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Posted: July 07, 2009

Get your story out there first, before they make one up for you!

How to start at the grassroots level and build momentum from there

Melanie Goetz

Driving to work today, I was almost run off the road by a crazed construction worker. I’m not kidding. This man was frantic. To make it even worse, there were orange traffic cones everywhere so I had nowhere to go. I was trapped. And there he was running toward my car waving his hands hysterically. As he got closer, I looked at him and thought, if I’m not mistaken, I have seen this man before – but where?

Rolling my car window down in the sweltering heat, I looked to the Jeep next to me. “What’s with the cone-zone maniac?” I asked him. You’re not going to believe what he told me. Or will you?

At this point, most people are intrigued and want to find out what happened. The story is compelling because it involves drama and a relatable experience. Your mind naturally recalls a similar driving experience or perhaps it evokes emotion about how you might feel if this happened to you. The point is, we humans are drawn to drama, and that’s why it makes the news. Here’s how telling your story -- before others can tell it for you -- translates to your business!

The truth is this: The first story out there wins our minds. It’s that simple. And it’s also the secret behind the success of any public outreach campaign. Why? Because the first entity to distribute their message is the one we listen to and usually the one we believe.  People are just conditioned that way.
Take for example you get the daily newspaper, but your neighbor doesn’t. You enjoy reading the paper with your cup of coffee. For many still, it’s a morning ritual. But, you go outside and discover there is no paper that day.

You glance to your right and see your neighbor Darrell, who is happily picking up his newspaper.  So you ask him, “Hey, Darrell, you see my paper?” Being early, Darrell shrugs out a grumbled response, "The guy across the street doesn’t get the paper, but I see him reading it. He’s such a jerk. That’s who probably stole it!”

The next day your paper is on your doorstep. Stooping to pick it up, you glance across the street and see this neighbor reading the paper. It’s the same guy you heard doesn’t get the newspaper. Hmm … must have stolen someone else’s paper today, you naturally assume. That’s because you believe you know the real story. But, do you?

Turns out the guy across the street had just ordered the daily paper. Matter of fact, he turns out to be one of the nicest guys you’ve ever met. It was actually Darrell’s dog who stole yours. Cute dog, but just can’t resist a thrown newspaper. Now, it’s too late. You still peg the paper-stealing jerk as the neighbor, because Darrel said it first. That first impression, much like when we meet someone, is generally the one that sticks.

Remember there is no “Control-Alt-Delete” when it comes to our brains. We’re all too busy to check out what’s going on to know what else may have happened. Mark Twain once said, “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.” How true.

So what’s your story? When contemplating what you’re going to tell the press or bloggers about your business, products or services, always be thinking about what you would find interesting.  After you write it up, ask yourself, “Would I read it?” And finally, if you called a friend, would your description be similar to what you’d tell them over the phone? If the answer is yes, then you are ready to unveil your message.

Be the first to get your story out there through social media, the press, emails, flyers and purposeful letters. Start at the grassroots level (most affordable), and build up momentum from there.

Consider taking out paid space in the newspaper if it’s of large general interest. Oh, and don’t forget to pick up the telephone and meet people for a cup of coffee. It’s amazing what that can do. It’s like the neighbor. One-on-one conversation has great impact. Use it to get your story out there and continue to fill the communication pipeline with updates. Always remember to keep your story interesting or risk becoming a Mark Twain “twin.”

But, whatever happened to the guy in the Jeep? Guess what he told me?

Well, the truth is a crazed construction worker did not chase me this morning. I didn’t even drive to work today. It’s Saturday. But by beginning this article with a hint of drama, I got your attention to read the rest. And if I told you that the guy in the Jeep said something you could relate to, you probably would have believed me.

See how it works?

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Melanie Goetz is coauthor of "Roadrunner Marketing: Strategic Secrets You Wish You Knew," and president of Hughes & Stuart Marketing. She was executive director of the NGMA from 1996 to 2006.

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Readers Respond

Melanie- Great article & very sage advice! Please keep it coming... Regards, Michael By Michael E. Schmidlen on 2009 07 08

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