>As an editor of a small trade magazine, I learned that everybody has a story. Even though I was a freshly graduated communications major, it was my job to figure it out.
I stumbled across a job at a small publishing firm in Collierville, Tennessee after I graduated. I was trying to return to the Memphis area because I was born there and through it would be an interesting place to settle down. The mom-and-pop publishing firm posed unique challenges because mom didn’t get along with pop, and would drop in every few months to mess up everything in the name of “this is how we’ve always done it”, and then leave in a huff for us to clean up. In between these visitations we would work hard to create three pretty good trade magazines covering the upholstered furniture, casegoods furniture and building materials industries.
We got good at finding stories because the publisher would sell an ad, and then send us off to write a story that would say something nice about the advertiser. When I’d ask what the story is, he’d tell me to “find it when you get there.”
On one visit to a manufacturer – I cant’ remember which one – I spent 30 exasperating minutes interviewing the plant manager only to realize that they were doing absolutely nothing that was newsworthy. Finally, almost all hope gone, I asked to take the obligatory tour of the plant, hoping that something would pop up.
And it did. The plant manager stood up from his desk and grabbed a cordless telephone to take with him. This was 1984 and cordless phones were expensive extravagance…and newsworthy. This manager would keep in touch with his plan supervisors via the cordless phone; a sort of high-tech management by walking around. It was a great story that simply appeared.
Another time, I was to interview the vice president of La-Z-Boy. It was the biggest interview I’d ever done, and I was a little nervous as I was lead into Pat Norton’s leather-and-wood-filled office. A large man with pinstriped suit, Norton came out from behind a huge wooden desk and kindly invited me to have a seat on the luxurious leather sofa and asked if I minded if he had lunch brought in for us. I said no, and he quickly asked “what would you like on your hamburger?” This high-powered, highly paid executive was a regular at the local Wendy’s, and he often had the juicy burgers brought in for guests. He ordered up two Norton specials, a specific combination of meat, cheese, pickles, etc. that he was known for. It was a great story, and it was the highlight of the article that focused on the humble, kind, soft-spoken vice president of one of the country’s largest furniture manufacturers.
I’m still looking for stories today. As part of the brand strategy process we use at my firm, we ask a lot of questions and challenge our clients to be truthful about who they are and who they want to me. It’s the first step in producing brands that are different, inviting, relevant and truthful.
And I learned how to do it at my very first job more than 20 years ago.