Finding our client’s "real" story

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Leo talked a lot about listening in a recent CSI post. As an aside, and while his Twain quote hits the nail on the head, my own favorite “listening” blurb is by Hugh Elliott:

“Listen. Do not have an opinion while you listen because frankly, your opinion doesn’t hold much water outside of Your Universe. Just listen. Listen until their brain has been twisted like a dripping towel and what they have to say is all over the floor.”

Needless to say, listening is important, and plays a big part in our role as trusted advisors. But I’ll add to that by recalling a lesson I once learned in my journalism days:

Everybody has a story in them. However, it’s up to us to find it, and coax it out of them.

To say that our role as communications advisors is similar to that of an investigative journalist may be a stretch. But too often, I find myself realizing that our clients (who clearly know their business better than anyone else) haven’t yet figured out what their story is. And that’s our job.

“It’s such a part of me, I assume everyone can see it.” (Another Elliotism)

Bingo. Too often, we put ourselves in our clients’ heads rather than in the heads of the audiences they’re trying to reach. Which is fine when we’re looking to better understand their business. However, our clients also rely on us to examine their issues and challenges from the perspective of their audiences, and to help them communicate their story with those perspectives in mind.

And while there is no proven formula, much of the criteria we use to determine newsworthiness is the same criteria that makes a great story no matter who you’re talking to, whether it’s one or all of the following:

  • Timeliness
  • Proximity or relevance
  • Consequence and impact
  • Human interest

On any given day, I go out of my way to find interesting stories in strangers I run into. I recommend it; it’s a useful exercise for the business we’re in.



Ian Barr

Nice post. There was a great article about storytelling to build brands that appeared in Advertising Age ( If you’re a subscriber, search for Storytelling: Escaping the Price War (July 10, 2006).



Chad Horenfeldt

This is so true! You forget this sometimes as my day is soo busy. Thanks for the reminder!




thanks for the mention.


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