If done right, individuals and corporations can tell stories to make anything seem rosier than perhaps they should. The key is that the stories remain true to the core of the “brand.” In the case of Martha Stewart, one can only marvel at how well she does this – especially when she can re-frame a 5 month prison term as an idyllic incarceration instead. This is not meant to be a slam – no matter what you think of the person – we all need to recognize that Stewart is a master of words and delivery. She (and her team) could provide a master class on the art of story-telling and image “maintenance.”
During Stewart’s promotion cycle for her 75th book, “Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations,” I caught Linda Wertheimer’s interview with her yesterday on NPR’s Morning Edition and couldn’t help but laugh appreciatively. It was a simple and normal interview until it took a little turn for to the sublime. Wertheimer asked Stewart about a drab Nativity Scene shown in the first chapter of the book about parties at her houses over the course of a year. The following is pulled directly from the transcript:
STEWART: OK, well, it’s kind of a funny story. When I was incarcerated at Alderson in West Virginia for a five-month term, they had a ceramics class. And in the ceramics class was a storage warehouse room where I found all the molds for an entire large Nativity scene. It took me a long time to find each mold. And because I was raised a Catholic, I know the story. I know that…
WERTHEIMER: You know how many there should be.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
STEWART: I know the characters, right. I know the wise men and the camels and all of that. But it’s a big thing. I think there’s about 15 pieces and I was able to purchase enough clay with my monthly stipend. And I forgo – forwent, is that a word, forwent?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
STEWART: I didn’t get a lot of other things that I would’ve liked in that five-month period, because I bought clay instead. And I molded the entire Nativity scene and then I had to figure out how to paint it drab color, ’cause there’s no – there’s – I think there’s six different colors of paint that you could get. But I managed a fashion a drab color and it looks just like Wedgwood.
Now how beautifully is that response weaved? It’s even better to listen to it because her delivery adds to the aura. Stewart is great at delivering anecdotes in an authentic way that is harder to achieve than you would think.
Achieving “authentic” is truly an art form. Corporations will sometimes bring out project leads or developers who know everything there is to know about a product – and have immense passion for it. Unfortunately, that mastery is not easily conveyed in front of a crowd, on radio or on video. Sometimes its due to language issues, or nerves, or lack of focus/construct. That lack of focus or construct is one of the biggest barriers to authenticity. Many who work extensively on something or have a strong knowledge base will go to either of two extremes: believing they can shoot from the hip and then they go off course and confuse people; or, writing everything down (perhaps even practicing) and coming across as robotic. Just because an employee has been able to present something numerous times in meetings and presentations, the assumption cannot be made that they are able to achieve that successfuly in all mediums. Either companies should invest in media training for those employees or engage someone who can deliver in all environment to step in where necessary.
The ability to maintain that authentic delivery is key and not something that comes naturally for most. Fortunately for Stewart, it comes across as if it is natural. Certainly, she has had years of experience and has been able to hone her craft, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t marvel at her abilities to make anything seem to be idyllic in any circumstance.