If I had a penny for every time I’m asked to get CEO or company profile coverage, I would have many pennies. Working at a B2B PR agency means it’s a big part of the job. The answer is yes, of course we can get that for you – but only if there’s a story to tell. And an interesting one at that.

Matt Boothman, storytelling consultant in our Language team here at Definition, recently taught us all about author Kurt Vonnegut’s “shapes of stories”. Vonnegut’s analytical take on storytelling involves two axes: the Y-axis represents good and bad fortune; the X-axis represents the beginning and end of a story:

Empty v2

Vonnegut analysed famous stories against this graph and found there were core storytelling frameworks:

Rags to riches

Rags to riches v2

A classic story full of tension, ultimately leading to a happy ending. Like the New Testament or Cinderella.

Man in a hole

man in a hole v2

A ‘gets in trouble, then gets out again, better for the experience’ kinda story. Like Taken, Arsenic and Old Lace.

Boy meets girl

boy meets girl v2

Romcom fans should recognise this one – it’s where the main character finds something wonderful, gets it (hooray), loses it (boo), and regains it forever (hooray). Like Jane Eyre or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

And what they have in common is…

All of Vonnegut’s shapes have a downbeat. When there’s no bad news, there’s no story.

The character or the situation needs to change in order to make it a story – otherwise, you’re just describing a scenario.

Journalists might not be writing a novel, but they’re still looking for stories. As Matthew Boyle, senior reporter for Bloomberg Work Shift, says “Stories have conflict, characters and context…. Would you read a novel where the protagonist just breezes through her life? So why would anyone read a business story that does the same?”

Press want the whole story – the good, the bad and the ugly. It simply isn’t enough to have grown a company, because that’s what CEOs or founders are supposed to do.

So if you want business profile coverage, be a little vulnerable

The temptation to just tell a story of success and growth is strong – but ultimately, it’s rarely a story in and of itself. The story lies in the hardships along the way, and how you overcame them.

N.B. COVID doesn’t count – it was a problem for everyone.

When we speak to business leaders who want this type of coverage, we spend a fair amount of time deep diving into their industry. We ask pointed questions (with a little help from our digital twins) that will get us opinions that put their head above the parapet. So, to tease out those pain points, we might ask:

  • What problem are you/your company solving? (To quote Alex Goldstein, a creative director here at Definition, problems are often also reasons. So perhaps reframe this as “What was the reason for starting the company?”)
  • Think back to your childhood. Did you have any unusual experiences?
  • What was a turning point in your career?
  • What’s the biggest problem you have had to deal with at work?
  • What management issues are most difficult to solve?
  • Who’s the hero in your company’s story?
  • What journey did they go on?
  • How did they change along the way?
  • Have there been any legislative or political events that have affected your business’ growth?
  • What moments in your career have you spoken about outside of work, with friends and family? These tend to be more universal experiences that are worth sharing with reporters.

Our goal is to get the kind of story out of you that specific CEO and business profile slots cry out for.

The most coveted profile slots focus heavily on problem-solving and leadership lessons.

Here are some examples.

The FT – The CEO

This is covered exclusively by the FT’s business writers. It tends to focus on a problem that a leader’s solved.

The Times – Six from the best

Jane Hamilton’s weekly feature focusses on lessons from and for business leaders. Though quite new, it gets filled up far in advance. So a successful pitch will generally include a novel business growth idea or a personal lesson.

City AM – Road to Success/Pass the pen

Jennifer Sieg, City AM’s SME correspondent, is often found speaking with the UK’s most interesting business founders. Giving a ‘behind the business’ look at entrepreneurial journeys, Jennifer’s passion is business ideas – big and small. Road to Success is a business profile slot, and Pass the Pen shares five key lessons from a leader.

The Times Enterprise Network – What I learnt

This slot is mostly reserved for entrepreneurs but can also work for CEOs. As the title suggests, journalist Richard Tyler needs to be able to pull out a lesson in the title – usually explaining how a leader solved a problem.

BBC – CEO Secrets

The key to appearing here is presenting a specific problem the interviewee faced and how they solved it. The more universal the issue – think management and people issues – the better.

Management Today

The Management Today team is interested in speaking to CEOs who are willing to talk about issues they’ve overcome and lessons for others. They have to include a lesson readers can take away from the article.

Being active on social media is a major help too

It shows that you’re a real person with opinions worth sharing. We also know that journalists look on social media for interesting experts to talk to. If your personal brand could do with some polishing, our Brand You programme combines everything we know about executive profiling with social media support.

Ready to tell yours and your company’s story? Get in touch.

Katie Chodosh Screen

Written by Katie Chodosh, Head of Media Relations at Definition