The art of storytelling

Jon Card, founder of Full Story Media, has written regularly for The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and The Times. In this guest post, he spells out his views on business storytelling, press, media and more. 


As a journalist, it’s always been my job to tell a story. Even when working in business, there’s still always an angle or a voice to tease out and share with the world.

The role of ‘chief storyteller’ in a business is one that should not be underestimated or overlooked. Often, a CEO or founder of a company can inhabit this position naturally and it’s their job to relay the underlying themes and journey of the company to the outside world, and to their employees.

Take Elon Musk, for example. He is the chief storyteller of Tesla, and he has a 50 million strong Twitter following, while Tesla itself only has a following of 10 million. We see this countless times in large, entrepreneurial businesses: the figurehead who embodies the brand’s story actually has a larger reach than the business itself. But by someone listening to Musk’s story, they are listening to Tesla’s too.

The great thing about stories is that it doesn’t matter who you are or how big your business is, you can still tell them. The aim is to convey your passions and interest.



Stories build trust


Let’s try something: I’m going to tell you the story of a great restaurant in Brighton called Cin Cin. It’s owned by a guy called David Toscano, who used to be a lawyer.

He began his catering journey cooking for a family gathering, a meal which was very well received. He got a lot of compliments and he enjoyed the experience so he continued to cater for family and friends, alongside his job as a lawyer. However, his real passion was not for the law; in fact, he loved food.

Eventually, he decided to invest in a small van and began to sell street food which, after some time, became successful. Eventually, David managed to (in his words) “burnt his suits”, and pursue his passion by opening Cin Cin in the heart of Brighton. It went on to win awards.

Now I’ve told you a brief version of David’s story you’re probably a little more invested in his restaurant, even if you never get a chance to eat there. Now you know where his passion came from and how he worked to get himself to this point, he’s sold himself to you and you understand him better.

When a customer or client understands you or feels like they know you, they are more likely to trust you and, after you have someone’s trust, they are 100 times more likely to buy from you. Your story needs to be real and authentic but, above all, it needs to be human. People need to relate to you.



Look for juxtapositions


Often, the most successful stories are the ones that have a juxtaposition, they combine two things you could never imagine working together, and that causes the surprise.

For instance, a headline that reads: “I closed a £20,000 deal” isn’t that interesting. But: “I closed a £20,000 deal while breastfeeding my two year old” – now, that is a story.

A lot of people would find it hard to relate to closing a huge deal like that, but they can relate to children and working from home as a result of the pandemic. Look out for juxtapositions in your business or times when you have faced adversity and overcome it, these things make for great stories.



A media pack is key


As a small business, you should recognise that most people will not have heard about you – but that doesn’t mean that you’re not credible or doing great things. You need to get your credibility levels up and out there for everyone to see as this gives you notability in the public and media’s eyes. So, how do you get out there? How can you spread the story of your business?

First off, you want to make yourself a media pack. This will provide journalists with all the right components to help tell your story to the world. One of the first things I tell people I work with is to do a photoshoot, because the chances of a publication commissioning a photographer for their story is slim.

I’ve written maybe 100 stories for The Guardian and they’ve sent a photographer on two or three occasions. The budget just isn’t there, so the chances are they’ll get a stock image or buy one off Getty, and that doesn’t help build your business profile or story in the readers’ minds.

These photos you produce shouldn’t just be boring headshots of the CEO, they need to be illustrative, imaginative and good quality. Alongside your images you also need a bio, a short version of your company’s story and perhaps an individual one for the CEO and other key team members.


Build relationships with journalists


Another thing to always remember is that often journalists are freelancers, meaning they write for lots of different publications and the chances are, if they are featured in one IT magazine, they’ll write for others, too.

So, network and nurture your relationships with journalists because they could help you out one day.

Next, you need to think about where you want your story to be told, this is usually governed by where your audience is. You might aim to get into a particular publication or feature on a certain podcast. Maybe it’s not very well known, but that’s where a lot of people are active in your industry and so it’s important to go after these spots.



Sell oven-ready stories


Often, it can be a case of presenting a journalist with an ‘oven ready’ article. A few weeks ago, I sent out an article I had written to thirty or forty journalists. I didn’t hear anything back for about seven days, but then someone reached out and said she was really interested.

She basically added a headline and another paragraph to the end of what I’d written and then she published it and the story was out there!

Other times, it can be a bit more complicated and the journalist is really searching for a voice to get on record. A journalist may come up with a story and an angle but one thing they cannot do is make up quotes and points of view.



Get your timing right


Of course, timing is essential and it’s important to approach a journalist at the right time. Preferably, when they are actually writing a relevant piece, but how can you actually do that?

Twitter can be helpful for this. Go on the site and search the #Journorequest hashtag. You’ll be presented with a tonnes of tweets from journalists looking for a voice to help document their stories.

Usually, they won’t just want an insight, they’ll want an expert, so it can help to build your credibility up before this move. When talking about timing in the news world, you must also talk about ‘pegs’.

As a journalist, you might go to your editor and present a story and they’ll say “that’s a nice story, but we need a peg to hang it on”. Roughly translated, what they mean is, we need something that links the article with the current state of the world in order for it to be received properly.

Obviously, right now the peg is the pandemic, but that has started to change. If you can predict or quickly react to the new pegs you see coming and present a relevant article, you’re more likely to get coverage.



Be relevant


An easy way of deciding if your content is worth trying to put out there is to ask yourself these questions:


  • Is it educational?
  • Is it informative?
  • Is it entertaining?


If the answer to any of those questions is no, the chances are the PR is purely promotional and you need to go back to the drawing board and have a re-write.

Press releases aren’t dead, but they need to be looked at more as a story  They need to have an exciting element, with a journey, in order to have traction with an audience and, far too often, they can sound like a robot has written them. It’s important that someone key to the business, and familiar, if not essential to its story, tells it.

When your company gets interviewed or asked for a quote, don’t send your head of marketing or sales. Go as the founder because it’s your job. Yes, it’s time consuming, but it’s something only you can do in order to tell the story properly.

Jon Card is author of How to Make your Company Famous.

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