Monday, April 19, 2004

The Complex Story 

The San Francisco Chronicle is giving a lesson in how to explain a complex story through following the production of a single bottle of wine. A story about the series is here.

It interests me because too often in my career I have been asked to explain complex topics that resist white paper treatment or a press release. Sometimes, one needs to trace something and show its impacts in every direction, which is what the writer of the wine story is doing.

Take, for example, a topic that is almost impossible to make interesting -- network management. There are many companies that do this vital work, but what is network management? More often than not, it is the nuts and bolts of keeping a system operating like plant operators at a utility. You never question how an electric plant stays on line until lights go out. So too with network management. So, how does one make network management interesting, or least readable, and compelling from a public relations point of view? You do as the writer about the wine bottle has done. You go to the trenches and document what it means to manage a network just as the writer is documenting what it takes to make a bottle of wine.

This requires digging and both the client and the practitioner must take the time to do that. What happens often is that a client becomes impatient and wants "ink" without building the story. The result is no story -- or as a colleague puts it, a MEGO story. (My Eyes Glaze Over.)

Few stories in business are so compelling that they sell themselves. It takes work, sometimes hard work, to build public relations positioning that is credible and effective.


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