In case you didn’t already know, Ira Glass is my storytelling hero. A couple weekends ago, I had a chance to see him speak for the third time and hence, the need to recap some takeaways in a third post on the topic.
Ira’s talks are always pretty similar. He breaks down how to tell great stories, how stories come together for This American Life (TAL) answers crowd questions and sprinkles in Ira-isms throughout that push you to think about the finer aspects of daily personal interactions. But, there’s always a new nugget. Something that sparks me to rethink how I personally tackle storytelling for my own clients day in and day out.
As Ira opened his speech, he played out the approach his crew took in framing up the opening of an episode of TAL that detailed life aboard an aircraft carrier. It’s easy to imagine how a mainstream media outlet may have tackled this type of opening. Thundering music, cinematic booming “trailer-esque” vocals, roaring jets…and yet the crew at TAL opened the story by honing in on a sailor responsible for stocking vending machines all day. No false drama and no playing into an expected story archetype. Rather, a realistic snapshot of what daily life looks like for the some 5,000 sailors aboard the carrier. The real stuff.
The example presented led me to think about the standard approach that the majority of brands take when pitching news to media. Most brands piece together all the assets and components along with a carefully structured press release in the hopes of securing media coverage in a format that will ultimately highlight a key quote or single message point through a broadcast outlet. There certainly is a time and place for this type of approach to meet the expectations of particular outlets or journalists.
But, the reality is that a lot of the pitching that goes on is a force fit for a news cycle or simply not an engaging story angle, hence the ongoing frustration of journalists. Be better than that. Dig deeper.
What I love about TAL and Ira’s approach is that he centers on pathos and finds a unique way to pull human emotion to the forefront of every story. That takes time. That takes effort. That takes careful editing and production but in the end, if you can captivate an audience with audio, you can sure as hell captivate them through text and visuals. It’s the ultimate storytelling litmus test.
The best part? You don’t always have to rely on the pitch as a measure of story success. In fact, I’d argue that often brand storytelling is the way to go to get your stories out to a very targeted audience and to acquire data and analytics (try getting that from a media outlet) that will help you learn and optimize your editorial approach and targeting ahead. Check out Microsoft Stories for an example of a brand that’s doing this well (and how they are pulling it off).
The big takeaway? Challenge yourself. The next time you’re stumped to think about a creative story angle, don’t settle for taking the standard approach to a story or trying to pitch something you know isn’t great. Take a moment to remove yourself from the creative pressure and rethink how you can tell a story that will actually strike an emotional chord with your audience. The payoff will be far better than the jitters that strike as journalist after journalist rejects a story you know in your gut isn’t stellar.