4 Things Content Strategists Can Learn from Bob Dylan

You may have heard the recent news that one of the greatest songwriters in the history of music has been awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature. Minnesota native Robert Allen Zimmerman (better known as Bob Dylan), 75, truly is a Nobel laureate on the stage.

When he has put a pen to paper, he understands his gift - the ability to tell a story and paint a picture with words. The unpredictable and infallible truth that he has scribed and sung for purpose and protest during the past 50 years has inspired people from almost every musical genre in history.

By the time he legally changed his name in 1962, Dylan transformed himself from Duluth student to songwriting ingénue. He has always been a storyteller, a narrator of the world around him. This should serve as inspiration for not only vocalists and other musicians, but also those of us in communications - specifically, the content strategists.  

Most of us in communications can write a cohesive sentence for a story. Many of us can find the story in our client's brand. Few of us have mastered the ability to weave a tapestry of words to create that story to stick with a person and have it recalled repeatedly.

Interested in mastering your craft like Dylan?

Here are four things all content strategists (and the rest of us) can learn from Bob Dylan.

1. Cherish the Moment

Often, a writer seeks inspiration for a topic. Dylan's muse was life itself. It is those particular moments in time, etched in the back of our minds, that we can recall to create perpetual and practical sources of education for those we touch on a regular basis. Dylan did that better than anyone. He knew his platform, stood tall upon it and voiced his opinion in a way no one could deny or ignore.

You may not have the palette to paint pictures that are as memorable as Dylan's, but all of us - clients, team members, employees, fans - we all have memories that, if considered, could create dynamic content. In 1975, Dylan wrote Tangled Up in Blue, which is a melancholy examination of his own failed marriage. However, his words, while painful to write, expressed freedom for all of us. 

She turned around to look at me / As I was walkin' away / I heard her say over my shoulder / We'll meet again some day

2. Ask the Question. 

When someone in PR is faced with not having enough information for a story, pitch, blog or even a tweet, it is usually because he or she forgot to ask the right question. We are inquisitive by nature in this business, which is why we do our clients a disservice when we do not ask those questions that could help draw out the right information for that final touch on the story you need.

Dylan is the quintessential quizzical songwriter. This was arguably never more apparent than his 1963 hit Blowin' in the Wind - a long, winding road of rhetorical questions about war, peace, love and freedom. Ask some questions, get some answers. Ask the right questions and help guide others toward giving you the right answers.

Yes, and how many times must a man look up / Before he can see the sky?
Yes, and how many ears must one man have / Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take 'till he knows / That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind / The answer is blowin' in the wind

3. Do the Unexpected. 

If you keep writing the same releases, offering the same pitches and using the same message points, you will train journalists and other audiences - and usually, that's bad. The next time you call that reporter, your caller ID has already informed him or her what is coming. Moreover, that is when they decide whether or not to answer the phone.

Last year, Dylan gave a speech at the Grammys that made news everywhere because he said some things that had luminaries in music thinking it was a prank. Would you imagine William Shakespeare inspired Bob Dylan? Of course not, but he admitted just that. What would you dare to admit to audiences to get their attention?

"These songs of mine, they're like mystery stories, the kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far. They were on the fringes then, and I think they're on the fringes now."

4. Trust Your Instincts. 

If you develop content of any kind, there are many opportunities to second-guess yourself. Most of the time, we presume the client or the audience will have the opposite response that we desire. Worse yet, they will ignore it completely. So, you go with that other idea that didn't get picked apart during the brainstorming. Congratulations, you got a few headlines. Then, awards season shows up and you discover another agency had that first idea, too - and they clean up the trophies. That could have been you. That should have been you.

Dylan was faced with many forks in the road during his career. Arguably, his most notable song was one such fork, Like a Rolling Stone. He took an abrupt detour from peace, love and ideology to rant about cynicism, angst and bitter resentment. His harrowing question in the song was, "How does it feel?" Rolling Stone once called this paradigmatic canticle "verbal pugilism." Remember grunge? Would Nirvana have chanted about teen spirit if Dylan hadn't first taken the road less traveled and rolled like a stone?

How does it feel, ah how does it feel? / To be on your own, with no direction home / Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone

What roads are you willing to take in your communications journey? Make content you are proud of - that makes it much easier to sell it to others.