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Case Study

When you’re writing Case studies start with Warts n’ All

By | Case Study, Communications craft, Uncategorized


Anyone tasked with updating their company website will recognise the numerous problems that come with writing case histories.

There are your best case histories from five years ago, whose important features now look stale or no longer relevant to the problems of today.

Then there are other case histories which while showing brilliance on the part of your organisation remain so classified and secret you can’t breathe a word of the brilliance to anyone.

And there still more case histories which while very good are quite incomplete or partial. Somehow telling them seems to feel like the story ended too soon, or started too late or other players did the important chunks of it and steal the thunder.

It’s often very difficult curate a decent show from what’s left after you’ve culled the ones that won’t see the light of day. The result is many case histories become short and inconclusive; others are hard to follow, and leave a reader, or new business prospect, none the wiser.

So how do you create convincing, engaging case histories that don’t drop anyone in it and feel like they belong to today?

Write 3 seperate drafts

One really simple approach is to split the task into two or three clear and distinct phases, each of which needs its own mind-set.

The first mindset you’ll need is an investigative historian or journalist.

Use this to write a Warts-and-All version first, on the sacred internal understanding that you’re showing it to absolutely no-one externally. But get a case or set of cases written so they’re clear, readable and true without having to worry about other considerations. If necessary, interview the people involved with a tape recorder so you can fully concentrate on what they’re telling you and ask questions that probe what really happened.

Then, when that’s done change your hat to that of a doctor; rewrite your Warts and All text as a sanitised version.

Change the client names, the product names, the industries.

No confidences betrayed, no clients made to look stupid. Transforming it in that way isn’t always a straightforward task but it’s much easier to do when you’re at least clear about what actually happened.

After you’ve written the sanitised version you are free to go one step further.

The hat you need now is a dramatist and or teacher.

You can work backwards from what clients have started to ask the business for. This is the idealised version where you combine different elements of cases that you’ve successfully managed in the past and bring them together so demonstrate solving the problems of today.

Make up the presenting problem, roll two elements from different cases into one, exclude confusing subplots, streamline the story. Do what ever it takes so the story while not literally true is authentic. You may need to write a disclaimer for this, but your audience will usually understand this automatically anyway, just from the genre.

There may never have been a case exactly like this but all the essential features are your company’s bread and butter. The fluency with which you describe the cases communicates your mastery over all the issues, and that’s the real point of the writing.

You will need to give yourself some creative licence to do this, but it’s a good way of showing just how much knowledge your organisation really holds.

When you’ve finished this not only will you have a valuable new business tool for future business, it will also serve to educate new people starting today the triumphs of the past.

 

 

Writing your future case studies

By | Case Study


The nature of business and communications is that things are always changing fast and what was a shining example of state-of-the-art best practice just a couple of years ago can now look stale, tired and so last millenium.

This is always a problem when curating and re-writing your case studies. But there is a way around it.

You can use the past to engineer what your present or future offerings are, in a process you might think of as back to the future.

One very good demonstration of this can be seen on Mad Men. Agency creative genius Don Draper, played by John Hamm, narrates his moment of brilliance, a discussion with an ‘old pro’ called Teddy who tells him about the significance of nostalgia as a potent marketing tool. Draper shows the Eastman Kodak marketing team how he will (note future tense) make their brand famous using a technique from the past. That’s if his agency is lucky enough to win the Kodak business.

So it’s a sort of case study narrated for the future, for the purposes of winning the pitch.

Draper: “Teddy told me that in ancient Greek, nostalgia is the pain of ancient wound”

Strategy: We’re going to use a little known approach (nostalgia) to do the opposite of what everyone else will do. Hence giving us a market advantage.

Draper:” It’s not called the Wheel, it’s called the Carouselle,”

Strategy” It’s not about adult technology or sophistication, it’s about a return to childhood simplicity”

A case of great observation

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Professionals generally don’t advertise. Instead, they tell stories of case histories which demonstrate their prowess. A case history is much like any other story, except you already know how the story ends: With the case fully solved. The only question is how it gets solved and to what extent some lesser professional screws it up first.

In his eloquent argument for the hands on physician, Verghese also gives us a masterclass in case history telling, weaving as he does, one story into the next. He also touches on the quintessential case history expert, the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Enjoy.

Working like a detective

By | Case Study, Uncategorized


For a great professional case it’s important the expert sees beyond where other lesser professionals get stopped blocked or fobbed off. In what is a classic twist from Murder on the Orient Express, the incriminating hankerchief bears the initial H. So it can’t possibly belong to Natalia. Or so you might think. However Poirot knows that in Russian an H is pronounced an N and so it could indeed be Natalia’s.
The premise of expertise in case history writing is that when nothing is quite what it appears only a specialist with raised levels of perception can ascertain what really is going on.

16 pointers to interviewing a topic holder of a case study
1. Think like a detective.
2. Assume something brilliant has happened, then sniff it out.
3. Spot the unusual
4. Get clear about the problem involved and the pain of the original situation
5. What’s at stake? Beneath the ‘nice to have’ need which triggered the engagement, there’s often a crisis brewing.
6. If another agency handled this, would the kids have gone into care? Would people continue to due to missing out on cancer treatment?
7. Probe beneath buzz phrases.
8. Seek out the raised level of perception and knowledge that goes into the brilliance. Hercules Poirot knew that H is the Russian for N, so Natalie could have owned the handkerchief with H on it.
9. Ask what people were doing at the critical moments when the idea or insight came into being.
10. Seek out what’s important, not what appears to be conventionally important.
11. Look for signs of change and transformation and ask what caused these.
12. Don’t forget to ask open questions – and wait for them to surprise you.
13. Ask questions that force the interviewee themselves to make the choice of what was really important. What one single thing contributed most. Where did the value really add? Etc.
14. Locate the passion point. The bit were the interviewee starts to get excited. You know you’re onto the MOB because they’re about to get found out.
15. Get the interviewee to talk about the parts of the story they haven’t spoken of before. If it’s fresh it’s usually more interesting.
16. Enjoy. They’ll wriggle around avoiding their brilliance, but just like a murder suspect, the interviewee will feel relieved when they’ve eventually told the truth.

Case studies and professional organisations

By | Case Study, Communications craft, content


We all know that factories produce widgets. Or cans of fizzy soft drink, cars, smartphones and television sets, but what do professional organisations produce? If you show a car in a car showroom, you can get people to buy the vehicle; but what is the show room for the professional product?
If you ask the company they will tell you they produce solutions. But solutions tend to be invisible. They’re the lack of something; if you hold a solution up to the light, it’s usually colourless liquid.
It’s sometimes helpful to think of professional organisations as producing narrative. Either deliberately (PR agencies) or, as a by product of solving their client’s headaches. So if you’re, say a law firm, management consultancy, housing association or medical practice, these narratives can be stories of how various solutions came into being. The good news is they are usually very interesting stories. The bad news is that you have to work quite hard at retrieving them.

Moments of brilliance

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Great case histories always have a moment of brilliance that’s clearly defined. Like in a detective story, they have a precise motive, an instrument, a time and a place. When Michelle Mone OBE talks about where she got the idea for her push up bras from, she tells an amazingly detailed story.
Listening to her talk on Radio 4 today, she explains how she was at a dinner dance with an uncomfortable push up bra. So uncomfortable, in fact, that she had to go in to the ladies toilet to take it off. And while doing that, she decided it was time to create something that worked for women who wanted cleavage.
So if you’re trying to write or interview for a great case history, see if you can establish the exact motive, instrument time and place of the moment of brilliance. It will make your story a whole lot more sexy.

 

Conception or execution?

By | Case Study, Communications craft

When writing a case history for your organisation, you’ll find a narrative is a great way to reveal the moment of brilliance. All you have to do is ask: what were the circumstances that helped you think up the idea? The exact time, place, motivation, and question that provoked it. Very often just unpacking that exact moment of conception will create the excitement in the minds of your audience. And consequently an appreciation for the brilliance that went into it.
A good example of this is Michelle Mone’s moment in the toilet during a dinner dance, when she’s taking off an extremely uncomfortable bra. In that moment she decides to invent her Ultimo bra. But how do you do this in a video? You can’t recreate that without actors, sets and a high budget. So very often the best way to show a case history is to show the idea being executed.
So with video as a story telling medium, it’s the execution rather than the conception which makes for a good case history. In the following ideas, the film documents the idea being installed. Usually they preserve enough mystery to keep the viewer guessing. And whether it’s a footprint a keyboard or a phallus, doesn’t really matter. What counts is that there’s a twist to whatever you might have expected.