Picking the “Right” story

We all know that if you want to get someone’s attention tell a story. We also know that not all stories are engaging.

Alaska Fisherman (photo by Don Rutledge)

I believe way too many companies are picking stories like people fish–toss a line in the water and see what bites.

Finding a good story in your organization is like looking for a great quote. That person’s story that you tell will be very useful because they’re story is succinct distillations of the larger pool of people that you serve.

A good story also affirms what we already know about ourselves. The story helps your to reaffirm your beliefs and helps to define the category of the brand you are.

Spring Dance Concert Columbus State University [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 120-300mm f/2.8G IF-ED, ISO 4500, ƒ/2.8, 1/800, Focal Length = 210]

This past weekend I was able to see my daughter’s Spring Dance Concert. I photographed the event for the school to use for their recruiting and promotion.

While editing the some 2,600 images I was reminded that distilling the event down to a few images was communicating what they hope to become and also what they were doing. They only have a dance minor at the time and are in the process of creating a dance major.

My daughter Chelle [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 120-300mm f/2.8G IF-ED, ISO 14400, ƒ/2.8, 1/800, Focal Length = 240]
Biggest Mistake

One of the biggest mistakes organizations make when picking a story to tell is to pick one based on politics rather than the strength of the story.

I have been consulting for many years with organizations and over and over the people they want to feature is often someone who has been around a long time or is very popular.

Here are the key elements in a story that help you identify the best story for your organization to tell.

  • There is a before state and an after state that is radically different. This is before your organization made a difference in their life and after they encountered the organization.
  • This was a crisis of sorts. They had a real problem and the organization helped to solve it. The key here is when comparing their crisis to other possible people for your story that their crisis was the worst.
  • Their story represents your target audience’s crisis that you will problem solve as an organization.
Spring Dance Concert Columbus State University [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 120-300mm f/2.8G IF-ED, ISO 8000, ƒ/2.8, 1/800, Focal Length = 210]
Too Close

One of the problems for most companies and organizations is they are just like the dancers–they are too close. They cannot see what they look like from the audience’s perspective.

Even the directors of broadway that go into the audience seats and give feedback to those on the stage, they lack the ability often to truly separate themselves from the production and see it with fresh eyes.

Spring Dance Concert Columbus State University [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 120-300mm f/2.8G IF-ED, ISO 7200, ƒ/2.8, 1/800, Focal Length = 195]

When I started as a photographer I was given a story to execute. To get better my mentor Don Rutledge encouraged me to go and find stories and do them. I did this for many years and syndicated those stories through Black Star and Camera Press.

If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.

Jim Richardson

I learned very quickly the story you picked had more influence on the outcome than execution alone.

After shooting and writing a lot of poor choice stories through the years I slowly realized I was pitching more and more stories to editors. When I did those stories they got much better engagement than those I was given.

The better I got to know my clients and what they were doing to help their customers I was pitching no longer just interesting stories, but now strategic stories.

Another Mistake

Don’t pursue those stories that only entertain and do not move people to the “Call To Action” for your organization.

Be sure the stories you pick point to what you do best and how you can help the audience with similar problems.

If you are a profit oriented company you are solving problems for the audience. If you are a nonprofit you are asking the audience to join you in helping solve a problem. 


Picking the right story to tell is the key to your companies success. Once you have done this your next step will be to identify another story. Your success is directly related to communicating what you do to solve a problem for a person. Then you must consistently execute doing this for those who respond and ask you to fix their problem.

Tell people what you do through a story. Do what you tell people you do. Continue to improve in the execution of your service and repeat this process.

Spring Dance Concert Columbus State University [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 120-300mm f/2.8G IF-ED, ISO 8000, ƒ/2.8, 1/800, Focal Length = 140]