Posts Tagged ‘Speechwriting’

One message is better than five

June 8, 2012

Ken Segall, a creative ad man who worked with Steve Jobs through the heyday of building the Apple brand, has an idea worth considering in investor relations:

Minimize your messaging.

Segall came up with the “i” in the iMac brand (which led to iPod, iPhone, iPad …) and worked on memorable campaigns for Apple and other leading companies. Segall’s book Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success came out this spring and is a good read for people involved in telling their companies’ story.

“Think minimal” is an idea at the core of Apple’s simplicity, Segall says. For example, Apple offers five choices of computers rather than dozens of variations sold by HP or Dell. Segall spoke Thursday at the Mid-America Corporate Growth Conference hosted by Association for Corporate Growth in Kansas City.

Minimalism works in getting your message across, too, he says. From the book:

Human beings are a funny lot. Give them one idea and they nod their heads. Give them five and they simply scratch their heads. Or even worse, they foreget you mentioned all those ideas in the first place.

Minimizing is the key to making a point stick. … Your point will be more quickly understood, and more easily remembered, if you don’t clutter it up with other points.

When talking to investors, our temptation in IR is to unleash a tsunami of facts. More details in the earnings release, more slides, more bullet points, more pages. We want to overwhelm doubts by flooding people with every piece of information.

Though Segall’s expertise is in marketing consumer goods, he’s right when he urges us “Don’t bury your fact in facts.”

Segall tells a story of discussing an ad with Steve Jobs for an iMac computer. Jobs considered four or five major facts critical to the ad – and thought 30 seconds was plenty of time to make these key points. Segall’s ad-agency boss, Lee Clow, tore off several sheets of paper and wadded them up into little balls.

Taking one ball, Clow said “Here, Steve, catch,” and tossed the ball to the client – who caught it. “That’s a good ad,” Clow said.

“Now catch this,” the ad man said – tossing five balls at once across the table. Jobs couldn’t prevent paper balls from bouncing all over the place – and caught none. “That’s a bad ad,” Clow said. And Jobs was convinced.

So next time we’re working on the quarterly release, or slide deck for the road show, let’s try to remember. As Segall says:

People will always respond better to a single idea expressed clearly. They tune out when Complexity begins to speak instead.

Yeah, yeah, I know. In investor relations, we have a lot of information we must get across to the audience. A lot, even, that we’re required to communicate. But the principle of simplicity holds true. Advice we should heed: Less is more.

© 2012 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

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The Obama era begins

January 20, 2009

In President Barack Obama we have a new chief executive, a fresh cheerleader, a change agent, a commander-in-chief with different strategies and (as Bloomberg points out) a “banker-in-chief” for  an economy that has become much more interventionist.

Inauguration Day 2009 was, as previous ones have been, all pageantry and historical symbolism. But once again America achieved a peaceful transition of power to a new leader, with a different take on what the nation needs. I voted for the other guy – but wish our President well.

Observers note that Obama’s inaugural address seemed to lack that single memorable line (the only thing we have to fear is fear itselfask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country). You can read the text here, or hear talking heads discuss the speech here. Writing a speech for a million and a half people – and billions worldwide – must be horribly difficult. Inspiration is hard to manufacture. Investor presentations are way easy by comparison.

Obama seems to have eschewed poetry and passion to speak fairly bluntly about the gravity of our economic and geopolitical woes. I do think his ending is evocative – both sobering and encouraging:

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

After the parades and the balls, the President’s work begins. Everyone hopes he succeeds, because we all need the benefits of that success.