Now for the clever bit… the storytellers’ art

I have a friend who is in movies, at least that’s how I like to introduce her hoping it boosts my street cred. The reality is not as glamorous as that first might sound as she doesn’t get to hobnob with the stars or go to many opening-night parties. This Cinderella spends a lot of time with the technology – which probably says something about why we are friends.

She told me a story about a recent meeting where they were reviewing the footage from a shoot – hours of it. Days of filming and retakes, several camera angles, different lighting positions…they would probably need to send out for pizza to help them through. At first, ‘He who needed to be impressed’ was enthusiastic: lovely; great shot; ooh I like that. After some time he fell silent and at the end said: “What are we going to do with all of this?”

The answer was a 26-minute documentary.

Just 26 minutes from terabytes of data. It could make gathering all those terabytes seem a huge waste of time and effort. But without the days of filming and the different angles the storytellers’ art couldn’t be perfected and the message would be dull and ineffective. The perfecting comes in the cutting…and that takes time and skill. Sound familiar?

There comes a time (or several times) in every working day when there is a paring down, pruning to be done and much of the earlier efforts are consigned to the cutting room floor – or the recycling bin for us copywriters.

One day I may be famous enough to remake my epic with the director’s cut but until then I make decisions about what goes and what stays on behalf of my customers, because they know what their paying public want to see: compelling stories, uncluttered by extraneous information, that deliver a persuasive message. That’s the art and science of what we do.

Size matters

I had an interesting meeting with a new client today. We often try and convince clients to try different approaches to engage their prospects and customers more. This client beat me to it. From the off they said that they wanted to tell a story to enthral the reader.

There was a time when whitepapers were long, technical pieces, often with a large element of blue-sky thinking; and case studies were quite in-depth reviews of a project. Driven by the perception of a time-poor audience, bombarded by thousands of marketing messages, we’ve seen pieces get shorter and shorter. But there are dangers in making everything shorter. Not only is there the risk of ‘dumbing down’ the message, but it can also take the human interest out of the story. Edited down to a curt list of bullet points, the customer and their story become implausible and impossible to empathise with. Simplified to appeal to a broader audience, the whitepaper can become nothing more than a glorified brochure—that’s fine, but not when you are trying to demonstrate competence and thought-leadership to technical decision makers.

At HN we aren’t bound by industry-standard terms. We look at each project and agree with the client what length, tone and level of technical detail is most appropriate to the audience and therefore be best at achieving their objectives. Why not have a look at our article The resurgence of storytelling, or give us a call and put us to the test.