“Culture eats Money for Breakfast”… and for lunch and dinner, too, in these days
In a slight deviation from the original quote from Peter Drucker (whom I always greatly admired for his management theory and life accomplishments) I replaced strategy with money. That is exactly the crux of many media businesses these days: the myopic focus of “strategic” initiatives on money only. They miss the point: money is only a measurement. It is only an indicator whether your strategy is a success or not. It is not a strategy in itself.
We currently witness a meltdown in the media industry of gigantic proportions. After a couple of euphoric growth years, the global media economy seems to come under massive pressure to deliver profits. The – very often – exaggerated expectations of shareholders and investors in the potential growth had met reality: stock prices of the top US media companies have fallen on average by 50% in 2022. Businesses start to lay off staff, cut operations and future projects. Streaming – once the holy grail and praised as a future cash cow – is under fire for not delivering the profits. Already rumours of lame ducks in the business make the rounds.
We Face A Period Of Great Uncertainty in the TV & Media Industry
Even worse: there is now a widely held belief that this downturn in the industry will continue, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to generate profits, that pressure for consolidation will increase; the monster of a long recession is looming to jump out from under the bed of executives and shareholders. Worst of all: no one seems to have figured out how to tackle these challenges. We face a period of uncertainty.
In times of such unprecedented unpredictability the standard routine of the people on the top floor is to focus on cost, focus on controlling, focus on figuring out the ambivalence through statistics and long rows of dead numbers. A usual reflex is to call in the men in the black suits: those guys (and sorry, they are often white, young men with shiny teeths and perfectly groomed hair) with a perfect pedigree – a.k.a top business school, top management consulting … and top bullshit, if you ask me (sorry, for the harsh words; my excuse: bad experiences as a client).
We Need Storytellers Not Men in Black Suits
However, when you face such massive change and significant shift in our industry, you do not need someone who can master excel sheet and smart-ass business theory. You need creative thinkers instead, people who can take your business out of the deadlock and are willing to embrace the unknown.
Precarious situations and dramatic challenges have always created the best stories. Creating such stories requires great, empathic storytelling skills – it needs people that love a good story and who embrace the doubts, the wariness and the fear. We need stories that foster creativity, that show hope and guide a business into new pastures. Stories that disrupt the old narrative and open new chapters.
The future of our industry is going to be shaped by such visionary storytelling. This is a trait that some have mastered perfectly in the past: Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Walt Disney to name a few. They have built a vision and an inspiring narrative around their product and business. I am inclined to include Elon Musk in this list, but he hones his skills as a storyteller in a different way: as a snake-oil-salesman. One of the reasons why the Disney board hauled Bob Iger back into the CEO role is certainly in his talent to transport the Walt Disney story and vision into our times and shaping the storyline himself; it is also in his keen understanding of how important storytelling is in a creative industry – and in the business of TV and entertainment in particular.
Aren’t we all storytellers? Don’t we all love to listen to an exciting story? Storytelling is what makes us human. It is probably the most distinguishing factor that separates us from our relatives in the wild – the apes. I loved the book from German authors Friedemann Karig und Samira El Ouassil in which they describe humans as the “storytelling apes” and outline how the fact that we tell stories to each other has helped to create our civilization and development as human beings. Storytelling is such a central, natural and yet often overlooked part of humanity – and one of the most binding factors in humankind.
We Are All Shaped By The Stories We Been Told
Cultures are shaped by a common narrative. Tribes are bound together by the same story, the same myth, legends and sagas. A business is not much different: it is a tribe; a group of people coming together for a common purpose. The purpose is defined by their common story.
The solution to fight the uncertainty, to create a more profitable business: use storytelling as your strategic weapon. Our business in its essence has always been about storytelling. Television is a constant flux of stories; productions is ALL about the story and how to stage it best in its dramatic arch. When we manage, distribute, organize, market, operate in TV and media, then we help to weave that story into a larger context, into a bigger book. We all know: good stories sell. Good stories create profitability.
There are methods on how you can work with the concept of storytelling to create your business strategy. Concepts like T-Algorithm have highlighted the importance of visionary storytelling as one of the determining factors of increasing profitability of a business. A inspiring, unique story makes your business sexy, makes it wanted – by everyone: customers, employees, investors, stakeholders. Storytelling opens the room for more creativity in your company; it allows for new ideas to flourish and disruptive concepts to come to light. Storytelling will guide you through the uncertainty in our industry as it provides hope and inspiration. Storytelling puts the fun back into strategy development.
Listen, Create, Inspire: Storyteller Value is Stakeholder Value
Use the creativity within your team: listen to their stories and use our methodologies to weave these individual stories into a grander scheme and your special, winning formula. Storyteller value creates stakeholder value. It should be a common understanding of everyone working in the TV or content business, that we should not leave the future of the business to those decision makers that have shareholder value as their only guiding principle: our industry only excelled when it focused on creativity and consumer needs first.
One of the best examples for how value was created by embracing storytelling and what consumers want is how “Sex in the City” was developed. The TV series is great storytelling in itself. It was created by looking beyond the existing formulas for TV shows; by searching for stories that have not yet been told but resonate with a lot of people. I described this process and concept in an article a couple of months ago and how the “Blue Ocean” Strategy concept was used to develop the concept for the tv show. It again is exemplary of how strategy can be a fun exercise. This approach requires you to leave your comfort zone, to allow strategy to be a bit erratic and foremost an iterative process: like any story it has unexpected twists and turns – but always a happy ending.
Would you like now to create the unique story of your business or product? Would you like to have more fun when doing your strategy sessions? Don’t dwell on the excel sheets too long, tell stories instead.