As a corporate storyteller and copywriter, words are my playground. I would flip through our 30,000-pound, hard-covered dictionary as a child, my finger landing on random words. This is how I learned the word "philoprogenitiveness" (it means a love for one's offspring) at age seven. (My offspring, by the way, cringe when I share this quirky childhood indulgence😂.)Read More
Animals have a way of being memorable, from our first pet to our school moniker. It’s one reason companies like to use animals in their brand story because stories are memorable.Read More
Values fuel our lives. They are our uniques — for us as individuals and as companies. Our flags, planted firmly in the ground, show red with vibrant love for others, pure white for honesty in all matters, green for our respect of the earth, and rough hewn browns for the value of being approachable and down-to-earth.
What are your colors and how are you changing the world of your customers and work-mates with them? Let’s explore together.Read More
His life story was big because he made his story about everybody else. They were the hero of his life story. Because of this, he became so unforgettable, the pharmacist at the local Jewel-Osco came to his wake.
Three days before Christmas.
My father, Frank Anthony LoDestro, taught me about the powerful storyline of life. Same goes for start-up founders. When you’re pitching an investor, your goal is to create believers, not just buyers of your idea. Our brains are hardwired for story.
Story is how we make pitches unforgettable — the golden ticket when it comes to asking for money.
I recently spoke about story at Investing in Women sponsored by Women Tech Founders — boss ladies of the tech world. Woot! Woot! A parade of start-up CEOs pitched to a panel of 10 investors.
The event was fab, of course, because it was chaired by Chicago’s InspiHER Tech Founder and career strategist rock star Laurie Swanson. (So great to have Katherine Kelly, my daughter, by my side, too!!!!)
What do I remember from the founder pitches? Their stories.
Charu Swaminathan, co-founder and CEO of Mishkalo, talked about how her company gives newlyweds an art alternative to traditional gift registry.
Shirley Yang of Muses shared her vision for the gig economy and her company is going to spur economic growth.
Deepa Kartha of Zinda told the story we are all familiar with — a man named “Ken” whose positivity was etched away by workplace disengagement and dismissiveness. Zinda increases employee engagement, a direct parallel to profit and, well, happiness.
And never, EVER will I forget founder Dana Todd of Balodana. Her company is bringing the dressmaker back through technology. She shared how menopause had created her squishy hamster-like shape (menopause is our greatest villain, gals!). Her imagery, her metaphors, her STORY was unforgettable.
There were more stories. I could go on. And, yes, as two investors pointed out at the end, numbers are key. They are in it, after all, to make a pile of money.
But if it was just the numbers, why pitch investors at all? Why not just submit the prospectus and be done with it?
Because people still do business with people. Whether you’re a VC, angel investor or institutional investor, human beings still make the decisions. Fact: The founder story is not the only reason investors say “yes,” but it does give the “why” behind the facts and data.
1. Believe in Your Story
You have to be all-in when it comes to your pitch. No self-limiting talk (like “I just wanted to run an idea by you” or “I know you may not be interested in this, but . . .”) or hesitation (you can’t sink the ball if you don’t take the shot). There’s a confidence gap between men and women. According to a Hewlett Packard internal report, men will happily apply for a promotion if they meet 60 percent of the criteria. Women feel they need to meet 100 percent of the criteria. Believe in your story — this is your “unique.” Nobody else has your narrative.
2. Keep Your Story in Your Back Pocket
You’ve got your investor deck and you think you’re all set? Fair enough. But this wouldn’t have helped Scott Ferreira and his sister Stacey who were at a party hosted by Sir Richard Branson. Scott says the “laid back and casual style” made it a lot easier to “talk openly” about his company. Less than a month later, Sir Branson and his partner Jerry Murdock invested in MySocialCloud. Be prepared to meet an investor anywhere — at the salon, in an elevator, at your child’s band concert.
3. Your Story Has a Hero
In your investor pitch, the hero of your story is your current/future customer. As human beings, the world revolves around us. When investors see that the market — customers you know inside and out — are the center of your story, you will gain attention posthaste. You are the GUIDE in your story. Ask: What superpower does your company give the hero to succeed?
4. Find the Conflict
If Rose Dawson from the movie The Titanic had boarded the big, fancy boat, enjoyed the shrimp cocktail and reached her destination, dripping with sparkling sapphires from her long, beautiful fingers, there would have been no story. Every great story has conflict. The antagonist of your story could be a situation, the plight of your customers if they don’t have your product/service, stunted growth for your growth-hungry company, less agility for your market, time suck for an entire legion of people, less options for the masses — whatever villain causes angst for your hero.
5. Pick Your Theme: Origin, Vision, Cause, Triumph, Innovation
Among corporate storytellers, controversy abounds around theme. In the latest edition of The Sophisticated Marketer, it cites seven main ones. A regular go-to article I love is by English author Grace Jolliffe who writes “A story without a theme is little more than a list of events.” She sites more than 20.
Story is so visceral and self-interpretive that I believe it’s up to the individual storyteller to decide. However, five powerful themes race to the top when it comes to pitching your investor story:
• Origin: There is a problem and the founders, who are the best equipped to solve it, know the path.
• Vision: I love this story theme and used it successfully for a client pitching an existing investor they wanted to tap for more. Start with the vision of your amazing new world made possible with the funding. Then fast forward to the present and the remarkable journey to making the vision real.
• Cause: There’s a problem that impacts people’s lives, triggered by an antagonist that isn’t going away (and is probably going to get worse), that leads to a face-off between your customers and the big, bad villain and BOOM! Your company can help the customer survive/leap/escape/grow/heal/love life/innovate better/be more productive/etc.
• Triumph: The triple crown. You are solving the customer’s external (the obvious one), internal (what keeps them up at night) and philosophical problems (making the larger world a better place).
• Innovation: There’s nothing out there like it. Time to turn the market upside down.
6. When Culture and Brand Tango
Include a line or two showing an investor two worlds: culture (how people inside your organization will/are talking and thinking about your company) and brand (how people outside your organization will/are talking and thinking about your company).
7. Know Your “Why”
The “why” god Simon Sinek has this point covered. Pay him homage. He says: “Always build your story from the inside out, starting with the WHY.” Here are the hurdles: leap beyond WHAT you do, put HOW you do it on hold, and get to the meat with an investor: WHY your business idea is so fantastically important for your customers, the financiers and the world at large.
8. CAR: Context, Action, Result
A great book on business storytelling comes from Lead With A Story by former Proctor and Gamble exec Paul Smith. He has this formula called CAR: context, action, results. It’s an easy way to assemble your story (I learned this concept from Orbit Media co-founder/CMO and Chicago content rock star Andy Crestodina who writes killer blogposts. He wrote something along the lines that great stories aren’t written, they are assembled. I’ve never forgotten this).
Context is your business backstory. Action is the conflict — the highest point of tension where you customers are battling their nemesis. The results come by way of the amazing new world you create with your business idea and how you’ve resolved your customer’s angst.
9. Last Words About Your Logline (Your 10-Second Pitch)
Every movie has a logline, it’s one sentence that sums up the screenplay. Movies have been bought and sold on these one-liners. They are short, clear and — have a shade of emotion.
Your investor story has a logline too.
Your homework: Pretend you are attending a favorite event (for me, this might be La Traviata at the Lyric Opera or a front row seat at a Lana Del Rey concert), and your seat happens to be right next to a potential investor.
Idle chit chat ensues. Your heart has more reverb than the music. This is your BIG chance. Afterward, you are eye-to-eye with the investor. You say: “There’s a reason we met tonight. When you hear the story behind my company, you will be absolutely amazed what a great fit we can be. I give (your hero) the (superpower) to rise above (conflict). We’re changing the world here for (your hero) and it’s important because (your why). When can we talk?”
Then schedule that call/meeting and choose a theme to pitch your longer narrative.
Your investor pitch will be epic. Just like the many stories you’ve heard in your life — and never forgotten.
“A requirement is an opportunity for improvement.”
Quality Engineer for Aurora Specialty Textiles Group
The scene: white cinderblock walls, speckled linoleum floor, a couple refrigerators, circular tables scattered like coins. Aurora Specialty Textiles Group’s lunchroom was standard fare — until you looked through a large picture window along the south-facing wall.
There, you saw the inner workings of an earnest manufacturing company, the kind striving to show up as a leader, the one hosting this second in a series of meetings by Valley Industrial Association’s Sustainability Committee headed up by Tim Tremain, president of MTH Pumps.
Beyond the single pane was an amalgam of clean silver metal, a patterned ceiling of conduit pipes crisscrossing like a maze, and massive industrial pendants showering brilliant light among people moving, walking, working with large rolls of multi-colored cloth and swaths of tape for industrial applications. In the distance, steam hissed and machines hummed.
ASTG President Dan LaTurno pointed to the window and said, “Out there, we have the best group of people.” Referencing ISO 14001, he added, “We’re a 100-plus-year-old company (that) needed more conformity.” For most manufacturers, conformity means ISO certification. ASTG’s Quality Engineer Paula Kirby (a Six Sigma Black Belt herself) talked about how the organization, a wide width coating and finishing company, approached ISO 14001.
To the more than 20 members and guests of the VIA, Paula shared: “ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 are about continuous improvement. It’s a journey. It’s an evolving management system.”
ISO 14001: Start Here
According to Paula, the first step is grabbing a copy of the “ISO 14001 Overview.” It outlines: benefits, challenges and key factors for successful implementation. Then, encourage everyone across the company to take a balanced approach to quality and environmental management systems (EMS).
• Look at the environmental needs and goals within the context of your organization
• Identify key stakeholders and their expectations
• Assign key roles and responsibilities
• Review requirements — the bulk of ISO 14001 is planning
• Get the leadership team on board
• Draft procedures and policies
The Plan-Do-Check-Act Approach
Getting ISO 14001-certified provides third-party feedback, which inspires confidence from others outside your company. Objectivity gives you critical improvement advice and may even exempt your company from some customer audits. Paula recommends putting a system in place and then getting certified. ISO experts will come in and do a gap assessment first.
Paula adds that ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 are 75 percent the same, but also cautions that ISO certifications do not remove legal requirements or even translate into 100 percent success. Instead, EMS is about continuous improvement.
• Find a registrar for certification
• Use a Plan-Do-Check-Act approach (see below)
• Implement and audit internally before bringing in the registrar
• Understand the relative severity of compliance points — know the difference between nice-to-haves and must-haves
Here’s a quick summary of a Plan-Do-Check-Act approach:
PLAN: Start here. A continuous improvement approach means you may be circling back to planning if you want greater improvement.
DO: Implement specific goals, requirements and steps to follow for line operators.
CHECK: Monitor key data points like electric use and paper recycling.
ACT: If you’re not performing up to par according to the data, take corrective action. Ask: can you do better?
Timeline to Certification and Critical Factors For Success
Aurora Specialty Textiles Group began allocating resources to ISO 14001 in 2009. The next year, they conducted internal of audits with an expert outside the organization. It takes about a year of preparation before a registrar comes in. In 2011, the company earned the initial certification. ASTG had five minor non-conformances. It responded with an implementation plan.
“In 2015, we started over because we moved (to Yorkville),” says Paula, “and we got certified that same year. They don’t have to fill in all the lines anymore. We have a mature system now with less than two minor non-conforms. We want to be sure we’re doing the right thing and controlling our impact. (ISO 14001 is) everything that impacts the environment, determining what is a risk, and the planning to minimize those impacts.”
Critical factors for success include:
• Invite top level managers to drive the program
• Inspire commitment and engagement from all levels of your organization
• Fully integrate ISO 14001 with your existing management system (the two are not separate)
• Embrace transparency — this may seem hard, but it’s necessary in order to improve
• Organize your information so it is easily accessible for auditors
• Provide resource allocation and training — get your workforce engaged
The biggest challenge with ISO 14001, oftentimes, is not knowing what may arise. An example: An auditor finds an aerosol can left by the cleaning staff. He or she asks: What’s your plan for aerosol? Having a cross-functional team to brainstorm possible scenarios is key.
“Buy-in was never a problem. They care about the environment. They don’t want to have an adverse impact,” says Paula. “You just have to make sure everyone understands the environmental policy — even temps or an electrician working for the day.”
• Don’t get hung up on your score
• Do a sanity check to ensure scores match the reality of where you should be expending effort
• Document requirements concisely, clear and focused
• Identify all requirements — but don’t get mired down in reference material. It’s good to have these on hand, but not necessary to memorize manuals from places like the Illinois EPA, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, OSHA, Department of Transportation, California Prop 65, and European Reach.
ASTG’s Environmental Projects Beyond ISO 14001
“We’ve worked on some sustainability projects on our own. We found where we can make our lives betters,” said Kevin Shroba, a plant engineer for ASTG. ASTG’s energy efficient building was built from the ground up. The lights are LED. There are new, highly efficient boilers. The company has even analyzed paper recycling since losing their waste hauler in the move.
Since the company opened its new 124,000-square-foot facility, it has received about $640,000 back in incentives from Nicor and ComEd (ASTG is a big user of heat and water). Using variable speed drives has netted about $8,000 back and using LED lighting with 1,000-watt fluorescent bulbs has resulted in $131,000 in incentives.
Future sustainability projects the company is kicking around: solar panels, and turning coated product and packaging material into solid fuel waste. This would redirect materials (off-spec product waste, plastic packaging bags, stretch wrap, etc.) from landfill to productive uses.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from VIA’s Sustainability Committee meeting is found in Steve Jobs’ quote: “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”
As part of its strategy, ASTG embraced ISO 14001 as a company. VIA members and guests had the rare opportunity to learn how ASTG’s all-in, all-of-us culture is moving the company forward as a socially conscious, mindful manufacturer.
Michele Kelly is co-founder of K+L Storytellers, a B2B storytelling and content company for culture-driven organizations and the storytelling agency for the Valley Industrial Association.
Next VIA Sustainability Committee Meeting
Wednesday, November 14, 2018 @ Valley Industrial Association
2000 S. Batavia Ave, Suite 110 | Geneva, IL 60134
“Seriously. Are we really husband and wife now?”
The question sounds like a refrain that a couple might utter while standing at the altar. But for my beautiful bride of 27 years, it comes up nearly every evening as we transition from business partners to life partners.
Friends, family and clients are fascinated (and dumbfounded) that Michele and I operate K+L Storytellers AND are wife and husband. “We’d be divorced” is a common response we hear through a haughty laugh and swig of a vodka-esque drink.
One point for sure: It’s not always easy. In fact, it can get darn right nasty as business and marriage roles often intertwine, making neither very fun.
So how do we make it work?
There’s not an easy answer. One advantage we have is that our children are older. They are not tugging at Mom every 15 minutes. Another advantage is that we’ve been in business together on and off since 2003. The nature of the business has shifted, from public relations/communications to storytelling and content.
Our business, like so many others, took a massive blow in late 2007 through 2011 when our clients were cutting costs in their own fight to stay afloat. As a result, I returned to the corporate world, which stabilized our family and financial lives, but also strengthened my education. I worked with younger people who mentored me in SEO and social media. I teamed with marketing professionals who guided me on brand strategy. I sat next to data scientists who analyzed and heralded the importance of the numbers behind PPC, website visits and posted content clicks. I learned from other business owners on how to grow a business, engage new clients and how to better manage cash flow.
And then, through no fault of my own, I was laid off on my 58th birthday.
After countless job interviews and with no contract in hand, Michele asked if I wanted to rejoin the company. I was humbled and embarrassed because it was the only offer on my plate. But I was hardened in my resolve to help build the business back to peak form.
We are doing that. Together. As business partners. As wife and husband. As “The First Couple of Story,” a phrase used to introduce us recently as we shared the speaker stage. If that’s how people see us, we’re all in.
We comfort in knowing how the other person thinks, how we best work and what makes the other person’s head explode. We know we’ve always got each other’s backs. We can avoid landmines by staying out of each other’s way and trusting the other’s skills. We’ve learned to take emotion out of our strategy discussions (not easy for my Italian partner), and we’ve become better listeners.
One absolute key to our business success is to physically and verbally shut it down at the end of each Friday. It’s satisfying to play husband and wife with a martini (me) and a glass of Malbec (Michele) in hand on the back terrace at the end of the week. Wouldn’t you agree, Babe? (Full disclosure, Michele ignores me when I let this slip in a business setting. However, I often notice a hint of a smile.)
Tomorrow, Aug. 31, is our wedding anniversary, and I am more sure than ever that in business and in life, I picked the right partner.
By Roderick Kelly
Co-founder, K+L Storytellers
I recently walked the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago, trying the many varieties of beef jerky, hot pickles and health bars. Yes, health bars. I could hear my wife Michele whisper in my ear from 40 miles away: “Pass on the beef jerky and eat healthier.” And so I did. Well, kind of. LOL.
As I sauntered the aisles and talked to people, I came across three companies that really impressed me because of their impact brand stories.
Story #1: Kiwa
This Ecuadorian-based manufacturer of premium vegetable chips has a great story about working directly with regional farmers to provide them with an improved way of life.
Through its direct trade with farmers, Kiwa provides self-sustaining economic success to small, impoverished farmers, many of whom farm unique vegetables that are only native to South America. “We work with development organizations to help farmers get out of poverty,” said Maria Jose Guillen, sales manager for Kiwa, whose chips can be found in more than 30 countries. In the Chicago area, the many variety of chips many varieties of chips include plantain, beetroot, cassava and native potatoes share shelf space with more recognizably-named chips at Mariano’s and Pete’s Fresh Markets.
“Think about the many men and women working in remote fields and villages, left behind and oftentimes forgotten by a world that continues to move faster and faster. We proudly connect small farmers in Ecuador and Peru with world markets. Every time someone enjoys a Kiwa product, the collective heart of humanity beats a little louder,” says Kiwa co-founder Martin Acosta. That’s impressive, and the chips are delicious. Never thought I’d eat a beetroot chip. (Full disclosure: Kiwa is a client of K+L Storytellers).
Story #2: This Bar Saves Lives
If this company name doesn’t scream: “Listen to my story,” I’m not sure what does. And listen I did. With each bar sold, this Los Angeles-based company provides a portion of the proceeds to nutrient packets, which are delivered to malnourished children around the world.
“Every time you buy a bar, we give life-saving nutrition to a child in need. We eat together,” is the company’s mantra said Emily Baker, social media and retail marketing specialist for the company. This Bar Saves Lives has provided millions of nutrient packets saving thousands of children around the globe, she said.
That’s a feel good for everyone.
Story #3: Fresh Toys
At first glance, I thought Fresh Toys was like a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Inside each box of gummy candies, there is a miniature toy from one of eight collection themes: fairies, pirates, ponies, kitties, puppies, warships, ivy schools and homes. The packages and toys are all designed by 20 young moms and dads whose intent it is to “make kids smile, and give a boost to their imagination, good heartedness and happiness,” according to co-founder Alex Polanski.
Being a creative myself, I marveled at how the company’s goal is to have children use these toys to create stories and to fantasize, much like our generation did by playing with green plastic US Army men or doll houses with miniature rooms and furniture. “Our ultimate mission is to provide affordable, safe, and fun novelty toys. And that’s what we do," according to Polanski.
Even the company’s title focuses on the toys rather than the candy. Founded in Europe, the company has only recently distributed in the United States, although to find them in stores, you will have to travel to Pennsylvania or Wyoming until distribution ramps up.
Great stories, cool products and impactful brands. Now, where did I put my stash of beef jerky?
By Roderick Kelly
Co-founder, K+L Storytellers
Communication is a two-way highway. Information is delivered by one party and received by another. But a glitch on either end can change the game. Here’s a story that our family will laugh about for years to come.
I had scooped up our daughter Katherine in Chicago on Friday after her workday so she could spend Mother’s Day with us in the suburbs and attend our son Patrick’s graduation from Waubonsee Community College. Normally, she would take the commuter train, but she had laundry galore and presents and winter clothes to bring home so of course I obliged to be her Duber (Dad Uber).
As we were driving the 40 miles during a slow Friday rush hour, I asked her to call her brother so he could light the grill. We were having bratwurst for dinner. She quickly said, “Ahhh, I was hoping for tortellini soup.”
What’s a Dad to do? I had my heart set on brats. So I told her to check with Mom. Of course, I knew the answer before she could whip out her iPhone. My wife Michele is going to make whatever the children want. But, since she has a strict policy of turning off her phone everyday at 5 p.m., the question threaded through our youngest son.
Once off the phone, Katherine said we were supposed to stop at the grocery story and pick up spinach, chicken brats and Italian bread. “OK,” I’m thinking to myself. “We’re going to have both brats and tortellini soup.” An odd combination, but heck, I’m game.
Less than a mile from home, I run into the local Jewel and snap up the spinach and Italian bread. I scour the brat and chicken sections. No chicken brats. Drat. I ask the deli server where I can find chicken brats. She politely said she didn’t know and that’s not her department. Double drat. I then see a store worker leaving the nearby break room and ask her if she knows where the chicken brats are. “I’m sorry. I’m in floral, but I can get someone to help you.”
I’m hangry at this point and am eager to wash down my brat with an adult beverage. I decline her generous offer, grab the previously spotted turkey brats and say to myself: “These will have to do.”
I proudly walk into the house with the items, and my wife says: “Where is the chicken broth?”
“Yes, the chicken broth for the tortellini soup,” she says with an expectant glance at the clock which reads almost 8 p.m.
I realized the error. Triple drat. (Just to tie up this story, we sent Junior out for the chicken broth and made him take a picture of the product before purchasing.)
The breakdown in this story may have occurred in the delivery or receiving of the information. And that can happen with companies and their clients.
Are your company’s messages and stories being correctly heard and portrayed to your customers and prospects? One way to make sure is to have a well-defined story that can be articulated in writing and verbally by everyone on your team.
Author and political adviser Frank Luntz wrote: “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.” Got that right!
By the way, the tortellini soup was great, as were the brats — grilled on a different night.
Compelling, captivating, intriguing. The latest bestseller? Hardly. It's the all-important job description. It was GREAT to be a speaker for the Valley Industrial Association along with my cohort and IT search and recruitment superstar Laurie Swanson, founder of The Laso Corporation.
HR professionals, tell your story and you will keep the talent pool abundantly filled. Here are highlights from our presentation entitled "The Job Description: A True Story in 3 Parts."
Part 1: The Story of Your Company and People: give people reasons to believe.
- The candidate is the hero, you are their guide to success (every hero has one. What would James Bond do without Q?). The villain: lost opportunity to contribute to your company's success.
- Your company story requires exploration: What are your roots? How do you slay the competition? How do others see your brand? How do you give back? What values guide your mission?
Part 2: The Story of the Open Position: show how your company helps people live an amazing life - then show how their contribution makes that possible.
- Define the career path and the vision.
- What's the day in the life of the position?
- Show, don't tell (No. 1 rule in writing): include vivid details.
- What does success look like in the role?
Part 3: The Story of the Successful Candidate
- Think of two buckets: required skills and nice-to-have skills
- Create a clear and direct call-to-action (I love it when people tell me what to do!)
Go on, tell your story, HR professionals. People are perched on the edge of their seats waiting for it.
Laurie Swanson is the founder of The Laso Corporation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele Kelly is co-founder of K+L Storytellers. Contact her at email@example.com.