A good deal of my work involves strategic storytelling. While there’s no strict definition of what strategic storytelling entails, I’m looking at it as delivering persuasive high-stakes narratives, aimed at reaching key business objectives. In my line of work, this often means helping clients develop business plans, pitch decks and roadshows, prospectuses and offering memoranda, and annual reports to shareholders and regulators.
The key to successful strategic storytelling is being prepared and getting the company leadership aligned behind the initiative. Naturally, this includes to actively support whoever is working on the project; including any third-party professionals like myself. This doesn’t just make for a smoother and more effective creative process, it also helps founders and team members take ownership of the final narrative and deliver it more effectively to their audiences.
To my surprise, this doesn’t seem as clear-cut to everybody.
I was recently approached by a Series A software company out of Singapore, which was looking to create a deck to kick-off their fundraising for a new e-commerce platform. Their software seemed impressive and thus, a great starting point for crafting a compelling message to potential investors; but everything else wasn’t. Taking this start-up to the next level wasn’t their only gig. One of them was busy negotiating a merger for another software company; and the other, an engineer, loved discussing their complex corporate setup, which wasn’t all that relevant to the task at hand. They weren’t prepared either. They didn’t have a business plan or any plan for that matter; so, all I had to work with was a white paper of sorts, one of these animated whiteboard videos, and a draft of a software distribution agreement. It looked like the assignment was doomed to derail before even getting out of the starting block.
In hindsight, I should have walked away, but abandoning a client isn’t something that comes easy to me. So, I decided to retreat to my den, turn to the Internet to gather as much information as possible about my client and their products, pour over the founders’ LinkedIn profiles, and research their markets and competitors. In the second step, I went on to create an initial draft. In doing so, I was simply hoping to create a tentative structure, which would help to define the road ahead and identify gaps and missing information. And then, I hit the send button.
A few days later, my client’s response hit my inbox. They didn’t supply any additional information. They didn’t red-line or comment on any of the 12 slides in my initial draft. And they didn’t buy into my game plan. They didn’t get it. The founder with the engineering background actually said: “I am not pleased with the first deliverable, my team and I found it generic”. Frankly, I was tempted to shoot back a single-line reply like: “My point exactly.”
That said, how could anybody expect me to craft a strategic story that would convey authenticity, authority, adept management, and a tangible market opportunity without even being willing to pitch-in and support the process? It won’t work. It never has and it never will. Audiences didn’t make it to the receiving end of your strategic message by being oblivious and unable to tell a cohesive and meticulously-crafted deck apart from one that was created by a talented professional by himself. After all, the latter tells a story of its own, don’t you think?