M&E Journal: Using Storytelling to Win (Or How I Learned to Love Mass Disruption)

By Bob Gold, Founder, President and CEO, Bob Gold & Associates

Today, data can be mined for insights, but also confused as noise. For example, we just did general consumer audience research about a streaming feature. Guess what? Nearly 40 percent of the respondents told us they don’t use a streaming service. But later told us they used Netflix. Oh.

So, it’s not just my brain that’s in data overload. I know, I know … that’s life. And while no one ever said life would be easy, the truth is it seems like it’s never been tougher for company messages to be heard above the noise.

Data has always been around us, between us, connecting us. But we haven’t done a great job of monitoring and gathering data until this era. IBM, for example, says that 90 percent of the world’s data was created in the last two years, at 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day! And it’s only increasing exponentially.

The real question, IMHO, is not what to do with the data – but how any executive in our space can break through the clutter of it all to tell a meaningful story about how their company leverages technology to unlock opportunities.

In our information-saturated age, business leaders “won’t be heard unless they’re telling stories,” says Nick Morgan, author of Power Cues. Here’s the kicker: It’s more than just a story, if it’s told as a personal experience. That’s why case studies are so powerful.

Last year we pitched an interview with an executive who had no news but had some strong opinions about the streaming space. He predicted that Netflix would change its model and introduce downloading. A trade reporter and a business reporter snapped at the opportunity to talk to our executive. Best of all, their stories appeared within hours of each other, and that helped take the story global – we had over 10 million views!


I know that most CEOs I speak with tell me their growth strategy is comprised of creating a better technology. For them, technology holds the key to unlocking a competitive advantage that will elevate the company to the next level.


An explanation of how your product solves a particular problem doesn’t always make for an engaging presentation. But a story that tells a specific audience why they should care about having this problem solved can capture their hearts and minds.

The human condition is ultimately the most powerful part of any storytelling. Many of the articles in this issue feature case studies showing how MESA members have leveraged data and analytics to improve workflows, effect innovation and protect assets.

This article is not going to do that. Instead, I believe the real question is how anyone’s software, services and solutions can be made to stand out and become a truly recognized brand in a highly competitive industry. I’m willing to bet that almost all the readers of M&E Journal do not work for a monopoly. So how do you make your data and analytics story compelling?

Following are some tips that I believe, if used, will help propel your business forward.

A cacophony of calls to action

When I started in the PR biz – before cell phones, internet, 500-plus channels on TV and 200 OTT services – UCLA did a study to find out just how many “calls to action” each consumer received in a day. You know a call to action is “turn the dial,” “buy this product,” “watch this show,” “go to this theme park.” Got a number in your mind? What is it? Remember, there was radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, billboards, bus shelters.

A lot of places where folks were being asked to do something.

Here’s the answer: 1,500.

Sounds like a lot, right? But today we have email, text, apps, online sites, and so much more that we are bombarded with messages everywhere in our lives. And that is NOT counting the cacophony of news of disasters and paranoia created by daily coverage of the goings-on globally. Today it’s exponentially noisier. It is greater disruption.

This is a very, very noisy environment where you must figure out how to grab the attention of the select few executives whose decision could help your company soar. No one makes decisions in a vacuum. That means that executives who are not directly involved in selecting your company are affecting the decision of which company to hire.

We want to help you tell your story better, bolder and in a more compelling fashion.

To that end, here a short list of the five most basic rules of storytelling:

* Be able to tell your story in the time it takes to ride an elevator. Tech writers are always looking for good stories – like us, they just don’t have a lot of time. Ask yourself, “How can I boil it down to a compelling single statement?” If you are trying to convince senior leaders to take a risk by supporting your project, you could convey that most companies are built on taking smart chances. First settle on your ultimate message; then you can figure out the best way to illustrate it.

* Be direct and straightforward. Get to the heart of why your story matters. Sometimes a simple, one-page fact sheet helps.

* Try to get beyond the buzzwords. Can you explain what new capabilities are truly unique to you and how they help people do their jobs better or improve quality of the project? Is there anything interesting or an emotional entry point to a story?

* Highlight a struggle. A story without a challenge simply isn’t very interesting. A story needs conflict. Is there a competitor that needs to be bested? A market challenge that needs to be overcome? A change-resistant industry that needs to be transformed? Don’t be afraid to suggest the road ahead will be difficult. There may be a tendency not to want to share personal details at work, but anecdotes that illustrate struggle, failure and barriers overcome are what make leaders appear authentic and accessible. The key is to show your vulnerability and humanize the topic – I promise it will get more attention.

People actually like to be told it’s going to be hard. Smart leaders tell employees, “This is going to be tough. But if we all pull together and hang in there, we’ll achieve something amazing in the end.” A well-crafted story embedded with that kind of a rallying cry means you don’t have to demand change or effort. You can make the intended audience your partners in change, because they want to be part of the journey.

* A picture is worth more than 1,000 words. Graphics, photos, video segments and charts are great additions to any story. They provide another dimension and enhance your story. They help to quickly summarize or illustrate the issue. If you have stats or historical data to support the story, include them. Be creative and be strategic. Know who your audience is. Storytelling doesn’t have to be a 1,000-word byline or whitepaper. Use video vignettes, a Q&A or an illustration. A quick video interview with people close to the project or initiative is easy to digest and eminently watchable.

Without disruption we wouldn’t have great stories. Of victims, winners and change agents. I have fallen in love with living in disruption because it creates new opportunities to tell more stories. And these stories at the end of the day, really do count.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: Entertainment technology is not a bad profession. If you succeed, there are many rewards; if you disgrace yourself, you can always write a book.


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