TV Guide to Telling Your Organization's Story

Eight reasons TV is a great role model for organizational storytellers

Think of your organization as a television show. How are your ratings? If you’re like most people, you probably aren’t attracting the audiences you want in the numbers you need, especially online.

But thinking about your organization as a television show is a great way to improve those ratings. Here are eight ways that your organizational story is like a TV show:

The former CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters loved our book. Dig us!

"Upon reflection, I want to add one more 'really' because it really is that good." If you’ve spent any time in Washington DC, you’ve heard of David Rehr. When he ran the National Beer Wholesalers Association, Fortune Magazine ranked that organization as one of the “top ten most influential lobbying organizations” in America. When he was president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, Radio Ink magazine named him one of the “top 20 most influential people in radio.” And Washington Life magazine put him on their “Power 100” list. Yeah, he’s that good.

But what makes David Rehr so special (besides his eerie resemblance to Matt Damon) is his uncanny ability to identify talent. Take this book review he recently posted on

“Megan McDonald & John Doyle break through all the communications clutter and treat the reader to the essential "you have to get these right" elements in this easy to read, yet fascinating book. I have been in organizational communications my entire professional career but found myself shaking my head (while reading the book) and saying to myself, "yes, I have to be sure I do that..." This book is a great investment. It's has some lighthearted moments but the content is serious - we do live in a cluttered communications environment and virtually all organizations are terrible in getting their positive messages out to the public. I am certain I will continue to refer back to it on important communication projects. It's that good. No, it's really, really, really good.”

Now the fact that he was talking about our book is just icing on the cake. In fact, I didn’t even realize he was referring The TV Guide to Telling Your Organization’s Story until Megan pointed that out to me.

But it was our book he was talking about. And if a man as busy as David Rehr could find the time to order our book, read it, and post this brutally candid and informative review, you can too.

So go ahead and get yourself a copy. As David said, “It’s really, really, really good.”

Your mission: Make sure it's about them ... not you.

I love Dilbert. Scott Adams is often frighteningly spot-on about organizational dynamics. He did it again this morning with this strip. It reminded me of a passage from our new book, The TV Guide to Telling Your Organization’s Story. Dilbert

There are relatively few organizations that are going to publicly advocate for the right to blow birds out of the sky. But a number of different groups— from environmental activists to bird-watching societies—would find the quest to preserve wetlands and waterfowl appealing and a natural fit with their organization.

That’s the magic of Ducks Unlimited—their quest attracts allies and inspires them to act. The sportsmen’s group boasts of being “the world’s leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation” … “[which] does more than any other organization to put ducks in the sky,” which is true. They also shoot more ducks out of the sky than any other organization.

You could say that making sure there are ducks to kill today and in the future is their true goal—their mission, if you will—given that about 90 percent of their members are hunters. But they (wisely) keep the focus on their quest of wetlands preservation (which just happens to further their goal).

Compare that to the American Dairy Association. Their stated mission is “to economically benefit dairy farmers by encouraging the consumption of milk and dairy products through advertising, education and promotion, to reach consumers with product benefits and advantages.”

"I just wanted you to know before you wrote them another check."

A worthy endeavor if you’re a dairy farmer. But the quest of “economically benefiting dairy farmers” is not likely to convince people to buy more milk. So while the ADA is being candid about their perfectly legitimate mission, they are missing the opportunity to connect with their audience, who might otherwise be persuaded to offer assistance.

And they are not alone. Take a gander at your own mission statement. Is your mission about helping other people or helping yourself?

Was that helpful? There’s more where that came from. You can order your copy here.

Storytelling in the Interactive Age: TV as Teacher

TV as a guide to storytelling As the television industry navigates its way through these tectonic changes, it can teach us how to respond to similar challenges. The static monologues delivered via press releases, white papers, and the vetted and sanitized “statement from the CEO” are rapidly being replaced by genuine dialogue between organizations and the audiences they want to reach.

Similarly, TV is restructuring its programs so that it can engage in a dialogue with its audiences. The signs of this restructuring are on every channel:

  • Folks watching Hawaii 5-0 can determine the ending of the program in real time by selecting the bad guy via Twitter.
  • Netflix uploaded every episode of House of Cards to allow people to watch it when they choose to.
  • A number of programs (including my favorite, The Blacklist) post Chyrons (those messages on the bottom of the screen) prompting you to download the episodes and the show’s soundtrack on iTunes.
  • Vine superstar Logan Paul took over the Today Show’s Vine account … live. (Don’t understand that sentence? You will.)
  • CBS’s Showtime Network partnered with LG Technologies to develop a system that allows viewers to participate in polls and trivia games about Showtime programs such as Dexter and Ray Donovan as they watch the shows.
  • Connect TV has an app that lets viewers capture six seconds of the show they’re watching and send that clip to their friends.
  • The app Viggle identifies the show you’re watching and then connects you to others watching the show via Facebook and other social media. It also allows you to rack up points for every minute you watch the show, which can then be redeemed from the show’s partners.
  • Engaging TV ads are no longer restricted to the Super Bowl as advertisers fight for viewers’ attention with better content and real-time interactivity.
  • TV networks are partnering with content distribution platforms—from YouTube to Apple TV—to ensure that their programs can be viewed anywhere on myriad devices.
  • Television manufacturers are taking the dialogue concept one step further with social television technology that allows you to literally talk to your television system.

Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey best summed it up when he said, "For kids growing up, there's no difference between watching Avatar on an iPad or watching YouTube on a TV and watching Game of Thrones on their computer. It's all content. It's all story.”

“The audience has spoken,” he said. “They want stories. … And they will engage with it with a passion and an intimacy that a blockbuster movie could only dream of—and all we have to do is give it to them.”

You don’t need to invent an app to remain relevant. But you do need to share compelling stories with your audiences if you want to attract and hold their attention. And TV can show you how.

For concrete tips on how to improve your storytelling, check out our new book, The TV Guide to Telling Your Organization's Story: Insights and tools to help you navigate the Interactive Age.

Expertise is not enough in the Interactive Age

To understand how communications have changed so quickly and why it is virtually impossible for expertise alone to cut it in the Interactive Age, you have to think of information as a commodity.

For most of human history, the information market was functionally an oligopoly: a few information producers and brokers (royalty, the church, scholarly institutions, etc.) dominated the market. Their production systems—chiseled stone, monastically scribed books, a limited run of hand-pressed Bibles—were expensive and labor-intensive. As a result, there was an extremely high “price” for accumulating information, which restricted learning to those who had stature and wealth.

During the Industrial Age, the supply of information gradually broadened as universal education became widespread. During the Information Age, however, the supply of information exploded as technological advancements lowered the price for the production and accumulation of information.

The supply of information greatly outpaced its demand long ago. Anyone who’s ever been to a library has seen a vast amount of information languishing on dusty shelves.

Ironically, in the Information Age, information became less valuable than ever before. But because the channels over which this “cheap” information flowed was until recently controlled by corporations, the media, Hollywood, and the recording and publishing industries, the price for that information could be artificially manipulated. As long as they controlled the distribution of information, these multi-billion-dollar industries thrived, generating profits that would make a banker blush.

The Internet broke the lock on the flow of information and people began freely sharing ideas, images, videos, music, and art. Where consumers once paid money to receive information (via subscriptions, cable fees, telephone bills, movie tickets), they are now getting it and giving it away for free.

Today, the value of information is not predicated on how much people are willing to pay to receive it. It is determined by how many people want to share it.

The consistent delivery of relevant, accessible, and/or entertaining content will build “brand loyalty” that can be used to earn revenue the old-fashioned way, while also creating an emotionally invested community of supporters.

To learn more about how to communicate effectively in the Interactive Age, check out our new book, The TV Guide to Telling Your Organization's Story.

Saccharine Vanzetti: Lessons you can learn from the Oreo-inspired miscarriage of journalism

"It's OK, Honey. Oreo says we cant still dunk in the dark. Can you bring back my glass of mill, please?" Oreo to launch two new cookie flavorsNew York Daily News

A New Oreo Rises! And It Will Probably Be As Addictive As CocaineEsquire Magazine

“It seems impossible to improve on the Oreo but Nabisco is giving the classic cookie a new twist, launching limited edition cookie dough and marshmallow crispy flavors.”NBC’s Today Show

To paraphrase Woody Allen, if Walter Cronkite came back and saw what was passing for journalism today, he’d never stop throwing up.

I don’t blame the good folks at Nabisco. They’re just doing their job, and doing it damn well, I might add. The fault lies squarely with the (generally) young and (astonishingly) naïve “journalists” who seem to have learned everything they needed to know about investigative reporting from Perez Hilton “exclusives.”

But this is the world we live in, so let’s make the best of it.

Following is an excerpt from our book, The TV Guide to Telling Your Organization’s Story, that should give you some insight into Oreo's 21st century thinking.

The Oreo. It’s not just a cookie. It’s a flash mob. It’s a meme. It’s a YouTube sensation. It’s a Twitter genius. It’s a Facebook monster. It’s milk’s favorite cookie.

It wasn’t always this way. Oreo's used to be just a snack, like Twinkies, Ring Dings and Devil Dogs. But while Nabisco was celebrating Oreo’s 100th birthday with flash mobs and online events, Hostess was filing for bankruptcy protection, which briefly killed off the much-maligned Twinkie at the relatively young age of 82. (The Hostess bankruptcy also put Drakes Cakes out of business, shutting down—at least temporarily—the Ring Ding and Devil Dog assembly line.)

How did Oreo's become a global Internet sensation just as Hostess was throwing in the apron? Because Nabisco used social media to tell the story they wanted to tell that would resonate with the audiences they needed to reach. They carefully planned and deftly executed intricate campaigns and skillfully seized unexpected opportunities. And they did it creatively, humorously, and relentlessly.

It wasn’t a story about sweet white stuff slapped between two black wafers. It was a story about your experience with their cookie. For Baby Boomers, the story was a nostalgic trip back to childhood. For the Millennials, the story was exciting, edgy and often political. And for the young ones, it was a story about Grandma and imagination.

Hostess, on the other hand, allowed the Twinkie story to be told by others. And we know how well that turned out.

And it isn't just thoughtful planning. Team Oreo also seizes opportunity--swiftly. During the 2013 Super Bowl (the night that the lights went out in Nawlins), Oreo carped the diem by conceiving, creating, approving, and tweeting a graphic ad that capitalized on the Superdome’s power struggle in just five minutes. The ad got re-tweeted thousands of times, and the brilliant marketing move was talked about worldwide. For free.

According to The Washington Post, Oreo’s ad team “required that ad agency and client executives be at the same place at the same time” which was a “social-media command center” at its digital ad agency 360i in NYC.

That is the reality of storytelling today. You’ve got to be quick. You’ve got to be relevant. And you have got to execute. The days of “running it by legal” are over.

A note from the authors of "The TV Guide to Telling Your Organization's Story"

"Kinda like a 21st century Moonlighting, right Megan?" "Not so much, John." Where would you be today if, back in 1994, someone gave you a book that explained how cell phones, PCs, and tablets were going to change the world over the next two decades?

This is that book.

No, John, it isn’t. But it does serve as a primer on some of the large-scale shifts affecting communications and provides strategies that you can adopt to successfully navigate them, using the model of a TV show.

A TV Guide, if you will.

And much like a TV Guide, it provides brief but enlightening overviews, not of shows but of concepts and tactics that you can use to tell your organization’s story more effectively. It also helps you identify areas that you are interested in spending more time learning about.

What it doesn’t do is teach you how to tweet, post, #hashtag, or Skype. And if you’re looking for scholarly insights about the literary themes in famous stories, you’ve got the wrong book.

Instead, it delivers the context and insights to help you become a better communicator in any medium.

And it does it in a way that allows you to jump around so you’re not forced to read a bunch of chapters just to get to the good parts.

Specifically, this book is comprised of four distinct sections which can be read independently or in any combination. The first section explains how we communicate with each other today—both as individuals and as organizations—and what we can do to communicate more effectively. Sections two, three, and four offer specific advice on how to successfully find, tell, and live your story in the Interactive Age.

And there are quite a few pictures and bullet points to make the reading feel a lot less like work.

One of the reasons our partnership works is that we’re extremely different in our perspectives, experiences, mentalities … and writing styles. So you will notice two distinctly different voices in this book.

I tend towards abstract and educational tones, while John provides concrete narratives.

The combination of two very different minds also went into the overall structure of the book. I usually read books from start to finish, and prefer a cumulative, linear approach to learning.

Blessed with the gift of attention deficit disorder and a dash of dyslexia, I like the freedom to hop in and out of a book without having to remember a lot of plot. So I need short sections, pictures and lots of white space.

Regardless of your preferred style of learning or level of background, this book will be helpful in navigating the future of communication.

And we hope you have as much fun reading it as you do buying it.


The Rise and Fall of PR in 100 Short Years

Edward Bernays, PR

The following is an excerpt from our new book, The TV Guide to Telling your Organization's Story--Insights and tools to help you navigate the Interactive Age.

Like what your see? Get yours here.

“Ours must be a leadership democracy, administered by the “intelligent minority” who know how to regiment and guide the masses. The common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality.” –Edward Bernays

The 20th century was the Golden Age of managed messaging. Media moguls, corporate titans, and government agencies controlled virtually every aspect of mass communication. This “intelligent minority” were literally the “they” in any statement that began with “They say…” The blueprints for this power paradigm were drawn up in the wee hours of the 20th century by Edward Bernays, the man who would be crowned “the father of public relations.”

In his aptly named essay, Propaganda, Bernays asked, “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?”

Turns out it was possible … and very profitable. (A small example: It was Bernays who convinced America that women had the right to smoke in public with his “Torches of Freedom” campaign.)

Bernays—who was related to Sigmund Freud through both his mother (Freud’s sister) and his father (whose sister married Freud)—knew a few things about crowd psychology and other psychoanalytic approaches to public relations, which he called “the engineering of consent.”

He was also keenly aware that the burgeoning mass media infrastructure of 20th century America—“this web of communications” he presciently called it—was ideal for the “manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses.” This was critical, he wrote, because “those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

America’s mass media infrastructure was critical to Bernays’ success in developing “technique[s] for the mass distribution of ideas.” These techniques, which he collectively dubbed “public relations,” were amazingly effective because they were based on the belief that “the United States has become a small room in which a single whisper is magnified thousands of times.”

But the Internet destroyed that small room a few years back and countless communities have popped up in its place. The people in those communities aren’t buying the linear monologues spouted by corporations, media conglomerates, and political leaders. They are putting their faith in their friends and their communities, with astounding results.

Social media has brought us full circle to what Bernays described as “an earlier age … [where] a leader was usually known to his followers personally [and] communication was accomplished principally by personal announcement to an audience.”

This has up sides for organizations of all sizes, but our new reality requires that you make a few adjustments to your communications program if you want to be heard in the Interactive Age.

TV or not TV? Why your television may be your best social media mentor

"That's what 'twerking' means? Why didn't somebody tell me BEFORE my speech?" The following is an excerpt from our new book, The TV Guide to Telling your Organization's Story--Insights and tools to help you navigate the Interactive Age.

Like what your see? Get yours here.

  • In 2011, part-time nanny Molly Katchpole told Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan and the online world that she didn’t want to pay a new $5 monthly debit card fee. Moynihan was “incensed by the bad press,” and vowed that he “won’t budge on the new fees.” But the banker budged … and the nanny won.
  • In 2012, Hollywood’s top lobbyist Chris Dodd blasted his former colleagues in the US Senate for killing his signature legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have allowed the government to censor the Internet. Upon losing what had appeared to be a slam-dunk deal, an enraged Dodd said, “Don’t ask me to write a check for you [politicians] when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.” This refreshing candor resulted in its own online petition on the White House website calling for an investigation into Dodd’s alleged “open admission of bribery.
  • In 2013, Canadian PM Stephen Harper announced that he “has a lot of fun twerking,” but only with close friends and “every now and then with President Obama.” Before a media aide could update the PM on early 21st century parlance, he added that he “would like to twerk with every Canadian but that of course is impossible.”

There was a time when emulating society’s leaders was a viable strategy for success. But those days are truly gone. The 20th century leadership skills that catapulted people to positions of power—being unilaterally decisive and hogging the megaphone, to name just two—are liabilities in the Interactive Age, where collaboration trumps intimidation.

The sense of unassailable superiority by those in power is resulting in regular digital spankings as the once-untouchable establishment titans go head-to-head with “little people” who may lack executive prerogative, but more than make up for it in social media savvy.

But if successful business and political icons of the 20th century can no longer guide us to success, who can?


Yup. The faithful companion that taught you how to run faster, jump higher, and build strong bodies 12 ways can now help you navigate the roiling waters of social media.

Think about it. The world is changing faster and more dramatically than at any point in human history. Every aspect of communications is changing in ways we could never have imagined a decade ago. Keeping up with the changes is next to impossible and the struggle can overwhelm the strongest of us.

One way to get grounded and to regain a sense of balance is to filter these new experiences through the lens of something familiar; something that is feeling its way through this brave new world like you are. And there’s nothing more familiar and universal—in the 20th century, anyway—than television.

As the television industry navigates its way through these tectonic changes, it can teach us how to respond to similar challenges.

Coming up ... "Channeling your inner TV show." Stay tuned!

Television. AmIright??

Let your TV be your guide. “I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts.” —      Orson Welles

“If television's a babysitter, the Internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.” —Dorothy Gambrell, Cat and Girl Volume I

“The difference between TV and the internet was how far you sat from the screen. TV was an 8 foot activity, and you were a consumer. The internet was a 16 inch activity, and you participated.” —Seth Godin

Want to know the 33 things your television can teach you about storytelling in the Interactive Age? It's all in here.