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Hi there and thank you for listening to The Business Storyteller Podcast. My name is Wilson and I’m your host for today’s episode. In today’s episode, we are joined by an expert who will be sharing his insights on how to master the art of storytelling for business. I’ll be speaking with Jack Murray, CEO of MediaHQ, a media contacts and press release distribution platform. MediaHQ is currently the leading publisher of media intelligence in Ireland and the biggest organizer of media training events.
As a trained journalist and regular media contributor and podcaster with more than 20 years of experience, Jack has recently just released his debut business book, “The Magic Slice: How to Master The Art of Storytelling for Business“.
Hi Jack, welcome to The Business Storyteller Podcast and I’m so glad to have you with us today. How are you doing?
Hi Wilson, great to be here.
Well, I’ve introduced you a fair bit but I’m sure our listeners would love to hear from you directly. So would you like to tell us a little bit more about your career journey and also your current role as CEO at MediaHQ?
Yeah, so I suppose most of my professional life has been in what I would call storytelling. I did a marketing major in university, would have worked in product marketing in the shoe business actually for a short period, then I went back to retrain and did a graduate program in journalism. I worked as a journalist for a short period before entering the world of politics and worked in political communication for five years. I worked for a political party in Ireland that participated in a number of coalition governments, and I suppose the connection in the meaning around politics left a big impression on me. I was very keen to find work that was as purposeful and that was as rewarding as working in politics. So when I finished that, I went working in corporate communications for a number of years, working strategic advice on communications and storytelling, advising chief executives.
15 years ago, I started MediaHQ. I purchased the right to publish a printed media directory book and pretty quickly realized that wasn’t really fit for purpose in a modern world with information changes to connect people with journalists. So I created MediaHQ and what MediaHQ ostensibly is, it’s a software as a service platform with information on thousands of journalists and professional PR and communications people by subscriptions. They log in and they manage all of their media relations or their outbound communications through the platform.
Five years ago, I set up a storytelling agency called All Good Tales, and if you could imagine it in the backend of MediaHQ, we have a feed where I can see all of the news and the stories that brands and organizations are sharing with journalists just before the journalist read them. And at All Good Tales, we help organizations find their magic slice and that was the concept that I came up with. The magic slice, actually, I have a copy of my boo and the magic slice is quite simple. It’s two circles. One is for what you want to talk about. The other is what people are interested in and it’s where they intersect and that’s where brands and marketers want to get to. I’ve been using this concept for a long number of years. And as you said, my new book is out now and it goes through the art of storytelling and it goes through the six steps for brands and organizations to find their magic slice, so I suppose that’s a kind of a potted history of my background.
Well, firstly, of course, congratulations on publishing your first business book. We’ll also be linking it in the show notes so that our listeners can check it out. I’m really excited to also be speaking with you to get more insights because some of the things that we’re going to be talking about are actually from your book itself. What an incredible resume throughout your career, going from politics to where you are today. I think that is a really amazing one and you’ve been trained as a journalist and you’ve been in the media industry for over 20 years.
So, perhaps my first question for you is this, why do you think storytelling for business is so important in 2021 and beyond?
I think storytelling has always been really important. One of my favorite books ever is a book called Walden. Walden was written by Henry David Thoreau in 1820 and he tells a story and it became very resonant during the pandemic. He’s a man who retired to a cabin in the woods for two years, two months, and two days. He took it as a time of reflection and he tells a story and that was written 200 years ago. I was reading it on my Kindle last night and storytelling is really powerful because everything is a story. How we talk to ourselves is a story. What we tell ourselves about ourselves is a story. What we believe to be true and not to be true is a story.
I’ve been long fascinated with communications and the easiest and the best way to get somebody on to your frequency is to tell them a story. Really good businesses, brands, and organizations realize that they need to move the dial. So the dial might be we need to hire the right person. We need to get the right funding. We need to sell this product to this audience and really good people know what the objective is. One of the most challenging things you can say to somebody in a business context is what do you want to achieve? What does success look like to you? As it was my contention as a professional communicator is a story is a really good way of bringing people to your frequency.
And in the book, one of the things we talked about at the start is we unpacked the science behind storytelling. There’s a fascinating study that was done in Princeton by a professor called Uri Hasson. He uncovered this concept called neural coupling and it’s really interesting. It’s not high science. But what they did was they got a graduate student to go into an MRI machine, and she told a story about her high school prom and a kind of a fantastical story of a fight between two boys over her It was a kind of a fist fight. And someone had a bloody nose. And she told this really dramatic story about her night at the prom.
What they did then was they pushed 15 people separately into other MRIs and they played her story to them. The interesting thing was that her brain waves telling the story, their brainwaves listening to the story began to match her brain waves telling the story. And it proves that if you want to literally get into people’s heads, so when you’re actually telling a compelling story, there’s a line going out from the top of your head to each and every one of the audience.
The other thing that’s really interesting is we come out of the womb as storytellers. It’s innate in us. It’s kind of what’s hardwired into us. I suppose what I would say to people and it’s kind of in the opening line of the book, “Great stories get more.” More funding, more demand, more emotional connection, more repeat sales. I started my career in journalism and in politics and I’ve long existed in a world where those with the best stories succeed. Whether it’s Barack Obama getting elected as the president, or whether it’s Elon Musk putting a rocket into space or inventing a new electric car. Those with the best stories succeed and great brands and great organizations realize that we’ve got to stop sharing PowerPoint presentations with terrible bullet points, and we’ve got to start telling stories.
That’s a great one and I truly agree with you when you say that stories get people on your frequency and I like how you ended it by saying that it’s not about like those boring PowerPoints as well. It’s about telling great visual stories and similarly on Piktochart when we first started off as a software, we were all about visual communication. But I would say even in the past five years, we’ve seen the importance of branding ourselves as visual storytellers first, to help people to be able to tell their stories well through visuals. There’s truly a correlation even in visual storytelling and business storytelling. I’m excited to hear more from you.
Maybe right now we can talk about your book, “The Magic Slice: How to Master The Art of Storytelling For Business”. So what inspired you to write your first business book that you’ve just published?
Before I get to that, just one point that you said there just kind of resonated with me. I do think it’s really interesting that this whole point about people being natural storytellers. We never stop telling ourselves stories. So when you go to bed at night, you dream, like I had a very vivid dream last night that I can remember really clearly in my mind and it was a story that I told myself. Every situation that you go into, you’re constantly telling stories to yourself. One of the things that we do, I run storyteller courses. One of the things we do in the storyteller course is we say to people, Can you send us a personal photograph that you’re willing to talk about? So we do it a week out and people email us in the photographs and then randomly on the day, your name will come up on the screen and you’re up. This picture that you sent us a week earlier come up on screen and you come to the top of the room and you’ll have to tell the story about the picture and amazing things happen. The most kind of low-key quiet introspective people draw tears from everybody in the room.
We once did a course where a woman from the Netherlands and it was an old photo from the 1950s. She worked in accounts in this company and it was her grandparents. And she said, this is my nana and my grandpa. She said, he is the one who made a difference to our family. He went down and worked in a coal mine. He earned enough money that my parents could go to university She got really emotional and everybody got really emotional and you say to people, that’s your A-game. You just moved us all to tears by a story that you told. Why would you go back to standing in front of the room and hearing a spreadsheet that nobody cares about? You kind of make the point to say like people never saw that side here before. You have that side. We all have that side to us.
So I suppose to your question about The Magic Slice, MediaHQ helps brands share stories. We work with PR people and communications managers, and about five or six years ago, we were hitting a very seminal milestone in the software where the hundred thousand stories were being shared on the platform. I kind of took pause when this milestone was coming and I thought, what does this mean? I kind of took a deep look into kind of what we were doing and when I saw the brands around the world, whether it’s Patagonia or Hiut Denim, or a company called Blendtec or Burt’s Bees, that the companies that were the best at sharing stories understood how to get to a place where their audience fully loved what they were doing. And the concept of the two circles and the magic slice came to me on an evening and I was kind of doodling and I kind of wrote them out and since then, I’ve been using that process to work with brands to shape their strategy, to tune them into the people that are around them. That’s where the magic slice came from. What I do in the book is I bring people through three stages of storytelling.
The first one is, what is the story? It kind of seems like a very profound question where you say it’s the most powerful communications tool, a way to resonate and connect with people emotionally and we talked about what a story is, what a story isn’t. We talk about the creative spark that will enable somebody to unlock themselves and come up with ideas for stories because that’s really important and we talk about the science. We talk about the notion that the reason we love Netflix, the reason we love Amazon Prime or Hulu, the reason that we sit down and watch one episode after the other is because great stories trigger hormones in us and hormones make us feel a certain way. So if we feel relaxed and trusting, oxytocin has been triggered. If we trigger dopamine, we just want to know what happens next an great storytellers understand the way they want the audience to feel and they understand the stories that will trigger their hormones and they do it almost naturally. They know the bonds that they need to build and they know the stories that are going to get them there.
And then we get on to the magic slice section of the book, there are six steps to the magic slice. The first one is to have a mission. Second one is to know your audience. The third one is to develop topics. The fourth one is to develop your statement. The fifth one is to write individual stories, and the sixth one then is to reassess, re-evaluate and change as you go. They are the six steps and we bring people through the different steps and the different brands and how they do with it.
And the last section, the third and final section of the book then is I’m hoping by the time people get to the third section, they really kind of on a detailed level understand the spark and science behind stories. They have a process in the magic slice to go look at their organization or their brand and figure out if I apply these six steps, what does my magic slice look like? In the final analysis in the third section, we think that’s great. You understand it. You know how to apply it. Where do you apply it? Presentations, brand newsrooms, public relations. How do you develop a culture of storytelling? They are the kind of top-line elements that make up the book and we hope will inspire people to take action.
That’s a great overview of the book. I think just going through the three different parts of Storytelling would be to be very beneficial, especially for businesses and brand owners. Thank you for sharing your insights on that. In fact, this is also related to our next question. Like you said in the second part of the book, it’s talking about the six-step magic slice process and how that can actually help businesses to better tell their story.
I know that you kind of shared an overview about that, but maybe you could give us more insight on this or if there’s any particular key takeaway that you think would be helpful for people to consider the six steps?
In and of itself, there are messages and there are points to ponder at the end of every section for people. I’ll kind of go through and give you kind of some examples. The first one is mission and it is this notion of having a driven mission. A really good brand on mission is the glasses brand, Warby Parker. They have a brilliant mission statement the tunes people into the notion that everybody deserves to be able to see and it should be affordable. It’s written in really plain English and like there’s a thing where if we don’t know in our organization what we’re trying to achieve, how are we going to tell stories about it? We talk about brands like Warby Parker and Patagonia and how that’s really important.
The second step on audience then is, if you don’t know your mind’s eye, the audience, or audiences that you’re trying to reach, you’ll never get there. A mistake that some brands make is when you search them, “Who you’re communicating to?” They say everybody. I was helping a brand last week. It’s a guy who’s a friend of mine and he runs an auction site for antiques and kind of movie props and stuff like that. I said, “Who’s your audience?” And he said, “I want to get the story out to as many people as possible.” I said, “That’s not what I asked you.” I said, “Who are your audience?” And he said, “Women who are redecorating their homes, or men who have a space, like a man cave who wants something curious.” I said that’s okay. Now I know who we’re talking to. I said I will tune in to those people when I tell the story. I tell a story in the book of the first company I worked in, it was a shoe company and I went in and my boss was the marketing director, and he had a stack of women’s magazines. So I just kind of poking fun at him. I was in my early 20s and I go, “Do you read women’s magazines?” He said, “We sell shoes to women. Unless we understand how women think and how women act, we’re not going to be able to meet that need and it was a really interesting kind of formative lesson for me in appealing to an audience. So I learned a lot there.
And then I suppose when you go from the mission and to the audience, then you get down into the magic slice topics. And what you’re doing is you’re looking at your mission, you’re looking at your audience and this is like a big folder. And can you imagine a big folder that said, my brilliant stories and the topics are the dividers in between. This is the kind of really big step in finding your magic slice. And we talk in the book about a brand that’s based in the UK in Wales called Hiut Denim. Their mission, it’s a small town in West Wales, and there used to be where all of the jeans were manufactured for the UK. And then in the 1980s, all of the manufacturing went to Asia. This couple, David and Clare Hieatt went there and they wanted to start a business and they looked around. And they saw loads of people unemployed who had huge knowledge and skill in denim. So their mission was to get their town back making jeans again, and they’ve created this great story. So the day they launched, they had nine months of orders on the first day that they launched. Their magic slice – they talk about things like makers, creativity, sustainability, continuous improvement, community, and the old ways. That are like their categories. And underneath those categories then they write stories.
The next step then is you know your mission, you know your audience, you know your categories, write it up in a paragraph that completely encapsulates your magic slice statement and then you go and you write individual stories. So sometimes when people say we need a story or we need a video or we need a Facebook post, they don’t anchor it anywhere. They don’t anchor it in any of those things
And then the final step then is once you’ve done that, nothing is static in life and you might tweak your mission, you might tweak your audiences. And as you tweak, you will change and develop your magic slice. And that’s how the process works.
That’s very informative and I think just hearing the teaser about the magic slice would have been very attractive even for our listeners to go and check out more about it. I’m sure that will be really helpful for their businesses.
Now, in relation to that, you’ve talked about the six steps magic slice process, and also how you have seen storytelling over your career. In relation to this aspect of storytelling, how has storytelling benefited MediaHQ itself as a business?
Well, I think anywhere it benefited massively in that like anywhere you have a brand where creativity is really important and I’ve never been blessed with massive marketing budgets or wherever I’ve been. I’ve tapped into my ability to tell stories. We would use social media large. We would use newsletters. We would use blogs. I’ve developed a skill in delivering keynotes at conferences and I’m doing it in kind of an engaging, humorous way driven by stories. So that’s where I would practice it on a daily basis. We would have a culture of storytelling within the organization.
One of the examples I gave in the book is about Amazon running their meetings with four-page memos. We run our meetings that way as well. So we encourage critical thinking through story. Rather than people standing up at a meeting and reading out bullet points or doing it on a Zoom call, we encourage people to develop narrative memos and to have them understood and read before a meeting so that they can debate it at a higher level. I think they’re the biggest ways that I suppose.
I’m someone who’s an advocate and a proponent of storytelling and I try and live it every day as best I can. One of our kind of natural skills in Ireland is we’re really good storytellers. So much so that like a version of hello in Ireland is, “What’s the story?” Like if I met you, I’d say “What’s the story like?” That’s a greeting in this country and I think it’s been massively beneficial for MediaHQ in the last 15 years.
That’s an amazing story that you just tell. I like how you say it. It’s not just only advocating for storytelling, but actually living out as well and you implementing that even within your company. I love the story of the addition of the culture. Something new that I learned about Ireland. “What’s the story?” Well, that’s nice. And of course, we talked about the benefits of storytelling for businesses, but we also know there are certain challenges or setbacks, especially for storytellers. Some of the challenges that they might be facing.
Maybe you could share with us based on your experience, what do you think are some of the challenges that storytellers can expect to get when they’re trying to tell a good story for their business or brands?
The biggest challenge I think is consistency. I’ve done a lot of work over the last 12 years with brands and the biggest problem I see with people on storytelling and communications are they don’t do enough of it. So they get out of the habit of it and it’s very stark sometimes when you meet someone who’s the communications director or the PR director of a brand and they’re not communicating with anybody. My formative career was in politics as I mentioned and in journalism. When you’re in politics, you’re communicating all the time. Malcolm Gladwell talks about the concept of 10,000 hours. For five years, I was working in a political press office and we were sending out an awful lot of press releases and information every day. So that was really crucial and I think that’s the biggest one.
I also think creatively, there’s an issue. So I think creativity is an issue as well for people who don’t invest enough time. Good ideas or great ideas get the attention they deserve, which you need to put time and effort into creativity. So I think that’s all really important. I would say effort. I would say creativity are the two biggest things. If you have a creative spark and you stay at it, you will get results and I suppose the other thing like I talked about this in the book is that one of the greatest impediments to doing new things is fear. In corporate environments, people are afraid of failing and you have to embrace kind of the world and be ready to fail because nothing good happens when people are very risk-averse and you have to be willing to take risks.
Moving on to the next question. Thank you for sharing your insights on the challenges that people can expect the face. So if you’re speaking right now with a new business owner, someone who’s just trying to get into storytelling, what would be your top three communication tips for them to do storytelling successfully?
Well, the first of it is to buy my book. The second tip: Go and revisit the mission of your organization and make sure that everybody understands it.
The third then would be to find your magic slice and find simple ways to implement it. So whether it’s how you communicate within the organization. Is it a blog post? Is it on social media? To follow the steps of the magic slice is to tune into your mission, figure out who you’re going to talk to, and then start something. There’s a great phrase in America. Start small, but for God’s sake, start. Start, but tune it in. Tune it into the core of what you’re trying to achieve, and who your audiences are, and once you revisit your mission and your audiences, start a small initiative and see how it works. Doesn’t have to be huge. Doesn’t have to be a big budget. There are loads of great examples in the book of small ideas that people did. My favorite one is an Icelandic airline called Air Iceland Connects. They wanted in-flight entertainment and they had no money. So they produced a beautiful journal for the back of the seats. People hand-wrote out their experiences of a holiday and they became these amazing social media moments. People took photographs of them and share them. It cost a couple of thousand dollars, so it doesn’t have to be a huge idea.
Yeah, those are really great tips. And again, to our listeners. the first tip I think it’s the most important one, which is to get Jack’s book, and then you will find more about the magic slice. That leads us to our last question and I’m sure that you’ve been exposed to many businesses that have done storytelling successfully.
This is usually a tricky question, but maybe you can share with us some of your favorite examples of businesses that are excelling in storytelling?
There are loads of them in the book. I’ve mentioned loads of them since I came on here. A company called Blendtec, which had a video series called “Will It Blend?” Patagonia, a clothing brand. Brilliant ethical clothing brand. Virgin Global brand across a whole load of industries. Spanx, the clothing brand. I mentioned Hiut Denim. I mentioned Burt’s Bees. Marriott hotels are really good. There are loads and loads of examples of people in different industries. There’s a brilliant company based out of Detroit and the UK called Floyd Furniture company. So there are loads of examples across loads of different industries. Tesla is great. SpaceX is great. But the small brands like there’s bakeries or cosmetic companies. There are people in the apparel industry.
All you need is a spark and the willingness to get stuff published and out there. It’s all about connection. Story on a shelf is no good. You need to get it out there and a bit like we’re talking today, I’m connecting with your audience. You need to get out there and make that connection because that’s what brings the story alive and that’s what gets people to act.
That’s so true. I’m sure based on all the examples that you shared, you can be assured that there’s so many inspiration out there that we can look to when it comes to telling great stories. Thank you so much, Jack for being on a podcast and sharing so many valuable and helpful insights with us. I truly trust that our listeners have enjoyed this episode and I personally also enjoy hearing from you as an expert in the area of business storytelling. Now as a wrap-up to this episode, I’d love to ask you some fun questions.- These are questions related to storytelling so that our listeners can learn what inspires you as a person. Are you ready for this?
My first question for you is what is your favorite movie of all time that tells the best story that you think there is?
Instinctively, I would say Goodfellas by Martin Scorsese. Brilliant gangster movie. Loved it.
The second one is what is your favorite book that tells a great story?
My favorite book that tells a great story is a book called “Small is Beautiful” by a writer called E.F Schumacher. The tagline is “economics as if it mattered” I think but it’s about economic change and it’s a book that was written in the 70s and I really love it.
Nice. Thanks for sharing those resources. Finally, this is not related to storytelling. But if you’re not in the media industry today and doing what you’re doing in MediaHQ, what do you envision yourself doing?
I love sport. I love psychology. Maybe I would have been a sports psychologist. Yeah, maybe a sports psychologist. I have done some work in communications around sports teams and really enjoyed it. And I love that notion of working for people for better performance. A bit random, but maybe a sports psychologist.
Well, that was fun and I trust that our listeners have also enjoyed knowing you a bit better and what inspires you. Before we conclude, for our listeners who’d like to be connected with you, how can they reach you or stay connected with you?
Either mediahq.com, or my personal website is murraystory.com
Be sure to stay connected with Jack. We’ll also be linking all of his profiles in the show notes and of course of again, we’ll also be linking the book. You can check it out, “The Magic Slice”. It’s a pleasure to be speaking with you today, and that’s all for today’s episode. Until the next one.
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