In October, I spoke at the Fuel Lines new business conference in Nashville. This was Michael Gass’s inaugural 2-day extravaganza for small and mid-sized agencies and it was a huge success. My session was about the power of words – and how they can help you win more business.
Those of you who know me know that I think writing is the most overlooked tool in our sales arsenal (we invest in prospecting experts, presentation coaching, pitch doctors, and yet we still think nothing of sending off a badly written email to a prospect or client!).
"Take a moment to think about the number of agencies you’re aware of (including your own) that have a truly differentiated work process. If you’re being honest, the answer
s easy: not many."
And maybe you’ve even attended one of my Persuasive Writing for New Business workshops so you also know that I’m a big advocate for using storytelling techniques to tease out what’s special about your content in way that jargon and bullet points simply cannot.
So I was initially anxious when I perused the conference agenda and realized that that session right before mine was going to be all about… storytelling.
How was I going to make sure I wasn’t spooning up content that the attendees had already just enjoyed in the other room?
uckily for me, not only did the other speaker not scoop my content, but his presentation complemented mine. That speaker was Park Howell, a man with his own fascinating story to tell of building a successful agency by teaching his clients how to be great storytellers themselves.
He uses the Hero’s Journey, a narrative structure developed by the American mythologist Joseph Campbell to help his clients communicate their value to their customers and constituents. (Those of you of a certain age might remember the wonderful series of interviews Bill Moyers did with Campbell back in the 80s.)
The Hero’s Journey describes the quest of an archetype, the Hero, who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of a group, tribe, or civilization. The form of the hero is embodied by historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., fictional characters like Harry Potter, and regular ol’ folks like you and me.
That’s because the journey of the Hero is also our journey. And it’s the reason why storytelling is such an effective form of communication – because no matter how mundane our lives seem to us, we can’t help but relate to the hero in a well-told story.
My original intention for this post was to nerd-out on storytelling and tell you all the cool ways you can use the Hero’s Journey in positioning and promoting yourself to prospects and clients.
But it evolved into something different because what I really admire about Park is how he went beyond simply using storytelling as a technique.
His firm, Park&Co, happens to be another great example of an agency, like Made Movement and Big Spaceship, that has succeeded in the always-challenging and often painful job of positioning itself.
Plus, he's differentiated his agency in part through his work process. Take a moment now to think about the number of agencies you’re aware of (including your own) that have a truly differentiated work process.
If you’re being honest, the answer is easy: not many.
Whether it’s three steps or twenty-three steps, most agency work processes look the same. In fact, sometimes I think they’re more of an afterthought, something to be written up for an RFP response but rarely put into action in real life.
Park developed a work process called the Story Cycle that became an integral part of all his client engagements. It's inspired by the Hero’s Journey, but designed for business leaders, especially in professional services firms, to connect with story structure without having to be steeped in story tradition and vernacular.
His approach has been successful in another, unexpected way. After 20 years leading Park&Co., he's moving away from a more traditional agency model of creating and activating ad campaigns to focus on brand consulting, story strategy workshops, and public speaking.
As he put it to me, "Ironically, my approach to storytelling with the Story Cycle has done a great job of positioning me and my agency as brand story strategists, but not as a traditional agency. That wasn’t my intention, but that’s what has transpired, and I’m running with it."
Park developed his agency’s work process out of an innate interest in storytelling – specifically, why we as humans are so drawn to stories and how that might serve his clients, most of whom are on a mission to creative positive change.
How he arrived at this insight is a great story in and of itself. His own Hero’s Journey led him to Joseph Campbell.
Where is yours leading you?
PS - You can follow Park as he embarks on the latest leg of his journey by following him on Twitter, subscribing to his new podcast, The Business of Story, or downloading his ebook The Story Cycle.