Storytelling lessons from baseball legend Vin Scully

Oct 4, 2016

Storytelling lessons from baseball legend Vin Scully

Oct 4, 2016

Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully broadcasted his last game on Oct. 2, 2016, electing to retire at the end of the regular season. He’s considered by many to be the greatest sports broadcaster of all-time, having spent an absurd 67 years with the Dodgers, and voicing some of baseball’s most iconic moments: Buckner’s Error, Hank Aaron’s Record and Kirk Gibson’s Miracle, to name a few.

In essence, Scully is a storyteller. He captivated audiences not just by telling us what was happening in the game, but by giving them context for what we were seeing. Although it was likely never his goal, that’s how he built his brand.

As a former sports reporter turned marketer, I think about how businesses can learn from Scully’s storied career to build passionate audiences of followers. Here are some ways I believe companies should follow in the footsteps of this communications legend.

Make Your Voice Memorable

If the broadcast journalism gods could pick a voice, it would be Vin Scully’s. Yes, even ahead of Morgan Freeman. He could read lines of federal tax code and keep his audience tuned in.

But voice alone does not make him the legendary talent that would entice Giants fans to watch a Dodgers broadcast. Scully weaves compelling and personal stories around the day’s events in a way that is easy for everyone to understand, so that it barely seems like you’re watching a baseball game. Instead, it feels like a conversation around what the audience cares about: the players, the team and the game.

A memorable voice is a critical foundation for any successful brand or business, but most business communications are immediately forgettable. How many companies can you even recognize simply by the style of their communications?

Vin Scully could have spent 67 years giving us the play-by-play, telling us what inning it is and who’s on deck. He might have been OK, but he created his own style and made himself a Hall of Famer. Businesses should aim to create their own style as well.

Have an Eye for Detail

Here’s part of the transcript of Scully’s radio call of pitcher Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1962:

“And you can almost taste the pressure now. Koufax lifted his cap, ran his fingers through his black hair, then pulled the cap back down, fussing at the bill. Krug must feel it too as he backs out, heaves a sigh, took off his helmet, put it back on and steps back up to the plate.”

The whole thing reads like a movie script. No detail is too insignificant. It’s a clinic in how to use detail to make a story come to life. It’s a seminar in how to recognize and point out what other people may miss. Without that, it doesn’t span the test of time.

 

The most memorable stories are the ones that make people care, that tell people something that they didn’t already know and have the concrete detail that makes those things come to life. Not only do businesses ignore descriptive details like this, they use abstract language and buzzwords that are completely forgettable.

Imagine how Scully would describe your product or service. Would he call your software a “best-in-class, fully integrated, multi-channel, innovative solution?” Probably not, but he would try to tell the stories of people who have used it, and give specific details of problems it has solved. That’s the type of detail that gets and keeps people’s attention.

Be a Well-Rounded Player

If you listened to Scully throughout the course of a 162-game season, you would know that there weren’t many topics considered off-limits. In fact, some of his more memorable moments had little to do with game action.

Of some of the players’ beards, he was “absolutely amazed.” He had fun with flags. And he wasn’t a huge fan of socialism.

Companies similarly shouldn’t be afraid to comment on events beyond the narrow focus of their core competency. Customers and prospects don’t have one-track minds – they’re regular people with broad interests. When you tap into those other interests you make your business more relatable.

Of course, good salespeople know this instinctually. They don’t just talk business – they chat about sports, movies, family, whatever is of interest to their clients. But we ignore this in other business contexts, strictly talking about products and services. The result is a one-dimensional, boring brand.

Let Scully be an example of why it’s smart to be well-rounded.

Never Take a Night Off

In 67 years, Vin Scully seldom missed games.

In fact, he had a streak of broadcasting 34 straight Dodgers home openers until 2012.

He was also a consistent presence during the summer for multiple generations of Dodgers and baseball fans, and took his role seriously. He brought his best to every broadcast, every day, and fans loved him for it.

That’s the ultimate goal for companies: maintain a consistent presence with their audience. Whether you’re delivering content through social media and newsletters, sponsoring events in your target communities, or just making sure your team has regular touch points with sales prospects, consistency is key. After all, the most fundamental aspect of having a solid brand is having a character and essence that’s immediately recognizable, and regularity breeds familiarity.

So, as Vin Scully takes the mic for the last time, it’s time for everyone to recognize his talent. He has contributed not just to lives of Dodgers fans and baseball fans, but to aspiring storytellers and companies in need of inspiration. Even though he’s retired, he’ll keep inspiring in perpetuity, and hopefully he inspires your business to be better.

Thanks for the stories, Vin.

 

This article was written by Senior Account Executive Andrew Africk, a former sports radio announcer himself. It’s part of our Inside Story series, an occasional, in-depth look at the hidden marketing insights behind historical and current events. Read more editions in this series here.

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