Episode 67

How to get the CEO to give a sh*t about insights

Grant Feller, award winning storyteller and Founder of EveryRung, shares what 30 years as a journalist has taught him about insights storytelling, where insights professionals go wrong in trying to influence the C-suite and some of his best tips to get your story across.

The interview

Ryan Barry: Hello everybody and welcome to this episode of Inside Insights, a podcast powered by Zappi. My name is Ryan and I'm your host and I'm joined today by a wonderful man, Grant Feller, who is the founder of EveryRung. And a legend in journalism and storytelling. I'm very excited to have you here today, Grant.

Ryan: Thanks for making the time. 

Grant Feller: Thank you for picking me up like that, Ryan. I really appreciate that. A legend. I've never been called a legend, but you know, that's great. I'll stick with that. 

Ryan: You have the aura of a legend. When we first met, I thought to myself, this dude's a G. Like I have great energy about you and I'm excited to talk to you.

Ryan: And I want to give a shout out to Leanne Chandler, who I, uh, if you don't know Leanne, um, she's probably one of five people on the planet who knows more about advertising than anybody else.And I have the pleasure of doing business with her. If you're one of my customers, you probably have the pleasure of doing business with her too, but she's the reason we met.

Grant: Yeah, and she's been, she's been working with me and she's been kicking me into shape actually, right? So we kind of, kind of got this loose, loose bond, this loose partnership. But we're helping each other with storytelling projects, uh, and, and, and gaining new business really. She's incredible. A real force, real energy.

Ryan: Yeah, I mean, really a pleasure. So, so I, I know Leanne, uh, through Hendrick who's on my team and, and, and Leanne's, uh, really helping a lot of brands tell better stories with data, make better advertising, build better brands. And she's really thrilled to have her in our consulting network. Um, you know, so, so the reason why, uh, besides the fact that I think Grant's awesome, I wanted to have Grant on today is it's actually really important.

Ryan: We're talking a lot of sh*t in this industry around technology, around AI, and how it's going to solve all the problems. And, if you've been following my newsletter that I launched, where I basically shout into a void once a week, we need to focus on people and their skills and how we develop them.

Ryan: And I think all the technology in the world is amazing to enable great people to drive businesses. And one of the key tenants that I keep hearing. My customers, VPs of insights, talk about is we need to tell better stories. We need our people to sit above the data. And that's a skill. And, uh, much to my chagrin, a lot of people aren't actually investing in L and D for their staff.

Ryan: And as I get, as you'll get to know Grant in this conversation, a lot of agencies are investing in Grant's services so he can teach them, but a lot of brands aren't yet. And I wanted to just Introduce Grant's Framework for Storytelling. Teach you folks some things about how you, tomorrow, can tell better stories.

Ryan: Because I think it's really important and if not as probably more important than all the technology that you're being asked to use and figure out. Um, so, so that's why I wanted to have you on Grant besides the fact that I think you're lovely. So just to dive in, you've got such a fascinating story of why the hell you're now in Insights.

Ryan: Take us, take us through what you've got here today. 

Grant: I am the, I am the interloper in your industry, right? I shouldn't even be here. And it's a series of, of really, of happy accidents, to be honest. So what happened was I spent around 25, almost 30 years, in newspapers and, and dot coms and digital media over here, right?

Grant: And broadcasting too, mostly working on papers like the Zellie Mail and the Telegraph and the Times. I was one of the founding editors, and I do apologize for this, but I was one of the founding editors of Mail Online. Uh, so I know that kind of, you know, people are spending an awful lot of time looking at pictures that they shouldn't.

Grant: And also, WebMD. I launched WebMD in the UK. So, I worked in journalism for a long time. And then, around about 10 years ago, I think, almost 11 years ago, I took redundancy. And I kind of wanted to reinvent myself because everyone was talking about content. Everyone's talking about storytelling and everyone was trying to kind of say, how can we matter more?

Grant: And I thought to myself, well, you know what, journalists are really great storytellers. There must be a space for me. And so I spent, uh, around about six months. I made a list of 50 people in business and marketing and advertising that I wanted to go and meet for advice to try just to ask them how is it that a journalist could find a way to work within this business using these journalistic skills?

Grant: And it was really interesting. I asked for advice. And out of those 50, maybe 70 people who are really quite top people, I reckon half of those people said yes, come and talk to me. It was amazing. Anyway, I ended up working for Omnicom to, to begin with as a free, on a freelance basis, writing speeches for CEOs.

Grant: And I'm still doing that. I'm writing speeches and I'm creating narratives for brands doing that writing. But in this project that I was working on for Phillips, and I was working for the CEO Phillips, I was being given all of this material, all this insights material, all this data from a market research company.

Grant: Now here I was as a journalist and I didn't have a clue what market research was. I'd never, never interested me, to be honest, but all I knew was when I asked, what is all this stuff? What is all this data? They said it was from the marketing. It was a CMO saying, well, look, we've got this amazing amounts of data, but we don't know what the f*ck it means.

Grant: Can you help us right? Analyze it and use it in speeches. And so I was asking questions of the marketing team and what they were telling me was this gold dust. These insights, this research was not filtering up the chain fast enough. People were not making decisions from it. And we needed to figure out a way of making sure that people right at the top of the company were able to analyze and figure out what all this data meant and the decisions that they need to take from it.

Grant: And what I realized at that moment, it was my realization was that this is what journalists do. We have all of this, these piles of data, which we call facts. And we try to figure out a way of piecing together these facts to make our audiences care, whatever audiences are right wing, left wing TV, radio, whoever it is, right.

Grant: You always want to think about what is it that my audience wants and how can I repurpose these facts to make it so meaningful to them? So I ended up kind of looking at market research companies and figuring out, it's going to be very difficult for me as a sole trader, as I was back then, to, to get my way into the boardrooms and become, you know, really close to CEOs and, and do all the stuff that former ex senior journalists would do.

Grant: And I decided to kind of lavish some love and attention on the research industry and the insights industry, because I felt that not many people were playing in that space when it came to storytelling. And I realized that this industry, the industry that you work in, and you've been fabulously successful.

Grant: But I know that still there is a problem with making sure that people take decisions from this material and realize that what they have here is the gold dust. And I think the missing link is storytelling. And I think, for me anyway, it's journalistic storytelling. Because that's exactly what we do. We take all of this data and we say, right, how can we get people to engage with this data?

Grant: Not just engage, but share, remember, care, make decisions, have emotional feelings about it, and do it in a matter of seconds. Seconds. Because they will click somewhere else, they will turn the page, they will switch the channel, and there are lots and lots of tools that journalists would use. And that I've repurposed for your industry.

Grant: And it's, and I'm learning so much as well by listening to people in my sessions when I take training and I'm working with both brands and agencies, and it's, it's been fascinating. 

Ryan: So I want to dive real deep in this, but if you don't mind, I want to double click into the reinvention part of your story.

Ryan: And the reason is I think a lot of folks are listening. Might have been caught up in what was a tough last couple of years. There's a lot of open to work happening on LinkedIn. I don't know a company in the world that hasn't made some variant of a redundancy in the last year. Codify that a little bit. So how did you go about picking the people that you wanted to get advice from?

Ryan: Maybe just give some people a little bit more color into that reinvention process. 

Grant: What I did was I was reading, I read the business pages. I mean, obviously I love reading, you know, journalism anyway, but anyone who was in, in the business pages, who was giving an interview or was about to launch something, or had just got a job, I would make a list, right?

Grant: And I would, I would list someone who had just got a job. I would make sure that I would, I would contact them in three months time, right? To say, I know you've, you know, you've got your feet under the desk. I'd really like to talk to you for some advice or whatever. People who also were reinventing themselves, but I went through magazines, you know, when they do the time of the top 50 power players in stuff.

Grant: And I, and that's what I did. I had a list. And the thing was, it would take me a long time to find their email addresses. And sometimes it would guess and sometimes I would find the email addresses by just kind of digging like a journalist, right? And figuring it out. And, but the key word, the reason why a lot of these people said hello to me

Grant: was because I asked for advice. I didn't ask for a job, but of course I was, I was looking for work. Of course, never, never use that word. I just said, I would like advice from you because you know, stuff that I don't. Can I come and see you? Essentially. That's what my pitches were. And I think it was because

Grant: I was being bold and I and look, honestly, the number of times when I had a meeting and it got canceled like 40 minutes before and I got really pissed off and I just thought, f*ck sake, but I knew I just had to keep going. And the thing about being a journalist is that you spend a lot of time you get a kind of a shield. You have this thick skin because so many stories that you pursue die. And so many times you're in the newsroom and you kind of think that you're going to be the hero and actually you're the villain in the end. So many interviews you pitch for you never get. And you just get up. You just, you dust yourself down.

Grant: Many, many times every day you do that. And there's a thick skin that I didn't realize I had until I found myself in this new world thinking, what am I going to do? But I just, I figured it out. I just figured it out by meeting people and listening to them. That's it. 

Ryan: I love the intention and then the deliberation.

Ryan: I think a lot of people, I mean, I'm thinking of a few people's faces as we're talking. They have this in them, but maybe they're, they're worried about the rejection or they're worried about putting themself out there. But, you know, I, I probably invest personally, an hour and a half, two hours a week to give people advice.

Ryan: Just ask people. I mean, I'm not saying I'm like anybody, but if somebody asks for advice, I mean, it's, you know, most people want to help each other out. We were talking about Eric Salama before this, and how he always likes to help people, and like that, most people are like that, right? 

Grant: And, people like Eric, he's been such a mentor to me, because, you know, I do, you know, we're friends, and we're neighbors, and we ask for advice, and people like Vanella Jackson at Hall Partners, she's been an incredible mentor for me, other people, but the thing is, you know, when you say to someone, could you meet for a coffee, it's like, okay, it's, you know, it's a nice invite, but if you say, could we meet, for some advice, please.

Grant: Right? Something really exact and something that they can give you. And, and you said people fear rejection and yes, they do. And we've got to be honest, most of the time we do this kind of stuff, we will get rejected. Correct. So what? And my, my grandmother, you know, she was from, um, uh, an Eastern Europe, Eastern European immigrant from Ukraine and then Romania, and then came over here.

Grant: And my family had been here for about a hundred or so years. But she would always used to say to me, um, if you don't ask, you don't get. Because obviously I wanted second portions of chicken, right? So if you don't ask, you don't get for everything. And that's how I live my, you know, you don't ask, you don't get, 

Ryan: I was, I was having a conversation with one of my favorite colleagues, Kim Malcolm yesterday.

Ryan: She asked me something, she's like, Oh, I should ask you more often. And I said to her, the worst thing anybody could ever tell you is to f*ck off. And if they say that to you, well, f*ck them. Uh, I appreciate it, I appreciate you taking us through that. So, let's just break down the journalistic storytelling concept.

Ryan: So you talked about why does your audience care? You talked about the real reality of people more than else. A lot of things about people don't change, but let's be real. Our attention spans today. I mean, you know, they're, they're very short and everything's commanding attention. So just break it down for us a little bit.

 As I've developed this, this training program, this masterclass, I've been looking at how our brains absorb stories and, you know, the kind of neurological element that I can add in and make people aware that storytelling is so important.

Grant: On average, we will spend 26 seconds reading a piece of content, right? 26 seconds. We will spend around 15 seconds on a web page. Now, even though we spend 26 seconds reading a piece of content, our brains will decide within 17 milliseconds, 17 milliseconds, whether or not to read it.

Grant: We want to engage any further with it. When are we actually enjoying it? 17 milliseconds, right? And, um, 33 percent of all of our emails remain untouched, which I know is hugely depressing. But yes, there is more and more content. You talked about technology earlier on, and technology is the most fantastic, obviously the most fantastic tool.

Grant: What it's done is it's just given us a load of, just a sh*tload of more content, right? Yes. And we are swarmed with it. We're, it's an avalanche. We're drowning in it. And that's why the really good stuff can get to the top, right? The really good stuff that engages you right there and then. That is the, what do we say, it's the cream, you know, the cream that rises.

Grant: The cream rises to the top. And, and it's true. Our brains are hardwired to react very, very quickly to anything. And so when you're in the newsroom, it, maybe it's just useful actually to kind of give you this, this insight into how the newsroom works, but let's just say, and I know that most of your, um, lots of your listeners and viewers won't be buying newspapers physically, but they will be looking at them, you know, online, but the thing is, it's a 12 hour period, let's say nine in the morning.

Grant: Until nine at night. And in that 12 hour period, this sort of intense cauldron, right? Of creativity. And it's a really intense scenario, right? You are selling ideas all day long. You are selling stories. You're selling headlines. You're selling yourself. You're selling insights. All the time to different people in different ways, and you're selling, you're thinking about your audience, you're thinking about the reader, but you're also thinking about your boss, you're thinking about the editor, you're thinking about the entire publication, the newspaper, what matters.

Grant: So you're, you're asking all of these questions of the data, if you like, all of these questions of the data, the whole time. It's not about writing, it's a story. Storytelling, this is the other thing that I think is really interesting. When people talk about storytelling, they're only talking about one small, one, one third of it.

Grant: In journalism, you spend the other two thirds finding that story, and then making that story. And only at the end, only at the end, like, like three or four o'clock in the afternoon, do you spend time writing that story. So between the hours of nine And let's say three in the afternoon, three or four in the afternoon, you are finding it, thinking about the headlines, thinking about what's going to work, the writer you want to use, the headline that you're going to use, the pictures that you're going to use, and then you're kind of making that story.

Grant: You kind of understand where the pieces are going to go, sort of, right? And you're designing that story, and you're thinking about how to make it more meaningful. And then you're going to Towards that last bit of the day between around about four, three, three in the afternoon till seven or eight at night, whatever you are writing, you're writing really fast and hard because you spent so much time finding and making that story.

Grant: And so, you know what this kind of stuff is instinctive to so many journalists and we don't really think about it necessarily in those terms. And I was forced tothink about it when I left journalism and I, and I, and I found myself in a different industry in your industry. How can I make all of this stuff

Grant: applicable and easy to understand and relevant to people who aren't used to this kind of work, right? No one's gonna, you know, no one, if you don't mind me saying, is gonna survive the newsroom in your industry, right? If you just throw them into that newsroom and say, there you go, do some storytelling.

Ryan: Yeah, put some PowerPoint decks in, you'll be good. We'll read that sh*t. Yeah, absolutely. 

Grant: But you can repurpose journalism for a different industry and, and, you know, we talked earlier on, about the way the brain reacts to stuff so quickly. And, journalism works because look, every minute of every day of every single day of the year around the world, people are consuming this kind of storytelling.

Grant: Cinema storytelling is great. Box sets are fantastic, you know, but this is the stuff that is surrounding us. And It's almost as if we've forgotten, uh, when we come to work and we open our laptops and we say, right, I'm going to figure out about storytelling. It's like, well, hold on a second. You've been consuming it all day long.

Grant: And last night you were consuming it too. Use that kind of stuff in your work. And that's what I do. 

Ryan: Yeah, it, it, it reminds me of like, the work before the work, the work, the work after the work framing I've heard, and I can't remember where the hell I'm stealing that from, but, it, I think sometimes people get so dogmatic in their thing, they don't think about, you said like, eight different things that you were having to think about all the time.

Ryan: I shouldn't say things, people, your boss, the reader, the advertiser, the other things you're competing with. And we don't think about that orientation enough, I think, in business. And I'm guilty of it. Like, I'm going to go in after our podcast. I'm going to go into my weekly management meeting. And just a simple thing.

Ryan: What's on my CMO's mind? What's on my head of sales [00:18:00] mind? What's on our CFO's mind? And understanding that helps understand whatever the hell I'm trying to sell. Because I also think a lot of people forget that everybody's selling something. 

Grant: We are all the time right, all the time and I do this exercise when I'm working with brands and and I say, okay, fine, let's talk about what's going on in the boardroom right now because we want to understand the conversation so that we can make our material more valuable to them.

Grant: We've already moaned about the fact that this stuff is not going anywhere. You know, rising up the ranks fast enough. So what are the conversations going on in the boardroom? And they always say, well, you know, purpose, um, sustainability, um, customer satisfaction, and they're all going on that. And then someone, someone in the room will say, Uh, make money and I would go, yeah, I mean, I'm sorry, but that should be the first thing that we ought to do.

Grant: And there's nothing wrong with that because if this company didn't make money, of course purpose is important. Of course it's really important to be sustainable. All that's important. But if we're not making money, you've not got a job and there's no way they're going to ask me to come in and help them.

Grant: You know, fix the situation because things are going to be terrible. So yes, we are selling stories and the stories we tell from the data that we have, we need to kind of figure out, okay, well, how is this going to make us grow, make us bigger, make us better. And, and it really saddens me sometimes that these teams that I work with aren't necessarily, they don't have that wider perspective.

Grant: Why does this company matter? What's going on that I can help with? 

Ryan: Yeah, and I think like, you know, obviously your work, you work on both sides, you'll work with a market research vendor, but also the brands. And I think, you know, I'm somebody who's worked for technology companies that serve the industry my whole career.

Ryan: And I think one of the things that you're always missing. that the brands have and maybe sometimes they don't have either the headspace, the skill orientation, or the thought to think about is the full orientation of the business. And, you know, I've, I've long said consumer insights, I think as an industry has put itself on too big of a pedestal at the detriment of making itself integrated into the business.

Ryan: Let me explain to you what I mean. Hmm. What people think is super important. So that a business can integrate in culture so that a business can make money, right? And I think one of the things I have empathy for my colleagues on the quote unquote vendor side is we don't see the full context because we don't walk those halls.

Ryan: We don't know the supply chain. And, and so I imagine in some of your work with a big agency, it's quite hard because they're doing a thing that connects to another 10 things. And the reason why I really wanted to drill into this with you is like all you listening, who are insights managers, that's not your job.

Ryan: You're not doing a thing. Your job is to orient all the things and bring that together for the business. 

Grant: And if you do that, you'll become more influential in your organization without a doubt. And I know that that's a thing right now. I think, well, maybe it's been a thing for a while, but this sense that people who work in the insights teams and insights organizations, you, you should be more influential in the way that decisions are being made. And if you think, you know, it's like, it's almost as if you want to, you want to be constantly thinking about the CEO in everything you do in the way that a journalist, right. When you come in and that kind of nine o'clock in the morning, you're thinking to yourself, sh*t, I don't want to f*ck up today.

Grant: Okay. Because I want him or her at the end of the day to say, Grant, that was a fantastic story, right? And so you're constantly thinking about the editor. What do they want? How can I impress them? What, where are the missing bits here? The missing elements in the day's news or tomorrow's news that I can say, you know what, I've got something here that's going to look really good.

Grant: So you are thinking about, I would say you're thinking about the editor and you're thinking about the reader because the reader actually is the most important person, the person who's going to use your product, the person who's going to engage with it most. And so, you know, we're kind of both talking in a roundabout way, essentially about thinking more about audiences and rather than thinking about our, our data and how fantastic the data is because yeah, of course it's fantastic.

Grant: And, you know, I never criticized the data but I do criticize how it's packaged up and why it's so You've got to find the meaningful bits. You've got to find the meaningful bits and put them up front. I was working on a project again. I'm going to kind of disguise the brand name. But it was a big telecoms company and it must have been about 18 months ago and they had this amazing data about iPhones and where the gap in the iPhone market was in the UK and the gap was that they needed to kind of focus their advertising on women between the ages of 18-35.

Grant: If we can focus on this, we can get something and it was on slide 27. Okay. And it was, and it was somewhere, it was like near the bottom of the slide. And we were, and I came to it and I said, 'cause this, this report, by the way, hadn't landed very well.

Grant: And I was being brought in to kind of story, to storify it. And I said, why did you do that? And they said, well, yeah, that is the important piece of data, but we thought that we would let the data speak for itself. And I just went, Oh my God, what do you mean? You thought you would let the data speak for itself.

Grant: You never, ever do that. And I do hear that a lot. You have to. You have to speak for yourself. Telling a story does that. And I don't know if you ever hear that phrase, or if you've ever, you know, if people ever say it. I hope they don't, but we thought we'd let the data speak for itself. It never does. 

Ryan: No, it doesn't.

Ryan: I mean, I'm a business operator myself. And so there are certain things where the data is a diagnostic, it's a dial, you watch it. Uh, let me give you an example. Week on week pipeline creation, but there's always a story underneath that data.

Ryan: And I'm It's I can count on zero fingers how many times I've looked at even a dial that's on autopilot with that moves out of the norm, let's say, and not said, Why, why, why you want to know why? And I think, like, one of the things that, uh, it's popping into my head as we're talking is if we're an insights person, you and I, we're not.

Ryan: But if we were. And we pretend we're in the newsroom. If we're spending from 9am to 3pm in the work, well then we're not thinking about how to influence the work. And I think that that's a huge shift. And you know, I think there's some people that are terrified to say use technology to do their jobs because they feel as though that's going to ground them more in the work.

Ryan: I don't think anybody's listening to this going, I don't want to get above the work. I don't want to think about how to implement the work more. Um, but if there's an intention here that, that, that is somewhat missing and, and. I think that it's a really important shift to think about your audience.

Ryan: I mean, As you're talking, I'm also guilty of this. Someone sends me stuff all the time and I'm looking for the thing that matters for the company strategy. I mean, I always, I was joking with Steve, um, my friend, my business partner about this. Like he looks for the word that matters for him in a thing and it's not wrong or right.

Ryan: It's just, if you're somebody who's trying to influence Steve, you might want to say to yourself, these are the three things that he cares about. And how does what he cares about relate to what our customer cares about in your telco example, what does that CEO care about that's linked to millennial females, um, in that, in that example.

Grant: I'm gonna get, by the way, you used the word why, which I think is actually one of the most important, why and so what, if you ask why, you'll get to the so what, always, but you need to constantly question yourself, but it reminds me of a an episode where I, I've been headhunted for a great job in, in journalism, right?

Grant: And I was heading up this department. And the reason why I was there was because I'm already quite good at it. Ideas I can kind of spin stuff that's happening today and figure out a way to make it meaningful tomorrow. That's kind of one of my skills. And so, um, anyway It was the first week and it was maybe the second or third day and you can imagine the you know Newsroom right like like off all the president's men or the newsroom or whatever all that kind of stuff Right everyone all the heads of department are sitting around the table giving their ideas for what should happen in the following day's paper and it came to me and I had my list of ideas You And I, and I read them out and the editor said, that's, that's great, Grant.

Grant: Thank you. I appreciate that, but sorry, why do I give a f*ck? 

Ryan: I love it. People might not be that bold, but a lot of people were thinking that sh*t. 

Grant: And I was, and I was, and I was, I either went white or I went red. I can't remember, but I just really, it's like tumbleweed was kind of, you know, rolling by and he was humiliating me.

Grant: And that's part, that was his management style, actually. 

Ryan: Not recommended by this podcast, by the way. Right. 

Grant: But he was right, because I had created a load of stuff that I thought was actually pretty cool. And I liked it. And I was, I was forgetting about the reader. I never ever did it again. I always stopped myself.

Grant: I said, right, I like this idea. But is that what we need to do? Is that meaningful for them? If I ask why? Why does this matter to them? I need to be brave enough to say, That's not right. Leave it. Let it go. Uh, and it's, and it's quite, uh, a useful technique. Always, I never say to people, why do I give a f*ck?

Grant: You know, why should I care? Or what, why is it? You're thinking about it. Yeah. Oh, I'm thinking it all day long, honestly. Probably. 

Ryan: I think that's like, that's such a profound insight. Like, why should I give a f*ck? I mean, if I go back to your first data point, I'm deciding if I give a sh*t in 0.17 milliseconds. You don't have a lot of time.

Ryan: And, and, you know, you think if you're working for a publicly traded company and you're trying to influence the C suite, it's not just the content in their personal life that's consuming them. It's the stakeholder management, all the other fires, the strategy. I mean, so there's a lot of noise. I'll tell you a quick story.

Ryan: So I have a two way coaching relationship that I'm in the middle of at the moment. Two way coaching relationship means both parties are getting coached and it's with our head of info security. It's a topic that I know is important, but I find it dry. He needs to make it less dry because it's really freaking important.

Ryan: And one of the things we're constantly talking about is how do you make a too long didn't read version. Because he basically sends me stuff before he sends it to department heads just to get advice and, and it's always why if I'm the head of sales is this more important than the other six things I'm tending with today?

Ryan: And it's really the same thing, right? Like why, uh, why should, why should I give a f*ck, right? That's a mean man, but everybody actually thinks what he says, they just say it in a nicer way. 

Grant: Yeah. And, and you, by the way, you know, and this is going to, this is a bit of advice actually for everyone who's, who's tuned into this, is that the best way of working out why do I give a f*ck is headlines. Now, I know that everyone is going to say I can write headlines and all that kind of stuff, and I'm always in rooms with insight teams or, you know, with the agencies or brands or whatever, and they all say, yeah, we're pretty good at writing headlines.

Grant: No one is good at writing headlines because everyone confuses headlines with labels. Labels are not a headline, right? And that's, that's an easy thing to do. But when we are in the newsroom, We start with a headline. You don't necessarily start with facts. I mean, the thing that you start with is a headline.

Grant: And if you cannot tell your story in seven words, maybe ten maximum, it is not a story. You have to, you have to dump it. You have to put it on the spike, as we say. You have to be able to tell your story in ten words maximum. And if you've got a good headline, what that does is, It does several things, but it will, it focuses your mind on what the story is, right?

Grant: And what matters and why you should give a f*ck about it. And also, storytelling is a kind of a seduction. And you want to bring people in and you want them to care about it. And if you'vegot a great headline, and you know, you will look at the, honestly, tonight, look at the news or read something on the way home or listen to whatever, and look at it online.

Grant: It's the headline that makes you stay. The headline that makes you remember about everything. And so in your industry, what I am trying to encourage people to do is not do their stuff, do their slides, do their report, and then say, Okay, so the headline on this is don't do that. Do it the other way around.

Grant: Spend more time thinking about the headline, thinking about what the f*ck is this headline about? Why should I care? What really matters? And if you do that, your work will become more meaningful. Your storytelling will become much, much faster. Much faster. If you can imagine that in a newspaper, let's say a typical newspaper, let's say it's 86 pages of a newspaper in the UK, And in that 12 hour period, you are creating hundreds of stories, hundreds of thousands of words, hundreds of thousands of words in a 12 hour period.

Grant: And, and, and the following day is kind of, you know, it looks like it's, it's an effortless project and it's not, but the whole thing has been built on headlines. 

Ryan: It, it's, I mean, I'm, I'm getting personally some inspiration and advice right this second. I mean, one of my challenges is. I report into a board of directors.

Ryan: They will never have the context that I have about our business. And, and, and I think sometimes you run into the trap of feeling like it's your job to give context, but it's actually not. And I, and I can, and I'm actually relating to all my insights, friends listening on this exact point, because it's like, yes, you know, the what.

Ryan: But everybody doesn't necessarily need to know the what. They either need to know the so what or the now what. And that's what people care about. And then you can go to the what if you need to. And I, I, I was, I was thinking about all these insights reports where the headline is blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Ryan: And you have to shoot the f*cking spot in PowerPoint to make it fit. And I'm like, yo, dude, I'm not even listening anymore. So let's all challenge ourselves with seven to 10 words all next week. To tell the story. I'm gonna try myself, I'm gonna see if I can do it. 

Grant: And you can do it and you can look, there's always I could, you could give me a challenge.

Grant: Don't do it now. I bet you, you could though I, you, I could tell you any story in, in 10 words without a doubt. But by the way, listening to you, while you're thinking about challenging me, but listening to you about , uh, about, about the c-suite, right? So, so there's a friend of mine, uh, I'm lucky enough to know an awful lot of people where I live in West London, but where I play tennis with him, and he's the CFO of a mega, mega business who I'm not going to mention, but you will know who it is. Or, you know, what the business is. And I was talking to him a couple of years ago about, you know, things were really happening for me in the business building. And I was talking to him about it. And he said, you know what, Grant, if you can stop me from saying for f*ck's sake, every time a deck lands in my inbox, right.

Grant: And, and this guy is making decisions that affect the business. Uh, one of the biggest companies in Britain and he said to me I'm saying for f*ck's sake over and over again All day long because the material it's being sent to me is not meaningful and it's not giving me headlines. It's not really, he wants to know what to do.

Grant: He wants to know what his experts, the insight team, the marketing team, all of these people, are experts at their job. And he wants to know, well, tell me what do you think I should do? Give me a choice. I will make the decision. But what is going on? Why should I care? And, and the, the gap, the discrepancy here is that everyone below him thinks I'd better give him everything.

Grant: I'd better give him everything so that he thinks I'm doing the right thing, doing a good job. Because he wants everything. And yet he doesn't want everything. Does not want everything. And the two sides don't talk to each other. It's almost, he's frightened of telling everyone, you know what, can you just give me two sides of A4?

Grant: And everyone below him is frightened of saying, do you mind if we just give you like the headlines? And, and Jeff Bezos is amazing at this, right? Because Amazon has done this brilliantly. And he's insisted on it. And that things have to be shorter, more to the point and factual and so that people are able to make decisions from it.

Grant: And that storytelling culture in that company is something that everyone should have a look at and try to replicate in some kind of way. I think they've been brilliant. But people at the top want to know what to do and the people lower down are thinking to themselves, I better just give them everything, just dump it all and just hope that something sticks.

Grant: That's my, that's my impression. 

Ryan: It's such an important story that you're telling because it particularly when markets are tense, which they are still, the CFO really matters. And I'm thinking about Melissa, our CFO. And like, she doesn't want to wade through 50 things. Cool. I trust all of you. What do we do? And is it going to make money?

Ryan: And like, that's a very blunt \thing, but, but it's super important. Um, and I think we should all think to ourselves, how do we. How do we break through? How do we help Grant's tennis friend not say for f*ck's sake, uh, because I think we'd all tell better stories if we just left with that challenge.

Grant: I'm so pleased by the way that you've allowed me to swear because as you know, journalists, you know, swear an awful lot.

Grant: So, you know, I hope, does it, does this come with some sort of, you know, PG rating? 

Ryan: It hasn't. It's weird. Cause like you never, I never thought I would, I would start a podcast talking about market research and have an explicit rating on Spotify, but hey, 

Grant: It's like having Brian Cox from Succession, you know, on it, right?

Ryan: Actually, you know Cameo, the app, we had Brian Cox do a cameo for our sales team, and it was awkward and funny and everything that was his character in Succession. That's great. I think he said something in his very Scottish accent like, Just f*cking get out there and do it. It was great. 

Grant: Can I just go back to something you just said, Ryan, you know, you were talking about why and how we all know that that's a really important thing.

Grant: One of the things that you get in a newsroom that perhaps people don't realize is that we are all questioning each other's work. It's not a solitary venture being a journalist is not a solitary venture You will have an idea it will go to somebody else two or three other people Then it will go to your head of department.

Grant: Then it will go to the editor Then it will come back to you Then you're going to give it to a writer and then you're going to share it with a picture editor and a digital editor and a graphics person or wherever it's going to be and it's going to go through to a sub editor You know, typically a story is going to have, it's going to have about 10 different people involved in it, and everyone is constantly questioning, questioning the work.

Grant: And we don't mind, you know, we have that thick skin, someone, you know, you'll write something and someone will say, you know what Grant, this just doesn't work. And you'll say, Okay, tell me why. The idea being that we're all questioning our work. And when I, you know, this kind of concept of brainstorming, right?

Grant: And you bring an idea in and in journalism, it's the opposite is called question storming, or it's not called that question storming. But question storming is what it is. It's not brainstorming. You don't bring a ready made idea to the table and say, Hey, how about this? And everyone goes, Oh, yeah, okay, great.

Grant: Well done. It's like, You bring something to the table and say, come on, question it, push me, tell me, how can I make it better? Why does it matter? What is the, what's the important thing here? Why should I care? And so, I can't remember where I read this concept of question storming, or maybe I know I've read about it.

Grant: But again, it's something that people might want to have a little bit of, do some research over. Question storming is the way to get to the heart of a story.

Ryan: I actually, I actually love it. And I think, and I'll contrast it to a similar concept we actually employ within our own company.

Ryan: If as you're thinking of the story, if as you're thinking of the idea, you invite your peers, your cross functional colleagues to help you break it, you'll rebuild it in a stronger way. And I think sometimes people either A, get defensive for fear of not being good enough, so they avoid that conflict.

Ryan: Or B, they seek too much advice, so it's consensus seeking. So in our business, we have this process called the advice process, where you're supposed to get advice from a group of people who are impacted by your decision before you make it, so that you can make a better decision. And sometimes people then fall into consensus seeking, which I fundamentally believe is regression to the mean.

Ryan: And thinking about the data points of attention. We don't have time for the mean when AI is writing stories every day. Um, but I think it's a really important concept to invite critics to help you improve your thinking. And I think the contrast of that is to do it early because I'll tell you, I never had questions storming as the vocabulary, Grant, but I love it. Except for when the cookies are already made. It's too late, right? It's, it's, and I, I [00:39:00] see this with my own job. Like our customers will come to us with a bad story for an ad, but they've already invested 3 million in it. It's too late.

Ryan: So the cookie's baked. It's like, what's the point of asking people what they think if the cookies are already baked, you know? So it's a really… 

Grant: It's difficult for you. It's difficult for you. I mean, you know, this kind of stuff, some of it is, is. I was going to say way above my pay grade and it's right, but you know, a lot of the stuff I'm talking about to you is conceptual and in the ideal world, you'll be able to do it.

Grant: And I can see how your hands are tied a little bit there. But one word was just coming out while you were talking there was, was collaboration. You know, we are inevitably, we are not. as closely collaborating, let's be honest, as we were, you know, five, six, seven years ago, just because, and that's fine, right?

Grant: It's a different way of working. We've changed and I understand. I think that's great. But what it means is that sometimes we're working in isolation and we're not necessarily leaning over each other and saying, or nudging each other or, you know, kind of that, that serendipity that we, that we, you know, used to get when we were five days a week, five nights a week in an office. 

Grant: Storytelling enables that collaboration to function more effectively, I think, because if you are building up that thick skin and you create something, you say, look, tell me what you think about this, right? And you're sharing it with each other. But, I don't know how you feel, but I get the feeling that in your industry, and I hope I'm wrong, but in your industry, that collaboration is, it's more difficult than it was.

Grant: Is that right? 

Ryan: I think so. If I put myself in the shoes of a brand insights person or brand manager, they're making decks for the meeting that they have right away. And then they go to the next meeting and they go to the next meeting. And so it's not really a collaboration.

Ryan: It's a presentation. And, then you take the paradigm of distributed work. Um, and so how do you balance the magic of you and me having an idea? We're in a room and we can sketch it out on a whiteboard and we can break it and we can throw paper and we can go get a beer or a coffee. And so how do you balance that?

Ryan: But also some of Jeff Bezos' expertise works really well in distributed work because you can write documents to explain your thinking and asynchronously have people question storms. And I personally love written documents because I can see someone's thinking and help them break it and help them make it better.

Ryan: And so like, how do you use those things? And I think one of the challenges I have is because we're somewhere stuck between sync, async, in person, remote, busy people, we're just running it, we're running forward and not actually enabling ourselves to do what we're deep collaborative work and so it's something I'm really passionate about. 

Grant: And you know and just thinking and that's why sometimes I like this idea that that storytelling is actually about finding and making. Because if you spend more time finding and making you think, and you're collaborating and you're deliberating, and if you just go straight into the storytelling, I really hope people listening to this will  think a little bit more about telling of it. It's just the last bit.

Ryan: Yes. You, you, people need to create space in their day to think and collaborate, not meet and sell only. And I think that's the, I think we're on the wrong side of that. Like, you know, are we actually giving ourselves time to process and think and do these things because that's the hard part.

Grant: And you know what? I think that the brands that you're working for want, they want you to do that, right? Because they don't necessarily have the time to be doing it. And that's why, that's why they're paying you the big bucks, right? So that you can not just, not just because you're experts and you're brilliant at your work, but that you may be, maybe you have the space to think for them.

Ryan: Well, I also, I'm in a smaller business, so I can just say, I need three hours a day to think period. It's just, you know, so speaking of being in meetings back to back, I'm 10 minutes late, so we are out of time. Grant, you're the man. I can't wait to buy you a beer when I see you. And I hope everybody got as inspired and excited from this conversation as I did from having it with you.

Ryan: So thank you. 

Grant: Thank you for inviting me on. I really loved it. And thank you for the entire industry for letting me kind of spout my sh*t and kind of, you know, wheeled my way into your way of working. I'm learning so much. So thank you so much. 

Ryan: You're a welcomed interloper, my friend. Take it easy.