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BIOGRAPHIES

 

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Speak Memories Publishing   

Robin Fowler and I formed Speak Memories Publishing in 1997, offering meticulously written and elaborately produced books by private commission. We promoted our services to accomplished families and successful corporations.

In the case of corporate biographies such as 'Good Chemistry' (see image above), hundreds of copies were distributed across the country. But the family memoirs were never intended for broad publication; we produced small runs and our clients gave them only to close friends and family.

Strict confidentiality is key to this business; we know a lot of amazing stories, but it's up to our clients to decide who hears them. So I offer no excerpts from these projects.

However, if you read the business section or society pages, you probably know some of our clients. Click here if you want to try and guess who they were.

Speak Memories got a lot of good press across the country (Elm Street, B.C. Business, Vancouver Magazine, etc.) Here's an article I wrote about corporate biographies for Business In Vancouver; and here's just one example of the write-ups we got locally.

Robin Fowler continues to run Speak Memories and is doing an amazing job. Click to visit the Speak Memories website.


 

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Article published in Business in Vancouver:

 

HOW TO: Use Corporate Biographies in Marketing The stories explain what a company is about and where it's going.

By David Liebe

The world of business is a treasure of amazing stories. From the drama of closing an enormous deal, to the day-to-day activities that occur within a corporate culture, it's the stories that really explain what a company is about and where it's going.

Many company presidents and CEOs are anxious to talk about their company's history and can see numerous applications for a finished book, but they also acknowledge a deeper sense that somehow it would be a crime to simply let the stories disappear.

That's a very human response. Stories are the fundamental basis of communication and we are all hard-wired to respond to them.

A good story is exactly why we go to movies, read books and talk to one another. A movie with great special effects but no plot goes straight to video. If you have any trouble relating to a novel's main character, the spine barely gets cracked. And when we complain that somebody has nothing to say, we really mean they have nothing interesting to say.

There is no shortage of great stories in any business because all of the necessary elements for a good plot are in place: the good guys (management and staff) striving towards an objective (better product) while thwarting an enemy (competition, sluggish economy) to attain a tangible goal (market dominance!) and a less tangible benefit (feeling good at the end of the day.)

A corporate biography is a collection of stories that captures the real heart of a business, making certain their lessons aren't lost forever. Not to be confused with an annual report or a marketing brochure, a corporate biography is a book that reads as well as any novel and answers key questions. What inspired the company's founders? How exactly were the pivotal decisions reached? Was there a time when the company was seriously floundering? What steps were taken to keep it alive? To what extend did different personalities contribute to the business culture? And what examples are there to show the culture is alive and well?

There's simply no better way to inspire imagination, motivate a team and express a corporate culture than by creating a story that reads well. And if you can compile all those stories into an inspired epic, well, enjoy the ride.

There are many reasons why corporate biographies are so popular. Marketing departments give them to new and potential clients. Human Resources make them required reading for employee orientation. Public Relations like the corporate myth to reach beyond head office.

A well written and beautifully designed corporate biography makes an appreciated retirement gift and an effective tool in cross-cultural introductions. These rich stories honour people who have put their heart into the business and inspire others to do the same.

This is, however, an era of sound bites and bullet points. Is there room for a thorough, well-told story at a time when the world supposedly moves 'at the speed of business'? Absolutely there is, and here's a story to illustrate why:

Once upon a time, Onk the caveman poked at the fire and announced that he had a story to tell. The men and women seated around him murmured in approval and edged a little closer. They regarded Onk as their leader, for he was able to create magical experiences simply by weaving together words. He had discovered how to temporarily transport his followers from their primitive existence and instill a grand vision for a wonderful future. After one of Onk's stories, the people in his tribe believed anything was possible.

And this night was going to be particularly special, for earlier that day Onk had dreamed of a faraway future where leaders spoke in media-friendly sound bites. A glorious time when every story could be broken down into three sentences, tarted up in PowerPoint and delivered fast enough that the meeting didn't stretch past the lunch hour.

If that was the future, Onk reasoned, then that's how he would share tonight's story. He managed to strip out all the drama, reduced the good and bad guys to basic stereotypes and concluded with a meaningless sentiment that caused everyone's eyes to glaze over. His delivery was measured, the points clear and well ordered, and the whole matter was done within five minutes.

Onk's followers stared at him, mouths agape. And then they killed him.

Onk made what is now a common mistake. He overvalued brevity and style, and completely lost sight of the fact that people respond, first and foremost, to a story.

He relied on visions to predict the future. We use remote controls, web surfing and newspapers, and they all predict the same thing: Something big is coming! The future is mysterious and a complete unknown. It's impossible to predict what organizations will thrive and which will go the way of the Dodo bird. And when will all this change kick into gear?

January 1, 2000. More or less. The millennium is the start of a new era - one that will be faster, harder to comprehend and full of more unknowns than at any time in history. It's natural at a time like this to look ahead and wonder what's coming down the pipe.Instinctively, to prepare a plan for where we are going, we want to know where we've been.

That's why companies, anxious to keep their hard-earned corporate culture alive, have begun to record their stories and share them with everybody who is interested. We're not so removed from Onk's world that we can't appreciate this simple truth: If the stories survive, so do the story tellers.

*****

David Liebe is a principal at Speak Memories Publishing, a Vancouver-based company specializing in privately commissioned corporate and family biographies.


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