Jan 6 hearings

The Jan. 6 hearings have provided a new perspective on what happened at the Capitol six months ago. (Shutterstock)

“What is it, exactly, you do for clients?” That’s the most common question I get from friends now that I’m seven months into my new life as a digital media and strategic communications consultant.

After 36 years in journalism — including the last 26 with the best team of journalists in New Jersey — I do a little bit of everything at Whitmer Consulting.

Quite often my work involves a clear and dangerous blind spot I’ve encountered with almost every existing and potential client: their story. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s an elevator pitch, a mission statement, a marketing plan or even a website that lays this out. Everyone, including yours truly, struggles with telling their story effectively and memorably.

Which brings us to the Jan. 6 hearings and the fact this committee has produced an epic miniseries that has us — impossibly! —  scrambling to find PBS or C-Span in the middle of our workdays. This group has presented a master class in storybuilding and storytelling. Are you paying attention?

As Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic wrote a few weeks ago: 

“… these hearings are being run much like a Netflix series. They have a plot. It has twists and surprises — for example, the unexpected appearance of Cassidy Hutchinson, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’s executive assistant, who happened to be in several rooms where things were happening on January 6. ‘Episodes’ sometimes end with cliffhangers. … Each set of hearings is short, offering the story in bite-size chunks that people can absorb and then discuss before moving on. Bits of the story are sometimes leaked in advance on social media, in order to get the audience’s attention. Themes from one hearing recur in later hearings — for example, the many people around Trump who sought pardons, knowing that they had broken the law.”

Not to mention the hearings are well scripted and thoughtfully produced.

The characters have been carefully cast. 

There are stories of redemption. There’s conflict — plenty of conflict.

And Cheney’s “On the next episode” teasers are beyond brilliant. Yesterday, we even got potential Presidential witness tampering.

Hollywood east

I’m hardly alone in noticing the Hollywood-ization of Congressional hearings. But for me, it’s not just about the slick production or dumbing down of issues that deserve more intellectual discussion. It’s about telling a story in a way that has people watching and invested. Regardless of age, background or beliefs, people are paying attention. 

So how can your company or organization use the committee’s methods to tell its story so that people keep coming back for more? 

Here’s a little cheat sheet to get you started.

  1. Keep it simple. Always keep it simple. 
  2. Identify two or three areas that are most important. Maybe it’s the mission statement — which likely is too long and too clunky. Maybe it’s the organization’s core values. Are your core values something a long-time employee could recite? Or maybe it’s something  everyone uses in their email signatures.
  3. Yes, you need to tell your story to potential clients or hires. But, first, you must communicate who you are and what you want to be internally. To do so, you must invest in your team’s ability to tell the same story. Revisit. Review. Reshape. And involve everyone.
  4. See #1.

Does your company or group already do this? Do you have your own tips or red flags? I’d love to hear from you. As always, LinkedIn is the best place to keep the conversation going.

Kevin Whitmer is a strategic communications/digital media expert and President of Whitmer Consulting LLC. He spent more than 30 years managing large news operations and building digital audiences.

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