B2B vs. Superman: PR Storytelling Tips from the Pages of Your Favorite Hero Stories

Some 130,000 fans converged on San Diego this weekend for Comic-Con, a once thinly attended affair reserved for uber geeks talking about funny books that has evolved into a mecca for anyone with a place in their heart for a good hero story.

What makes the tales of Superman, Batman, Spider-man, and now Ant-man, successful is that they incite a passion among followers. These stories then transform these followers into loyalists who become ambassadors. Too often, whether it’s B2C or B2B marketing and communications pros, we tap the wrong sources of information from our clients to use to connect with audiences. One solution – we all should look to the pages of comic books for inspiration.

How do we do that? Let’s count the ways based on the popular story tropes from some of the most famous crusaders.

Lego Hulk

Bruce Banner, alter ego of The Hulk, goes from being the smartest guy in the room to being the biggest, strongest and greenest. Among many other things, his stories teach us that we often should rely on the scientific approach, rather than the emotional, to address the problem. This is particularly apt when talking money.

How did he become Spider-man? A relatable origins story always sells. When you’re launching the brand, get to the heart of the matter by focusing on the people who are responsible for its existence. What makes them special? Is it their decades of experience? Is it their unique vision for a better world? What obstacles existed that they overcame to get to this place? Spidey fans love the web head because many of them were conflicted, but smart, high school kids just like him.

Daredevil used blindness to develop other super senses. There’s strength in understanding a business’s weakness. Identify what value it brings to an audience and understand how recognizing a vulnerability, either in the business or in the marketplace, can lead to innovation. No brand started out great, just like Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, wasn’t born a blind hero of Hell’s Kitchen who also happened to be a lawyer.

Even Superman can’t be everywhere. Know you can’t solve all of the world’s problems, nor should you try. Keep the story focused on the business mission, which shouldn’t be all things to all people. The most successful brands satisfy a need in a specific community. In the best cases, businesses create a need that didn’t exist in the first place. Such innovation isn’t limited to saving distressed female reporters as they fall from skyscrapers.

The mask will work for Batman, but not you. We also can take away from these stories a lesson on what not to do. Disguises, in the business world, don’t work because people trust only who they know. Transparency and honesty is the law: there can be no cape or cowl.

Without the Joker, there is no Batman. You and the problem your company is solving are not so dissimilar from Batman and The Crown Prince of Crime – the problem is separating you and your customers from a desired outcome. Just like in Gotham, a mix of instability or uncertainty can complicate the market. Use this to help create a demand and amplify the client’s importance in the real world.

Now, suit up.


15 for ’15: Our Best Career Advice for this Year’s Graduating Class

The first commencement on record was probably in the 17th Century, which means by now we’ve given and/or received the best life advice from the smartest and dumbest people alike. This is why you might say, “Why bother with such a blog post when someone, somewhere, sometime has already said it best?”

Water & Wall Group Best Career Advice for this Year’s Graduating ClassThere’s much truth to that; however, each and every one of us will have a different experience. This is why we at the Water & Wall Group offer our absolute, unequivocal, non-billable, total best and purest (not to mention strategic) professional guidance for this year’s graduating class. Expect a PR slant throughout.

1. If you want to pursue your dream, recognize that there is no such thing as a “comfort zone.” You’ve heard variations of this over the years. Among them is, “anything worthwhile doesn’t come easy.” This is mostly true.

2. Someone can tell you to make mistakes early, and they’re right, but don’t expect to feel good about your mistakes, even though they’re essential to success. Without mistakes, there is no learning and if you make them later in your career, and you will, there’s much more at stake.

3. Style and class is knowing what to wear and when to wear it. Whether you’re in a business casual or jeans-if-you-want-to work environment, always think less Met Gala, where the fashion theme was “mostly naked” for some this year, and more White House Correspondents Dinner. You’ll work with at least one person who ignores this counsel.

4. There is nothing more important in this world than who you know. There is, actually, but this advice deserves a home near the top of the list. Recognize that getting to know people is more than attending black-tie affairs and trade shows. Also, practice doing this face to face. We mean no offense, Twitterati. Got it? Now read “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

5. Write well enough to communicate constructively one-to-one with your peers, and especially your boss. Emoji are the best and worst thing to happen to written communication in the last few years. People are forgetting how to convey sentiment on paper without using J or L. Keep “The Elements of Style” within reach. I also like “Who’s Whose.”

6. If you have puppies, put them on the front page. Or cats. The Internet has retaught us this age-old journalistic maxim and you should be prepared to apply this rule where appropriate to make whatever you create in this life interesting to someone else. Warning: We’re not responsible if you take this too literally and actually insert an image of a small animal on a formal business presentation and expect positive feedback.

7. Expect surprises. If you’re passionate about your career, it will be the reason you’re able to weather the storm. We hope you never have to endure a Great Recession, but if you do, we hope you’re among the lucky folks who does what he or she loves for a living. This will help you emerge unscathed. There are more caveats to list here than most would be willing to read, so just take our word for it.

8. There’s strength in knowing what you don’t know.

9. For goodness sake, for your own sake, show up, and not just in person. Yes, be punctual. But also bring enthusiasm. Bring positive energy. If it’s 8 a.m. or 8 p.m., you and the people stuck in that conference room with you will be better for it. This is when caffeine becomes friend and foe. Get to know the difference.

10. Ask questions no matter how simple or trivial they may sound. A question unasked is a wasted opportunity to learn. Bring five good questions to every meeting. Even if you don’t get a chance to ask them. “Good” in this case is defined by doing homework first and then writing down the questions. It helps you develop an opinion, which you should have. Just don’t be opinionated.

11. Be a student of your clients, their industry, and the media that covers them. Be curious. You’ll learn more in less time this way. It can help you be the right business partner and counselor.

12. Status quo leads to mediocrity, which is certain death in any business. You get bored when things get stale, like “How I Met Your Mother” or “Grey’s Anatomy.” Read our recent blog post about keeping things fresh with a client. Then you can challenge clients where it makes sense for their business.

13. Embrace the team concept. This is a collaborative business in which lone wolves seldom succeed. Whether you join a start-up or an international behemoth, know that working with people is 100 percent of the job. You might not like them, but they might also be the people who teach you the most.

14. Be humble and take nothing for granted. This is almost impossible. Be prepared to remind yourself time and again to appreciate what you have.

15. Finally, “It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy… Let’s go exploring!” (Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes)


The Influence of a Number in Storytelling: A Takeaway from Social Media Week

If you were in the audience with me at Social Media Week in NYC, then you’re relieved like me to learn that smart editors are still in control of editorial content. The numbers – clicks, views, hits, shares, likes, favorites – may guide the editorial decision makers, but don’t drive their decisions…for the most part. And while it might not always be this way, it should be.

This may come as a surprise to some of us. It stands to reason that if a popular story, or video or any other visual is a rousing success, then a media company would want to do what it can to repeat it. Well, it does, just not in the way you might think.

I was a journalist at about the time web traffic figures really started to invade the planning process (early 2000s). It predates modern social media of course. We designed story packages for web portals such as Yahoo! much like a media outlet today might for Facebook. But it didn’t change the fact that we were reporting the story. It simply influenced the packaging and delivery of that story.

Representatives from Business Insider, Medium, FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times, Vocativ and BuzzFeed comprised the panel, “Is Data the Future of Journalism?” at SMW on Feb. 26. They all weighed in on the importance of a number in the newsroom when it comes to what’s published and where it’s published.


Said BuzzFeed’s Data Science Lead Jane Kelly: “It’s hard to build something that’s smarter than a 200-person newsroom.” She spoke in reference to using data as a predictive and/or a prescriptive tool to help make editorial calls. “They (editorial staffers) are crafting the story in a way that’s hard to do programmatically.” The same can be said of a smart PR team tasked with developing content for a client.

Said FiveThirtyEight Senior Editor Chadwick Matlin: “I don’t think it (data) is the future of journalism because data is just evidence and any good journalism before was evidence based. It’s going to be now and it’s going to be in the future as well.” Well put. And data in journalism is no more important than it is in PR. Client data helps us tell and support a story and in some form or another it always has. It always will.

Then what’s the measure of good editorial content? Well, it’s perhaps best addressed in the anecdote shared by Business Insider’s President and COO, Julie Hansen.

Hansen said that one day Business Insider founder Henry Blodgett posted an in-depth story on the site about Yahoo! It was well received. Hours later and completely unrelated, he posted a picture of a whale crushing a boat. The Yahoo! story took several hours to produce, while the whale photo, which he sourced from elsewhere, took minutes. Both drew an outstanding audience. But it doesn’t mean the site will focus on sea mammals forthwith. It just means it and other sites are best served when they give readers a choices.

Ultimately, that’s what numbers empower editors to do – make the right choices.