Q&A with a Story Guru: Lou Hoffman: Expertise in Storytelling Represents a Vital Differentiator

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I’ve known about Lou Hoffman and his blog, Ishmael’s Corner, since probably the early days of this blog. To be honest, I perceived him as really, really important, running a big, important agency, so I never imagined he’d want to participate in a Q&A on my little old blog. In the past year, though, Lou and I have both become a part of an ad hoc group of story bloggers that includes Gregg Morris, Cathryn Wellner, Trey Pennington, Michael Margolis, and others. Thus, I realized what an accessible and friendly guy Lou really was. I invited him, and I’m ecstatic that he accepted. This Q&A with Lou will appear over the next five days.

lou.jpg Bio: Lou Hoffman launched The Hoffman Agency in December 1987 after six years in journalism and public relations. Since that time, he has transformed the agency from a Silicon Valley player into a global communications consultancy. While the firm initially focused on the technology sector, its clients now come from what he calls markets of complexity.

Hoffman enjoys counseling clients in areas ranging from brand building to the “art of storytelling.” He blogs on the topic of “storytelling through a business prism” at Ishmael’s Corner and conducts varied workshops including one that combines storytelling with corporate blogging. His writing has appeared in publications ranging from VentureBeat to BusinessWeek.

He lives in Silicon Valley harboring the belief there’s one book in him … somewhere.



Q&A with Lou Hoffman, Question 1:

Q: While your blog, Ishmael’s Corner, focuses significantly on storytelling in business, your company’s (The Hoffman Agency) main Web site does not seem to play up storytelling. Is that a fair observation, and if so, is there a reason behind not emphasizing storytelling on your agency’s site? Also, your agency has been around since 1987. Has storytelling been a strong focus from the beginning, or did it evolve? (You bio suggests an article you wrote in 2003 may have been the starting point of your storytelling focus.)

A: That’s a fair statement.
We’ve debated how much to emphasize our storytelling expertise on the Agency website.
The challenge relates to economics
.
The amount of money that companies allocate to outside storytelling services is a tiny fraction of what’s earmarked for public-relations services. In a world where labels often point the way, it’s important that people searching for PR services in the tech sector or markets of complexity find their way to our doorstep.

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With that said, our expertise in storytelling represents a vital differentiator. We’ve created other digital properties beyond www.hoffman.com like Ishmael’s Corner and SlideShare with a focus on storytelling. We call this lily pad marketing, establishing other digital doors to bring prospects to our main site. By developing content for these digital doors that’s honed to storytelling, we gain SEO (search engine optimization) benefits which hopefully bring relevant buyers, not just more buyers, to us.
For example, the title field of our blog reads “Storytelling Techniques For Effective Business Communications.”
That’s what we’re about.
If someone is looking for information on foreshadowing or help pumping energy into Johnny’s college essay, we’re not going to be the right resource.
Since founding the Agency in 1987, storytelling has always been part of how we support clients. A couple variables gained enough mass around 2003 that prompted us to move storytelling into our core service offering.
First, our clients, even technical B2B companies, increasingly wanted visibility in mainstream media ranging from daily newspapers to BusinessWeek.
In addition, we could see that the Internet was commoditizing news, particularly product announcements, which at the time constituted much of our work.
Taken together, we started evangelizing to clients that it’s no longer enough to inform and educate and sell. Your communications need an entertainment dimension to stand out.
At the time, I was a columnist for an Adweek sister publication, Technology Marketing, and wrote a piece called “Heard a Good Story Lately?” which in a sense became our storytelling manifesto.

About
A Storied Career

A Storied Career explores intersections/synthesis among various forms of
Applied Storytelling:
  • journaling
  • blogging
  • organizational storytelling
  • storytelling for identity construction
  • storytelling in social media
  • storytelling for job search and career advancement.
  • ... and more.
A Storied Career's scope is intended to appeal to folks fascinated by all sorts of traditional and postmodern uses of storytelling. Read more ...
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About
Dr. Kathy Hansen

Kathy Hansen, PhD, is a leading proponent of deploying storytelling for career advancement. She is an author and instructor, in addition to being a career guru. More...

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Pages

The following are sections of A Storied Career where I maintain regularly updated running lists of various items of interest to followers of storytelling:

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Links below are to Q&A interviews with story practitioners.


The pages below relate to learning from my PhD program focusing on a specific storytelling seminar in 2005. These are not updated but still may be of interest:

October 2012

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