Holmes Report Innovator 25: A Thank You

I’d like to take a moment to thank the Holmes Report for including me in their list of Top 25 PR Innovators. It feels awesome to be included in such inspiring company, and I’d also like to take a moment to commend my friends and colleagues who’ve been recognized as fellow innovators in PR. In particular, I’d like to say congratulations to my friend Charlene Li for also making the list, and for inspiring so many of the ideas that many of us have been putting into practice this year.

What strikes me about the list this year is to what extent the people on this are passionate about their own particular vision for communications and content. Whether or not we “made the list,” that’s something all of us in PR share—we are all in service of telling somebody’s story, and we are all in service of innovating new ways to tell that story. And that involves a fair amount of “creative destruction”—which in PR takes the form of blowing up old processes and form factors to make way for more useful ones. As a troublemaker at heart, I have to admit to enjoying the destructive aspect of the creative process, and I’m curious how many of my colleagues on this list share my penchant for rhetorical demolition.

At B&O, the creative destruction in 2014 has been all around storytelling. If anything, my inclusion on this year’s innovators list is a nod to the hard work the entire B&O team has put into advancing our shared vision for Viral Storytelling. Our storytelling model, which like many other successful story models is based on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, is pre-engineered to generate the positive word of mouth that drives sales, reputation, talent retention and brand engagement. And it’s a storytelling model we use in each and every one of our accounts.

What’s best about this story model is that it’s based on authenticity. We find what is most true about our clients. We help them discover the most compelling way to evangelize themselves and attach themselves to the trends that make them the most relevant. And we help them articulate their purpose and mission in a way that gets their audiences to want to see them succeed. It’s amazing what storytelling can do when it’s authentic and not all about yourself, as I had a chance to discuss in a recent speech at LinkedIn TechConnect 14.

It’s been fun to blog about storytelling and essentially open-source our Viral Storytelling model to the industry. We believe that smart innovations are worth sharing. And we’re just getting started. In the coming months, the broader bench here at B&O will be sharing even more inspiration and insight into innovative trends in communications, including:

  • The power of human connections and community uprising
  • Social and multichannel messaging
  • Brand journalism
  • Research tools, analytics and the power of big data in PR
  • Focusing our storytelling on the human impact of new technologies

Again, my thanks to Aarti Shah, Paul Holmes and the Holmes Report for including me as a Top 25 PR Innovator. And perhaps most importantly, on behalf of my B&O teammates and myself, I’d like to express our deep appreciation to our clients who’ve had the curiosity and courage to creatively destroy a few old models and co-create some high-impact stories with us this year.

XTC 8/19: Viral Storytelling—Mythic Models for Audience Engagement Part IV: “Enter the Hero”


In Chapters 1 through 3 of our ongoing Viral Storytelling series, we examined how new changes and challenges in business and technology demand a shift in thinking—a new way of looking at the world’s problems and how we solve them. This new perspective is what sets thought leaders apart, creating the critical backdrop against which the hero can emerge. And that’s when we introduce our mission, our vision, and our value proposition in “Chapter 4: Enter the Hero”.

Without Chapters 1 through 3, Chapter 4 doesn’t work. Without a setting, a challenge or a quest, the hero isn’t relevant. And without understanding the world of our audience and what they’re wrestling with, things like our own value proposition and differentiation end up feeling more like a car chase that’s been tacked onto a movie rather than a core component of a compelling narrative.

But one of the most important decisions to make when it comes to Chapter 4 is this: Who is the real hero of the story? Is that us? Or do we play some other role? In some cases it makes more sense for us as storytellers to position our customers as the hero in the story. Sometimes the technology itself is the hero, especially in the case of a ubiquitous protocol, open standard or platform play. And at other times, it’s not any one company but an entire ecosystem of partners who are the hero. In those cases, a technology company plays the role of the ally behind the scenes supporting the customers, technologies and partners that move the industry forward.

The other aspect of Chapter 4 to get right is to make sure the hero—whether that’s us or somebody else—is a living example of the new perspective we called out in Chapter 3. So if the shift in thinking has to do with addressing both near- and long-term pain points, then this must become part of the hero’s persona. This means we have to do more than a cut-and-paste of our own mission statement. We have to contextualize why we matter and what role we play. Otherwise, we could be the wrong hero showing up in the wrong story. It would be like having Wolverine show up in the middle of a Sherlock Holmes mystery: great skills, nice value-add, but a little out of place.

The last consideration in Chapter 4 is to think through the benefit statements you want to include. Product benefits don’t generally belong in a high-level narrative. Chapter 4 should look at the benefits of your company being involved in the story, not just the benefits of people using your offering. Think of it this way: product messaging answers the question of why people should buy a product. Chapter 4 and a corporate message answer the question of why they should buy that product from you. And it should answer the even broader question of what your role is in the industry—and in your industry’s quest, overall.

There is, of course, another option to dictating benefit statements. You could always avoid the pain of guessing and simply crowdsource the benefit statement in the form of a viral question at the end of your narrative. How cool would that be? And how much more could you accomplish as a storyteller if you took that approach?

That’s the topic for the next installment in our viral storytelling series … The Viral Question.

XTC (Examining the Change) is an ongoing series where B&O CEO Josh Reynolds examines the intersection of technology, storytelling and leadership. 

XTC 7/14 – Viral Storytelling: Mythic Models for Audience Engagement

Messaging is a cornerstone of any tech PR campaign. But the trouble with messages is that we discard them once we’ve consumed them. Message in. Message out. File deleted.

Stories, however, stick in our memory. And good stories change perspective, and they change behavior. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech tells the story of a racially united America, and this moving vision still resonates today. Flip to just a few years ago—who remembers the key messages of either the Romney or Obama campaigns in 2012? Which ones stick with us more?

Every hero's journey begins somewhere. (Thinkstock)
Every hero’s journey begins somewhere. (Thinkstock)

Stories also invite participation and emotional involvement in the narrative, which is why so many of us in tech PR are now talking about storytelling. There is a proven art and a heritage of science around storytelling; most of us in the business have our own models around this. But the truth is, almost of all of us who engage in storytelling are indebted to the incredible work of comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey he mapped out in books like The Hero With a Thousand FacesThe Masks of God and The Power of Myth. Even George Lucas credits much of the success of his Star Wars franchise to the storytelling principles he learned directly from Campbell.

Campbell’s storytelling model identified 12 universal commonalities in the stories told in myths from around the world. All great stories that stood the test of time had these essential components in the narrative:

  1. The ordinary world
  2. The call to adventure
  3. Refusal of the call
  4. Meeting with the mentor
  5. Crossing the threshold
  6. Tests, allies and enemies
  7. Approach
  8. The ordeal
  9. The reward
  10. The road back
  11. The resurrection
  12. Return with the elixir

At Blanc & Otus, we’ve condensed this 12-chapter model into our own five-chapter model for what we call “viral storytelling,” and we’ve been using it for more than a decade with almost all of our clients:

  1. The world has changed
  2. Change creates challenge
  3. A shift in thinking
  4. Enter the Hero
  5. The viral question

Over the course of our next several XTC installments, we’re going to take a deeper look at this five-chapter model, how it works, and examples of what becomes possible when we shift from mere messaging to viral storytelling.

But first, given that everybody seems to have their own model these days, we felt it important to acknowledge the source and rich debt of gratitude that all storytellers everywhere owe to Campbell and his amazing work.

Up next: How the world of storytelling has changed…

XTC (Examining The Change) is a weekly column where B&O CEO Josh Reynolds explores the intersection of storytelling, leadership and technology.