Telling a better story; Elements of a winning content strategy
(Originally published 01/16/17)
Conference presentation by Christine Whitmarsh, Christine, Inc.
Notes by Jane Vachon, New Hampshire Fish and Game
Christine Whitmarsh is a celebrity ghostwriter. Who knew that was even a job! She helps famous people tell their stories. And then she helps them create a detailed plan to get that story out to their readers. At the 2016 ACI Conference in glitzy Lake Tahoe, we pulled ourselves away from the savory southwestern lunch, turned our backs on the beckoning gaming parlor, and settled in to hear from Christine how we could do a better job telling the stories of our wildlife agencies.
“You can change the world, one story at a time,” said Christine. “Tell us more,” we said. And she began.
First off – and this is going to make your job more fun – start thinking about everything you write as creative writing, storytelling. People talking to each other. Images, motion, color, action. The payoff: people will pay more attention to your message.
What makes a good story? The Hero’s Journey, of course. Think
Star Wars. Lord of the Rings. Your subject starts out in the ordinary world. Hears the call to adventure. Faces a challenge or temptation. Finds a mentor (Yoda!). Then pushes through the pain and crosses the threshold, facing trials and tribulations along the way. Finally he/she transforms, succeeds in returning to the ordinary world, bringing back treasure. What could this treasure possibly be, you say? Perhaps a perfect day fishing. A hunt in the woods bonding mother and son. A recovered eagle soaring into the sky. We all have epic stories to tell.
So, are you ready to turn that press release on the wildlife rules into a hero’s journey? Okay, we aren’t always going to be able to do that. But if we can build more storytelling into our messaging – written, video, audio, social media – it’s going to be more fun and have a greater impact.
My own social media team here at NH Fish and Game is putting this idea into action as we try to build interest in our apprentice hunting license. A woman on the Facebook Team is going to buy her apprentice license and try hunting for the first time. Another person on the team agreed to be her mentor. She’s going to make regular posts about her progress – buying the license, practicing shooting, getting geared up, and then heading afield to experience the hunt. So we won’t be just saying, “Apprentice licenses are available.” We’ll engage people in the first-person story of someone trying something new. Stay tuned for how all this works out!
Instead of making pitches, stress people and personality, Christine told us. The basic idea is to find the intersection between what your audience is interested in and what you want to say. If you find it, you’re relevant. What you say needs to matter, or nobody will listen.
And then there’s the planning. Once you’ve got a story to tell, you’ve got to make a specific plan for getting your content out there, adapting different tones and twists for every type of platform – casual and image-based for Facebook, quick facts for Twitter, scenic photos for Instagram. Christine is serious about this editorial strategy advice. She wants us to plan six months ahead, down to the hour and day! You figure out monthly themes (no scattershot programming); break down the content on a weekly basis for each platform; and lay out the day-by-day details of blog posts, email blasts, Facebook posts. A daunting goal to shoot for, but think what a difference that could make.
There was much more to this talk, but the bottom line was that communicating is being seen. Find out what your audience wants and tell it to them in an intelligent, entertaining, educational way. I’ll close with an intelligent, educational post card we created to get a buzz going about hunting seasons here in New Hampshire. Hey, we had fun and told a story. You can, too.
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