Scott Galloway, the NYU Stern School of business professor who goes by Prof G, recently shared a lecture called “Visionary Storytelling” in his digital Strategy Sprint course, the main points of which are so insightful that they deserve to be common knowledge among both businesspersons and communications professionals.
In the lecture, Galloway makes the argument that corporate storytelling is an increasingly important competency – which he supports with a series of points on how visionary storytelling can lead to greater access to capital and ultimately higher EBITDA for companies that get it right.
Galloway asserts that the way companies approach storytelling has changed. Where once the standard practice was to under-promise and over-deliver, he says that today’s trillion-dollar companies – Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft – do just the opposite. It sounds counterintuitive, but it can work if the vision is conveyed in a way that’s simple, appealing, and believable as something the company could conceivably deliver – if not right away, then at least one day in the future.
Galloway cites Google (“organizing the world’s information”) and Facebook (“connecting the world”) as examples of companies whose success is based on getting visionary storytelling right. Both companies presented themselves as capable of delivering on the revolutionary potential of the internet long before the technology or capital was available to do so.
Meanwhile, failed attempts at visionary storytelling often veer into what Galloway calls “yogababble”: spiritual-sounding language used to make brands seem more compelling and aspirational. According to Galloway, indoor exercise bike maker Peloton, which claimed to sell “happiness,” failed at storytelling because their claim was vague, unbelievable, and disconnected from what the company actually offered. Peloton’s IPO was one of the biggest failures of 2019 because its reputation was built on hype but lacked a correspondingly ambitious growth model.
Today, public-facing companies often find a direct correlation between their investment in corporate communications and their market performance. In many of the most successful companies, corporate communications teams are growing because they make the company more effective at sharing with the world both what they are doing now and what they plan to do in the future. Rather than simply trot out incremental growth projections, a company can bank on how their vision excites people, which can open them up to borrow capital based on its promise.
Amazon is a prime example of what Galloway sees as a company with visionary storytelling chops. From January 2018 to March 2019, Amazon issued an average of 16 corporate press releases per month detailing virtually every significant move they made. They also led the big four tech companies in corporate communications hiring, with 978 corporate comms employees compared to 859 at Google, 715 at Facebook, and 684 at Apple. In fact, Amazon employs more corporate communications staff than there are journalists at major news organizations like the Washington Post (which has 797).
The Prof G Digital Sprint packs a lot of insight into a two week course, with most of it focused on what makes today’s trillion-dollar companies succeed. Much of that is directly focused on business practices, but a full third of the course centers around communications. It’s a testament to the value of the communications industry that one of the world’s most popular business professors sees press releases and investment in corporate communication strategy as directly correlated with growth in stock prices.
Of course, Galloway’s concepts don’t explain how individual PR and marketing campaigns contribute to growth, but the big-picture impact is clear: In general, companies that invest more in high-quality communication and visionary storytelling simply generate better earnings.