What’s In A Story


My office sometimes feels like a therapy room.  There is a lot of talk around here about what takes a really good idea and turns it into a really great idea.

It’s the question of what makes a good presentation and what some of the best ways are to open the doors to an opportunity that could carry a light bulb idea through to a commercial success for a business venture.

I worked in Hollywood for many years.  It was not a place full of good advice, but I did leave with some.  When working on “Bill & Ted” I met with the producer.  He gave me a few tidbits, one being that my ego wasn’t big enough – which I have since taken as a compliment but at the time was mortified, and a second piece of wisdom that has stuck with me all these years.    “You only get to knock on some ones door once to make that first impression, so make sure you do it right.  The second knock is never so effective”.  Simple in theory, but hard because sometimes we just don’t quite see the big picture and we focus on only one part of the puzzle.  At that time I was focusing on the art of film and music and not the commercial venture set out before me.

Fast forward 20 years.  His advice resonates.   An artist who I greatly admire stopped by last week with her project – a series of drawings named ‘365’. She had completed one full drawing or painting every day for a year.  I was impressed by the concept alone and the results were remarkable.     She had created a great body of work, with the first round of sharing this project presented in the form of an art exhibition showing some of, but not all her drawings and paintings.

She then formatted a selection into postcards, note cards, hanging mobiles and the art show made the local gallery circuit.    She came to me looking for some thoughts as to the next step and how best to present it as a more commercial venture for the gift market industry.    She had compiled all 365 sketches and created a self-published book through an internet printer, all beautifully laid out, with the drawings chaptered by month so you could really understand the evolution of the series.

However, I noticed she omitted an important detail that struck me as a hole in the project, but was not so clear to her during preparation.  I wanted to know her story and of the origin of her idea, along with some understanding of the emotional and very human process of making such a commitment, none of which were included in this book.    I really wanted to understand the process, the pain and the glory.  A drawing a day sounds fun as an artist, but in process you can only imagine there were days when you just didn’t want to, that you must have suffered at some point.  What about when you got sick, or for all the hundreds of reasons we make not to do things.    I couldn’t imagine everyday was easy and she responded in laughter, telling me how hard some of those days had been.  Without this detail, the project was only 2 dimensional to me.

Her concept reminded me of the blog that had inspired the successful film “Julie and Julia” in which an enthusiastic cook decided to cook a Julia Child’s recipe every night for a year, no matter how hard, and keep a blog of the process, thereby materializing a great story that went beyond the scope of her original intention to focus on the food, and transcending the venture into a story about the struggle and trials – making it outstanding because of the story and the process of her challenge,  and in the long term it turned a simple idea into a story that resonated.

This meeting echoed the theme to transform ideas – the best presentation of a project is that of it’s authenticity (with a touch of humility to remind you and your audience that indeed we are all human and can relate).  The story behind the project is the key.    If the story isn’t interesting,  then the lack of luster gets it lost in the great ocean of many.

My first real experience of this was with my own project:   Vy&Elle, a company that started as a thought with a couple of friends back in the early 2000’s.  We started designing and manufacturing bags and accessories made from reclaimed vinyl billboards that where laying around the salvage yard that one of my partners ran.

I believe that the main success of this decade long program was in the story of the product itself (and with a lot of hard work and help).   We saved over 250 tons of used vinyl billboard from hitting the landfill by reusing it and repurposing it, giving the user a sense of owning something unique and a story worth sharing.  It was new to the US marketplace back then and while we saw a lot of original ideas at market, this one was vibrant.

Although the recycling element was a key part, we knew we weren’t going to “save the world”  with our little project, after all,  over 1M tons of billboard are produced a year worldwide.  We did however recognize the specialty and strength of the design process and what the product was  –  it shouted “look at me, do you know what I am?”   With the tag line “who knew? “ as part of the label text, because I lost count of how many times I had heard this expression from people I was showing the product to.  We utilized the strength of the story to help market and place the product into over 2000 stores worldwide during it’s lifetime.

We had the quality, form and function, but with a twist about seeing something from a perspective we could all relate to.  It made you think and ask questions.   At the beginning of the project most people didn’t know that billboards where vinyl.  By the end of it, the industry was recognizing the environmental impact and looking to startups like ours to help build their green corporate citizenship, and turning to less heavy toxic material that would break down easier in the landfills.

Ingenuity in branding and packaging builds roads that take you to new and interesting places.  Some unexpected twists and turns are a certainty, and you’ll need a dose of fearlessness to get you there.   We only get a few seconds to make an impression that could change the course of the project because we’ve connected with those around us that can be key people in bringing it correctly to the marketplace.    Then again, sometimes we are just not the right fit and that is good to know as well.

Ask the simple question what would make me pay attention to this?    Without a connection to the authenticity and story, a project is hard to see through the clutter.   I’m still trying to work out why  “Bill & Ted” was such a huge success, but I guess I will have to accept I’ll never get that one.

Knock once, knock loudly and have something to say that people want to hear.   It’s not always the right fit for the right person, but it’s always a really cool challenge to have your project pitch perfect.

Published 2/2013 Pyragraphy.com

Check out my other blog entries at http://www.pyragraphy.com


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