your best story is. Ask the question, 'Why should people care?"
  • Go local
    People care about their communities, so they turn to the local media to know what's going on. Local press interest will also help your organization prepare and practice for its moment in the national spotlight.
  • Connect
    Successful PR today is about having great conversations, telling people what you've learned, and what impact that's had.
  • Work the plan
    Establishing storylines and a workable timeframe that is tied to your organization's goals makes it easier to land appropriate stories in the media.

  • Don't confuse strategic PR with publicity
    Getting press too early - when your organization isn't prepared for it - can actually make your job harder and lead to lost opportunity. You risk ending up being perceived incorrectly because you aren't clear about your message, and you risk alienating key press contacts.
  • Stay up to date
    Do you know the trends in your own industry? How do you stay informed about new theories and cutting-edge technologies? If a reporter calls and knows more about your industry than you do, you risk losing the opportunity to be a part of a breaking story.
Publicity for publicity's sake should never be your goal. Clear, strategic communications planning is always worth the effort in the end.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Cause Marketing Case Study - Crate And Barrel

A great case study from the weekly NonProfit Times newsletter came out yesterday. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear on their website anywhere (that I could locate), so the full text from the newsletter is copied below.
Crate And Barrel campaign ties consumers to cause

Thursday, June 12, 2008

In trying to help teachers do their jobs better, the for-profit corporation Crate And Barrel learned a valuable lesson: Doing Good is Good for Business.

Crate And Barrel partnered with in a campaign that was outlined at the recent Cause Marketing Forum in Chicago by Crate and Barrel director of marketing Kathy Paddor and executive vice president of strategy and development Brita Lombardi.

Crate and Barrel customers were given gift certificates, custom designed with both brands, that they could redeem on the nonprofit’s Web site. The organization links teachers who request materials and experiences their students need with donors who give to the need they find most compelling. A total of $3.6 million in gift certificates was distributed. Google and Yahoo! use the gift certificates, too.

The redemption rate for spring 2006, spring 2007 and fall 2007 was 11.81 percent, with $558,394 raised for the nonprofit.

Polling results from a test group (which received the gift certificates) compared to a control group (which did not) showed:

  • 82 percent of the test group said they would consider Crate and Barrel for their next home furnishing purchase, compared to 76 percent of the control group.
  • 86 percent perceived Crate and Barrel as a high-quality company, compared to 76 percent of the control group.
  • 75 percent saw Crate and Barrel as community minded, compared to 21 percent of the control group.
  • 74 percent perceived Crate and Barrel as “the store for me,” compared to 64 percent of the control group.
To be clear, this blog is about PR and communications for non-profits, not marketing strategies for large corporations. Still, there's an important lesson in this case study that should resonate with non-profit leaders and communicators: Perception = Reality.

In this case study, the two groups of consumers experienced exactly the same store and products ad sales associates, but those who were given the option to take a philanthropic action after leaving the store, perceived their experience very differently.

While your non-profit probably can't hand out gift-certificates to every person that interacts with your organization, what can you do to ensure they walk away from each experience they have with your organization with a positive perception? Are your volunteers thanked? Your event-attendees featured in organization newsletters and local media? Your visitors (whether online or off) welcomed and provided clear, compelling information?

What can you organization do today to improve the way that others perceive it? If you can improve the way others perceive your organization, you will be making a very real difference in your organization's overall success.